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The Prophecy by pathfinder

Format: Novel
Chapters: 25
Word Count: 122,890
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong violence

Genres: General, Humor, Mystery, Action/Adventure, Young Adult
Characters: OC
Pairings:

First Published: 03/16/2020
Last Chapter: 09/17/2020
Last Updated: 09/21/2020

Summary:

(Banner by Lumos_1980)

 

Author's note: This is the sequel to 'The Fifth House', but can be read independently.

 

Sib joins the Pathfinders as they discover their path and chart their future at Gampton Hall Academy of Magic.  Along the way, a dark family secret is revealed and Sib discovers powers he never knew he possessed.  After the prophecy is released, the Pathfinders rush to discover the secrets it contains before the spark of revolution tears their world apart.



Chapter 1: Fight or Flight
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What was I thinkin’, trackin’ it through the woods?, thought Sib, ducking behind a tree.  He was a skinny but muscular twelve-year-old blonde boy; the bruises on his arm and neck.   They were reminders from the last fight with his brother a few days prior and were still an ugly shade of purple and green.  He peeked around the side of the tree in the direction of some incoherent yipping and saw movement through the undergrowth. Now there’s more kobolds!  And by the sound of it, a whole war party of ‘em.    


He could tell at his first glance of the three-foot-tall lizard-men that he was in trouble.  While they were pretty cowardly on their own, they became quite brazen once they formed a war party of a half dozen or so.  They might be scaly, thin, and short, but they were also clever and organized.  Each carried a four-foot spear which was enough to make Sib realize he didn’t stand a chance against them, magic or no.  He bolted again through the overgrown West Virginia woods, trying to escape through the undergrowth.  


I’m too far!  Way too far to run the whole way home.  I’ll never lose 'em this way.  He tried to change his path of flight, but every time he turned aside to run a new direction, he was cut off.  They’re leadin’ me into a trap.  They’re drivin’ me like hunters drive a deer...to the slaughter.

 

He kept going, pushing ever forward, always looking for a route of escape.  He ran from tree to tree, boulder to boulder, but the pursuit was relentless.  After a quarter of an hour being chased through the woods, he broke into a full-out sprint thinking that he could outrun them with his longer legs, but he hadn’t gone more than a hundred yards when he skidded to a halt, staring up at the end of his hopes.  He was in a ravine with a thirty-foot cliff in front of him. He tried to scramble up the face of the rock wall, but the sandstone was too smooth. Lacking any handholds, he slid back to the forest floor. He turned around thinking about charging back the way he came - trying to break through, but one of the kobolds was already blocking his escape; its spear leveled at Sib’s face. He had nowhere else to run.

 

The mottled brown and grey kobold approached carefully, spear out.  It came close enough so that Sib could catch the moldy earthworm odor of the subterranean creature.  The point of the spear touched Sib’s throat as the kobold called to his clan-mates through the forest in his guttural clicking and hissing language.  Sib felt as though he couldn’t even swallow without having his throat pierced. He heard the rustle of the other approaching creatures emerging from the bushes around him.  

 

Not yetNot here.  Not like this.  He started sliding his hand toward the magic amulet that hung around his neck and tensed himself for a last desperate spell;  but before he could move, he and the kobold were startled by a flap of heavy wings overhead. The kobold jumped back and tried to defend itself with the spear, but a gigantic black-winged creature, twice the size of Sib, dropped to the forest floor right in front of him, snapping the kobold’s spear shaft in half as if it were a twig.  It crushed the squirming kobold in its talons and with a gust of wind that knocked Sib to the forest floor, it took off again; its struggling prey screaming a pitiful dying yelp. 

 

Sib stared up at the winged creature and the now silent, limp form in its talons.  It was carrying its prey to a large oak tree that was overhanging the top of the cliff face.  It roosted on a branch, turned toward Sib so that he could see its face. The bird-person had the wings and talons of a giant black vulture, but the torso and head were humanoid.  But definitely not human.  The jet-black eyes and jaw full of sharp teeth were a dead giveaway about what Sib had to deal with next.

 

A harpy!  Out of the fryin’ pan and into the fire.  The harpy let out a terrifying screech that raised the hair on the back of Sib’s neck.  I ain't got no spell that’s going to help me with this one.  He set out at a full sprint back the way he came, the remaining kobolds scattering like leaves before a storm.  Behind him, he heard the sound of the creature lifting off of its roost in pursuit. Within a minute of scrambling over tree roots and ducking under low branches, he had overtaken the kobolds who had thrown their spears away and were dissolving into the underbrush; each kobold for itself.

 

Sib changed directions, running first one way and then the other.  He tried taking off at a right angle, hoping that the harpy would find a kobold to distract it, but every time he glanced back, the creature was hot on his heels, getting closer every second, flying from tree to tree in pursuit.

 

I can’t outrun it.  Where do I go?  He looked to his left and saw one of the kobolds find a hole in the ground and wriggle inside.   Recognizing that continuing his panicked run was pointless, he realized the only way he could save himself.  I can go down!  He grabbed his amulet, pointed it at the ground and cast a vanishing spell.  “Evanesco lutum!” A four-foot hole in the ground appeared where the solid forest floor was a moment ago.  He saw a shadow cast over him and heard the sounds of the flapping of heavy wings. He jumped into the hole and pressed his body down as far as it would go into the raw dirt, feeling a razor-sharp talon tear a swath across the back of his shirt. 

 

The harpy took off again.  Lookin' to take another swipe at me.  He pointed his wand at the side of his hole and cast his spell again.  “Evanesco lutum!” His hole had become a cave and he scrambled inside, hearing the screech as the harpy tore at the ground over his head in an effort to dig him out.  He curled up inside, wondering how long he would have to wait until it was safe to come back out. The harpy shifted above, but he could hear that it hadn’t moved from overhead.  It’s waitin' me out.  Deciding he wanted to live a few more months until his thirteenth birthday, Sib tried to get comfortable.

 

The longer he sat, the more cramped his legs became.  Even after what seemed like an hour, he knew the harpy hadn’t gone anywhere.  He would have heard its wings flap - carrying it away. How long had it been waitin' for that kobold to come stumblin' into its territory? 

 

He found himself drifting off, his thoughts becoming hazy.  He wondered what his friends would do in this situation. He had four good friends from Gampton Hall Academy where he went to school.  Incheon, his best friend, would make a joke. ‘Hey, Sib, I’m going to tell on this bully.  After all, snitches get 150 points.’ 

 

His friend Lef had helped treat his injured hand last year when it had been crushed by devil’s snare.  He could see her finding some new plant that would treat some weird condition.  ‘Oooh, a checkered rattlesnake-plantain!  These roots are an antidote to wyvern and manticore venom.  I didn’t even know it grew here.’    

 

Lily, who was their friend in Featherpenny - a different house than theirs at school - was obsessed with Quidditch.  She was the seeker for her house team. She would definitely think about what move she would use to evade the harpy on her broom.  ‘I’d start with an inside loop and then transition to a bell tailslide.  There’s no way she could follow that.’

 

Willow, who was the house president of Pathfinder, their house at Gampton Hall Academy, would definitely come up with a plan.  ‘The only way I can see is to dig a tunnel.  Just far enough to escape.’  

 

Sib shook himself alert.  That’s it.  I just need to tunnel out.  He shifted his legs which had fallen asleep, the pinpricks throbbing through them.  “Evanesco lutum,” he whispered, trying not to alert the harpy overhead. His cave grew into a short tunnel.  “Evanesco lutum.” “Evanesco lutum.” “Evanesco lutum,” he cast over and over again. His tunnel growing longer and taking him further from the watchful eyes and ears of the harpy. 

 

After about a hundred feet, he fell on his face as the floor of the tunnel collapsed into an underground burrow.  He cast 'lumos’ with his amulet as a furry foot-long creature scurried past Sib and burrowed quickly into the dirt on the far side.  Sib just had an instant to identify a niffler by its duck-like snout and groundhog-sized body. Nifflers have treasure!  He looked down where his foot had punched through the floor of his own tunnel into the creature's den.  

 

He saw several objects glittering in the faint light of his amulet and he reached down to grab them.  He sighed when he had discovered the treasure trove: a piece of aluminum foil; a bottle cap; a plain tarnished silver ring; and an empty crystal vial.  He pocketed the ring and the vial and dumped the bottle cap and aluminum foil back into the niffler’s nest. I should have known better than expectin' him to find treasure way the heck out here in the backwoods.

 

He tunneled on about fifty feet further and decided to work his way to the surface since the opening from the start of the tunnel was now just a point in the distance.  Carefully, he used the dirt vanishing spell to excavate back toward the forest floor. Once he could peek above the ground, he saw he was well obscured in the middle of a thicket.  He crawled to the ground level, but kept his body low and tried to get his bearings. I’d better hurry if I’m gonna make it before sundown. He quietly set off toward home.

 

He made sure to change his shirt for a spare one he had in his bag before he walked in the door.  No need to try to explain that...  As he walked into his family's cabin, he was greeted by his mother. She was early middle-aged, thin, and fit, but the creases on her forehead and around her mouth belied the challenges of poverty.  She had deep brown eyes and dark brown hair that curled around her face at the ends.  She had tied her hair up in a handkerchief as she cooked.   “Hey, Sib,” she called.  “Whatcha been up to?”

 

He thought for a moment about what he would say: ‘Well, ma; despite you tellin’ me not to, I tracked a single kobold through the woods back to his lair, but he called out his war party and drove me through the forest and nearly cut off my head, but a harpy came out of nowhere and killed the kobold and scared off the others and then chased me through the woods trying to tear my face off until I dug myself a hole in the ground and tunneled to safety.’  

 

Not feeling like getting a tanned hide, he decided to change his story.  “Nuthin’, ma,” he responded. “Just hangin’ out in the woods.”  

 

*******

 

“Give that back you son of a…”

 

“Boys!” their mom yelled.  “What are you fighting about this time?”

 

“Arcturus stole my letter from Gampton Hall again!” yelled Sib.   His brother, a hulking seventeen-year-old with dark hair, heavy eyebrows and a darker disposition was pushing his hand into Sib's face as he held a letter in the air with the other.

 

“Arc!” his mom yelled, but Sib’s older brother just burst outside, leaving a swinging storm door behind him.  Sib’s mom gestured Sib over to her.

 

“Sibelius Orion,” she said to him quietly.  “You know you will get another one if your brother destroys the letter...which he’s sure to do,” she added in a disapproving undertone.  “He can’t help it that he ain’t got no magic.”  

 

“Well I can’t help it if I do,” Sib responded.  “And I’ll be damned if I’m going to take much more of his crap.”

 

“Language, Sib,” his mom reprimanded.  “We ain’t got much learnin' in this house, but I won’t have you uncivil.”

 

“Sorry, ma.”  A few moments later, an owl flew in the open window and dropped a letter on the table before flying back out again.  “Looks like Arc destroyed that letter,” Sib observed wryly, picking up the envelope and seeing the Gampton Hall Academy postmark.

 

“Well, then,” his mom said.  “Best you hide this one so he don’t find it.”

 

Sib folded the letter and stuffed it in his back pocket.  “Do I have to get everything second-hand this year?”

 

“Oh, Sib,” she sighed.  “You know how I work and it’s just enough to keep us all fed and clothed and a roof over our head.  We can’t afford nothin' but.”

 

“I know, ma,” he said.  “It just sucks bein’ poor.”

 

“Language, Sib,” reminded his mother.  “And yes, it sure does.”

 

*******

 

Sib was lying on his bed that night, hearing the heavy snores of his brother sleeping in the lower bunk.  He pulled out his letter to Gampton Hall and chanced a light spell.  

 

“Lumos.”  His wand-amulet glowed with a soft white light.  He looked at the amulet - which until the end of last year had been his grandmother’s hemlock wand.  He remembered the very last day of school after he and his friends had discovered the truth about their house and had gone to a magical pool in the middle of the ruins of an ancient American Indian magic school.  He had dipped his wand into the pool with the others, not caring what happened to it as their wands hadn’t worked for them all year. He had watched the wand twist into the shape it held now. A circle about four inches in diameter, with a horizontal line cutting across the bottom third, a triangle in the middle and a smaller circle on the top.  It looked as if a full moon was rising directly above a lakeside mountain. As soon as he and the others had transformed their wands, their magic had worked perfectly - just in time for their final exams.  

 

As Sib unfolded the letter from his mage school, he tried to be as quiet as he could.  He knew that he wasn’t supposed to be using magic at home until his seventeenth birthday, but since his mother was also a mage, he figured that the authorities would never be able to distinguish if it was him or her.  

 

Dear Sibelius O. Hooplander, 

 

Welcome back to Gampton Hall Academy.  All second-year students should obtain the following before the first day of classes: 

-Second-year alchemy kit (available at most major Narrowway alchemy retailers)

-Uniform clothing including white collared shirts, slacks, and black shoes, dress robes and a winter cloak; 

-The following textbooks: 

          The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 2 by Miranda Goshawk

          Perfect Potions Through Amazing Alchemy by Gascard Blastenstone

          Alteration Transformed by Kirkegaard O.O. Kilosky

          Advanced Herbology or How I Learned to Love Mimbulus Mimbletonia, 2nd Ed - by Neville Longbottom

          Don’t Tickle A Sleeping Dragon and Other Useful Tips for Magical Creature Care by The National Foundation for the Protection of Magical Creatures (NFPMC)

          The History of Magic, Volume 2 by Zephyr Zolock

 

The Gampton Hall Bus will arrive to pick you up from your place of residence at 7:23 am on Tuesday, September 6 and will return you to your home after the first day.  Travel to the school by Firejump Network, broom, or other conveyance is not permitted until Wednesday, September 7.

 

Sincerely, 

Patricia Black

Chancellor, Gampton Hall Academy

 

He glanced through the list again.  This sounds expensive.  He was well aware that what he was looking at was his birthday and Christmas presents from his mom all wrapped into one.  He sighed as he knew that was the case, but he felt it was all worth it to be back with his friends and finally able to use magic in the open again.  

 

His brother stirred in the bed below, snorting a little in his sleep.  Sib hated his brother.  Even if his brother were to have magic, they were separated by too many years.  Sib was five years younger than Arc, who would be heading into his graduating year of nomaj high school.  If he finishes...  They shared almost nothing in common.  Sib liked Quidditch, tracking animals through the woods, and camping out.  His brother, on the other hand, liked music, skateboarding, and the only magical sport he would watch was Quod-pot; but only because he found it interesting when the ball exploded and some player had to be hauled away to the hospital.

 

He knew his brother hated him too.  Maybe 'resented' is a better word.  Of course, there wasn’t a day that went by that Arc didn’t physically abuse him with a headlock, a punch on the arm, or occasionally an all-out brawl like what happened today.

 

He reached over to his old, battered Stor-All backpack that had been his father’s.  He kept everything he owned in this bag since it was magically enchanted. Only he could get to what was inside. It was the only place safe from his brother’s destructive reach.  He put the letter back inside and reached a little further down, his fingers brushing the tarnished ring and crystal vial he had found the previous day. He finally found the small book that his friend Lef had sent him over the summer. 

 

It was a simple ebony black book, about the size of a sandwich.  Sib rubbed the smooth glossy cover. Feels like obsidian. Cold and clean.  He opened the book and it instantly flipped to the page holding the latest message.  

 

'Dear Sib, 

 

Hope you are well.  I'm so happy that Lef gave us all these instant messaging books.  I think having owls fly into my house every day would definitely make my neighbors suspicious.  How do you think it knows when I write a note inside that it should go to you? '

 

Sib smiled.  Willow was nomaj-born, having parents who were non-magical, and was always asking how magical devices work.  It knows it should go to me because that's what you want it to do, he thought in response.  He continued reading.

 

'Incheon loaned me 'Quidditch, The Mage's Way of Life' which is fascinating.  (You won't believe the size of the owl that ended up delivering it in the middle of the night.)  I've been reading up on the latest brooms. I have an idea for next year, but I'm not sure it will work, so I'll save it for our first day back.  Can you believe we are only a month away? Let me know when you're going to Narrowway to get your things and I can see if we can go on the same day.  

 

Best, Willow.'

 

Sib turned the page, grabbed his quill and started on his response. 

 

'Willow, All's good here', he wrote, lying about how he felt. 'Just enjoying the outside whenever I can.  We're going to Naroway next Saturday.' He paused, staring at the name of the magical street of shops that everyone went to for school and supplies in the mid-Atlantic wizarding world.  That don't look right.  He flipped the page, saw how Willow spelled it and then made the correction, jamming in another 'r' and 'w' and using his magic quill to nudge the other letters out of the way to make room.

I wish I could afford a spell-check quillMy spelling stinks.  He continued with his letter.  'Hopefuly, I'll see you there. -Sib' 

 

He closed the book, felt it vibrate and then opened it again, revealing the empty page where he had written his note.  He put his things back in his bag, extinguished the light and rolled over. 

 

*******

 

What I look forward to most of all is being away from you! Sib was stuck in a headlock, scratching away at his brother’s forearm, trying to free himself.  “Get off!”

 

“Tell me you give up on magic,” his brother demanded.

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

“Tell me...”  His brother tightened his grip so that Sib was having trouble breathing.  “Tell me you give up on magic.”

 

“I ain’t...giving up on … nothing,” Sib said, his fingers reaching toward his amulet.  “Inpulsa,” he croaked.

 

His brother let him go and stepped back.  “You shocked me,” he said. “You know you ain’t allowed to use magic.”

 

“I’m allowed to defend myself,” Sib said, rubbing his neck with one hand and holding the amulet with the other.

 

“Defend yourself?” His brother took a step toward him. “From me?”  Sib backed away, but he was against a wall and couldn’t see a way to escape.  His brother took another step toward him.

 

“You stay away from me!” cried Sib, holding out the amulet toward his brother like he was a holy man trying to ward away a vampire.  His brother snatched the amulet out of Sib’s hand, breaking the cord that held it around his neck.

 

“Now that the fancy mage doesn’t have his precious magic amulet,” his brother taunted.  “What’s he gonna do?”

 

“Give that back!” yelled Sib, trying to reach for it, but his brother just held him at a distance with his other arm.

 

“What happens if I accidentally break this amulet, huh?” 

 

“Don’t you dare,” Sib warned.

 

“Or what?” Arc replied.  “You’ll spit at me? You’ll call me names?  Or you gonna tell on me to ma?”

 

“That wand is Gramma’s.  It won’t be but me spittin’ at you.  Ma will tan your hide. You know she ain’t got money to get me one of my own.”

 

“Like I care what ma thinks,” he said.  “I’m nothing but a disappointment to her.  You’re the golden boy.”

 

“Even if that were true, that ain’t my fault!” yelled Sib, keeping his eyes on the wand held in his brother’s trembling fists.  “All I did was be born with magic.”

 

“And that was enough,” he said.  “Maybe if I bust up this wand, you’ll be nothing but a squib like me.”  Before Sib could make a move to stop him, Arc brought the amulet down hard on his knee, cracking it along the center.



Chapter 2: The Right Form
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“Good thing you have this book stipend,” Sib’s mom whispered to him.  The cashier was waving his wand at Sib’s school books and the prices were rising in the air and adding themselves together.  “Second hand or not, these books are worth more than I earn in a week.”

 

Sib wasn’t paying attention.  He was looking through the window towards the Quidditch sporting goods store across the way.  His focus was on the broom in the display window. It was jet black, but what drew Sib’s eye were the bristles.  Instead of being made of twigs or straw, they were made entirely of flame. Red, orange and yellow gouts of fire shot from the back of the broom.  “Ma, can we go check that out?” he asked.

 

“Sure.  We ain’t in a hurry,” his mom replied, putting Sib’s books into her own battered purse.  “But don’t get no ideas,” she reminded him.  

 

They headed into the store named 'Quod (De)pot' to look around.  Inside were rows upon rows of Quidditch and Quodpot supplies. There was a wall with about twenty different brooms on display, aisles of balls, collapsible goals, cases, and other supplies.  There were other aisles filled with clothing, hats, and other gear supporting a number of teams that Sib had been reading about for years. Passing by one of the aisles, he saw shirts with the Sweetwater All-Stars on them and a poster showing the Fitchburg Finches flying around the frame.  Sib stopped at the window display to look at the flaming broom.

 

“It’s a Firebird,” said a voice behind him and Sib turned to see a saleswoman approaching.  She was older, maybe in her fifties - but Sib found it hard to tell since her long straight hair was bright powder blue.  

 

“It’s amazin’,” said Sib turning back to the broom.  “Uh...how much is it?”  

 

“That one?  Oh, it’s only a prop.  It won’t even fly. A real Firebird would go for something like eight or nine hundred thousand dragots...but one hasn’t gone up for auction in years.”

 

“Excuse me?” exclaimed Sib’s mom, who had caught up to them.  “Eight or nine hundred thousand? That’s more than I’ll earn in my entire life...for a broom!”

 

“They are exorbitantly expensive,” replied the saleswoman. “Only twelve were ever made and five of those have been lost or destroyed.  Each one was crafted by a true grandmaster broom maker. Nothing has ever been made before or since that could match it for speed and maneuverability.  Quodpot and Quidditch professionals would do anything to get their hands on one of them.”

 

“I bet,” said Sib.  “Maybe we could find a broomstick on sale?” he said wistfully to his mom.

 

“And maybe you got tuna fish casserole for brains,” his mom responded.  “You need all these supplies plus dress robes this year. Long as you keep goin' to school, there ain’t no way I can get you a broom.  You just use the school ones. Besides, you don’t even have enough people in your house to play anyways.”  Sib knew she was right, but couldn’t help but walk away disappointed.

 

Sib’s mom went into the nearby potion supply store called ‘Alchemy Alcove’ and Sib waited outside near the wand store for her to return.  He was staring through the window at the glassy display cases, bright neon lights and the general ice cream parlor-like atmosphere when he saw the reflection of his friend in the front glass of the store.

 

“Willow!” Sib called as he saw his friend for the first time since the beginning of the summer.  “I’m glad you were able to come when we were.”

 

“Hi Sib,” she responded, pulling her shoulder-length dirty blonde hair back into a ponytail and putting a hairband around it.  She was tall with deep brown eyes and was as focused and determined as anyone he had met.  “Are you getting your things for the year?” she asked him.

 

“Yup,” he said. “But we gotta stop in here next.” 

 

“Me too.  But why are you going to the wand store?”

 

“Oh,” Sib replied.  “My brother busted mine, so I’m seein’ if Miss Chantrix can fix it up.  What about you? Is your wand busted too?"

 

“No,” Willow started and her face lit up as she began to talk.  “Do you remember when we were learning about applied magic last year and how I borrowed that spell removal potion from Mr. Hendershot?” 

 

“Borrowed?” Sib smiled. “I don’t recall you ever thinkin’ to put it back.”

 

“Whatever,” Willow continued, dismissing the detail.  “And you remember that my mom accidentally drank it?” Sib nodded and she continued.  “Well, it turns out that she has been a mage all along. She had a spell cast on her when she was eleven that caused her to forget all about her magical ability and the spell removal potion made her magical again.  Isn’t that awesome?”

 

Following only about half of what Willow was saying, Sib responded.  “Sure, but I don’t understand… she has her power back, but she don’t remember anythin' about what happened?”

 

“No, Willow said.  “She was born as a mage and apparently when she was eleven, she went to Gampton Hall with my grandfather, but for whatever reason, they decided not to attend and when you make that decision, there’s a spell that erases your memory of ever being a mage and it suppresses your magic so that you can live your life as a regular nomaj.  When she drank the potion, she became a mage again, but she doesn’t have any memories of anything about it.”

 

“So,” Sib asked.  “You think Miss Chantrix will be able to give her a wand if she ain’t had no schooling?”

 

“They gave us wands and we didn’t have any schooling,” Willow responded. She turned as her mom approached carrying a long thin package.   Sib smiled because she looked like an older version of Willow, the only difference was that her shoulder-length hair was darker. “I’ll see you inside,” Willow said to him as she and her mom entered the store.

 

Sib had always liked Willow and thought she was beautiful, but had never gotten up the nerve to tell her so.  He knew he was dirt poor and his grammar was awful. He had written it off as something that couldn't happen.  He waited outside for his mom wondering if it would be as easy as Willow said for her mom to get a wand.  From what he knew, MACUSA had about a thousand government regulations about wand ownership.  He saw his mom coming and held the door open for her.

 

“Willow!” Miss Chantrix cried when she was finished with her previous customer. She was in her early thirties and had large-framed glasses that changed neon colors in time to the display cases around the store.  “I’m dying to see that wand! I heard all about it from Ruluff Hendershot, but I have to see it.”  Willow took her amulet off of her neck and handed it to the eager store owner.

 

“It’s amazing,” Miss Chantrix fawned, “and it works?” 

 

“Perfectly,” said Willow.  “At least as far as I can tell.”

 

“Here,” Miss Chantrix said as she handed it back to Willow.  “Do a charm for me...” She looked around for a moment and then found a quill.  Breaking it in half, she pointed at it. “Do a mending charm from your Thaumaturgy lessons.”

 

Willow held the amulet in her hand and concentrated on the broken quill while she called out “reparo”.  The quill jumped on the table as the two halves pulled themselves together. Miss Chantrix picked up the fixed quill and glanced at it before turning back to her.

 

“I’m so glad it works,” she said, “and the others...?" Willow nodded and turned to Sib.  Miss Chantrix looked at him "Does your wand look like this too?”

 

"Not exactly, Miss Chantrix," Sib said, holding up the mangled remains of his amulet.

 

"Oh, no!” she exclaimed.  “Let me see." Sib placed the broken amulet in her outstretched hand.  "How did it happen?" she asked after inspecting the damage. 

 

"My brother busted it over his knee," Sib responded.

 

She evaluated it carefully, holding it up close to her eye level.  "Early sixties vintage..." she remarked.  "Well, no magical damage, so that’s fortunate..." She flipped the amulet over and then looked up at him.  "The good news is that I don't think it's beyond repair, but this might take us a while. It's no 'reparo' if you know what I mean."  She looked around her and then went over to a swinging pink door that led into a back room. Pressing it halfway open, she called into the space beyond which was piled with boxes from floor to ceiling.  "Binky! Do you have a minute?" She turned back to them while she was waiting. "Binky really has a gift for this sort of damage repair." When the elf arrived at the door, Miss Chantrix spoke to him for a moment and then turned back to Sib.  "Just wait around for a few minutes while Binky sees to it. He should be right out for you."  Sib nodded and waited while Miss Chantrix turned back to Willow.

 

"Thank you so much for letting me look at your wands," she said.  "I’ll tell you, I’ve never heard or seen anything like it.”

 

“That’s actually not the only reason we came in,” said Willow.  “My mom needs to talk to you.”

 

“Ah, Ms. Carter,” said Miss Chantrix, looking up at Willow’s mom.  “How can I help you?”

 

“I’d like to see about getting a wand,” she said to Miss Chantrix.

 

“I’m not sure I understand.  Willow already has a wand.”

 

“It’s not for her.  It’s for me.”

 

“For you?” questioned Miss Chantrix.  “Why?...just for decoration, you mean?”

 

“No,” Willow’s mom explained.  “I just found out two months ago that I’m actually a mage.  I’ve been magical all my life, but it was hidden until this last spring.”

 

“That’s unheard of...,” replied Miss Chantrix shaking her head in disbelief.  “How in the world did you just find out that you were a mage?”

 

“It turns out that I was magical as a child and I was invited to attend Gampton Hall when I was eleven, but for whatever reason, my father opened the blue envelope."

 

"Blue envelope?" questioned Miss Chantrix. 

 

Willow's mom looked confused.  "Doesn't everyone get the choice between the red and blue envelopes?"

 

Sib piped up to clarify since he had heard the story from Willow's own envelope experience last year.  "Ms. Carter," he interjected. "There ain't no red or blue envelope for anyone but nomaj students."

 

After thinking for a moment, she nodded her head.  "I guess that makes sense. The other families wouldn't have a blue envelope to go back to.  Anyway, the red envelope is to accept attendance at the school and apparently my father or I opened the blue envelope which erased our memory of the event and masked my magical abilities.  I've been living the last thirty years as a nomaj."

 

"I've heard about mages living as nomaj," Miss Chantrix said.  "But not like this... Fascinating; go on."

 

"Then, midway through last year, I accidentally drank a potion that washed away the spell that was hiding it.”

 

"You mean a dispel potion?  How did you accidentally drink it?"  Willow, who had stolen the potion from their Thaumaturgy classroom was squirming.  Sib, seeing her discomfort spoke for her. 

 

"We was tryin' to wash our wands with it last year when they wasn't working," he said.  "Seems some got mixed up with what Ms. Carter was drinkin'."

 

“That’s incredible...” started Miss Chantrix, but she stopped mid-sentence, shaking her head.  “But even if it were true, Ms. Carter, I still couldn’t sell you a wand.”

 

“Why not?” 

 

“Because you’d be listed as a wandless mage.  We are forbidden by law to sell wands to wandless mages...I could lose my license.”

 

“So how do I get off this list?” Willow’s mom asked.

 

“I have no idea,” said Miss Chantrix, “but I’d start with MACUSA's Wizarding Resources Department.”

 

“Okay.  Remind me what ‘macoosa’ is again?” 

 

“Sorry,” Miss Chantrix shook her head.  “I keep forgetting that not everyone knows that. It’s the Magical Congress of the United States of America.  The acronym is pronounced ‘macoosa’. It’s America’s magical government agency.”

 

“Right, and how do I get to the Wizarding Resources Department?”

 

“Oh, I can show you,” Sib’s mom interjected.  “We have to head over there anyways.” Sib’s mom introduced herself.  “I’m Cassiopia Hooplander; Sib’s ma.  But I go by ‘Cass’.”

 

“Well, Cass, it’s nice to meet you.  I’m Heather Carter.” They shook hands.  The two of them exchanged pleasantries while they waited.  Sib looked around when he saw the door to the back room open, and the elf, Binky, exited and walked over to him.

 

“Were you able to fix it Mr. Binky?” Sib asked the short, bald, bat-eared creature.

 

“I think so,” he replied.  “Let’s give it a shot.” Try ‘aguamenti.’”

 

“But it’ll make a mess,” Sib said, looking around.

 

“Yes, but then I’ll have you use “vacuo” to clean it up,” Binky clarified, smiling.

 

“Oh, okay…aguamenti!”  A stream of water shot out of the center of Sib’s amulet, splashing the wand case in front of him.  He stepped back to avoid the puddle and raised his wand again. “Vacuo!” The amulet started sucking up the water from the floor, the stream disappearing back into the nothingness where it started.

 

“Seems like it works like new,” Binky said.

 

Sib looked it over, but it really was as Binky said; good as new.  “Thank you Mr. Binky, I don’t know what we would have done if it couldn’t be fixed.”  Sib’s mom approached the counter to pay for the repair and Sib held the door open for all of them as they left the store and walked toward the entrance to MACUSA.

 

As they walked, Willow held out a long wrapped package.  “Sib, guess what?” she started, and then without waiting she answered her own question.  “I got a broom for my birthday present! I’m going to start a Pathfinder Quidditch team!”

 

“Are you…” Sib was going to say ‘insane’ but changed mid-sentence.  “...sure? Last I checked, we only had four people in our house.”

 

“Yes, but we’re bound to get more.  We’re the fifth house, remember? I just know we’ll have new members.”

 

“New members who can fly,” Sib clarified.  “Won’t do no good if none of them can get off the ground.”  He saw that he was making Willow feel bad and quickly added “I mean…Incheon and I are half decent, but...well...we ain’t likely to win a game all year.”

 

“Oh, I don’t care,” Willow responded.  “I just want to play. You know, be a part of the school."  She stared off into the distance wistfully.  "Sib, I finally feel like I’m somewhere I belong and I want to make the most of every second.”  She opened the wrapping slightly so Sib could see the model. “It’s a Quantum-3,” she continued.  “Really at the mid-point in terms of speed and agility. It’s not as maneuverable as the Yggdrasil X-30, but at a quarter of the cost, I really couldn’t justify the better model to my mom.”

 

“Sounds like you been doin’ some homework,” Sib responded, impressed that a nomaj-born like Willow knew so much about brooms.  Did you memorize that whole book that Incheon sent?”

 

“Just about.  I think having our own team is going to be amazing.”

 

“There’s no talking you out of this, is there?” Sib asked.

 

“Nope.”

 

“Okay then,” Sib mused.  “I guess we’ll see what we get in the sortin’.”  They walked the rest of the way to the MACUSA main lobby discussing Quidditch; Sib growing more and more impressed with Willow’s knowledge of the sport.  

 

They eventually reached the lobby, took the elevator to the 87th floor and stopped at the Wizarding Resources Department.  “Here you are, Heather,” Sib’s mom said when the elevator doors opened.  “I hate to be a bother, but would you be willing to keep an eye on Sib while I go…”

 

“Sure,” replied Willow’s mom.  “You go on.”

 

“What’s your mom doing here?” asked Willow as they stepped off the elevator.

 

Too embarrassed to tell her the actual reason, Sib quickly thought up another.  “Uh...she’s gotta see about some plant she found.”

 

“But she pushed the button for the Magical Law Enforcement floor,” Willow responded, confused.

 

“Oh, she does that all the time,” Sib said, immediately feeling awful about saying that as his mom had an amazing sense of direction. “She’ll figure it out soon enough.”  Luckily, Willow’s mom had found the receptionist and Sib turned his attention to their conversation.

 

“...So you’re a squib,” said the mage behind the desk - a young man in blue robes and thick glasses, his dark brown hair sticking up at odd angles.  It was clear that he was struggling to understand what Willow’s mom was saying.

 

“What’s a squib?” Willow’s mom asked.

 

“It’s a person born to a magical family who doesn’t have any magic,” he explained.

 

“No,” responded Willow’s mom.  “I have magic, I just don’t have a wand.”

 

“Oh, so you’re a wandless mage?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Okay,” he replied.  He reached in his desk, flipped through a few files and pulled out a form.  “Let’s see here…” they went through the usual name and address information before he got to his next question. “...And why did you have your wand taken away?”

 

“I didn’t have it taken away, I've lived the last thirty years as a nomaj and I’ve never had a wand.”

 

The man paused for a second and adjusted his glasses.  “So you’re a nomaj?” he asked.

 

“Look,” said Willow’s mom, pulling her handbag from her shoulder and holding it up.  “This is a Granger that I bought at a shop in Narrowway. I’ve certified with everyone I could that the magic of this bag does not work for nomaj.”  She proceeded to open the bag and put her arm inside to the point where the bag was hanging on her shoulder; making it appear as though her arm was gone.

 

“So you’re a wandless mage?” he asked again.

 

“Yes,” repeated Willow’s mom, clearly beginning to get frustrated.

 

“But you have to report how you lost your wand to begin with,” he said, working through frustration of his own. 

 

“Until three months ago, I was nomaj,” started Willow’s mom, “I’ve never been to magic school or had a wand.  I lived my entire life as a nomaj with no idea that I had any hidden magic powers. In April, I accidentally drank a magic potion and my hidden magic was revealed.  Now that I’m a mage, I wanted to get a wand but Caitlyn Chantrix said I have to get a waiver or something.”

 

There was silence for a moment as the man behind the desk thought about what he had just heard.  “Wow,” he said, sitting back in his chair. “I don’t think we have a form for that.”  After a second, he got a pad of red paper out of his desk, wrote a short message on it, crumpled up the paper into a ball and threw it in a can beside his desk.  “Take a seat over there.” He gestured toward a few chairs lined up against a nearby wall. “Someone will be right with you.”  

 

They ended up waiting about five minutes until a man who looked exactly like the one they were just talking to came over and greeted them, carrying an uncrumpled red piece of paper in his hand.  Sib had to look back at the man they were talking to first just to check that this person was different. Sib missed his name, which he mentioned while they were led back to his office, a spacious cavern of a room with a single desk and a few chairs located in the center. Willow’s mom began the explanation all over again.

 

“...So you’re a squib?” the man asked. 

 

“No, I have magic, I just don’t have a wand.”

 

“Oh, so you’re a wandless mage?”

 

“Yes”

 

“Oh, then you need form twelve-c”

 

“You mean this form?” Willow’s mom held up the form that the first version of this man had given them.  

 

“Yes, that's the one."  Willow's mom handed it over.  He glanced it over and then noticed a problem.  "Wait, you need to fill out box fourteen.” He turned the paper around on the desk and pushed it back toward Willow’s mom who leaned over to see what the question was. 

 

“But I didn’t have my wand taken away, I was never given a wand.”

 

“So, you don't have form forty-nine sixty-five from DCI?”

 

"I don’t know what either of those things are."

 

"It's a release from the Department of Confiscated Items for you to get your wand back.  All wandless mages need it for reinstatement." 

 

“But I'm not being reinstated.”  Sib could tell she was beginning to lose it.  “I was never instated to begin with."   

 

“So you're a squib?” 

 

“We’ve had this conversation already.   I’m a mage who never went to magic school, never went to Narrowway, and never got a wand.”

 

“But that’s the definition of a squib.”

 

“Look, I'm whatever you call someone who was born magical, but had their magic suppressed when they were eleven and lived as a nomaj for thirty years but then drank a magic potion and got their magic back all of the sudden without ever having gotten a wand or going to magic school."

 

“Oh,” he paused for a moment and leaned back in his chair.  “I don’t think we have a form for that.”

 

*******

 

Willow’s mom had left the office in frustration; the second man having referred the issue to his boss for another day.

 

“He probably looks the same as those two,” whispered Willow as they walked back to the lobby, making Sib laugh out loud.

 

“Thank you so much for watching him,” Sib’s mom said when she returned to meet them outside of the Wizarding Resources Department. “I had to put in another petition for my husband’s release.”  Sib looked down at his feet, but he could feel Willow’s eyes boring into the side of his head.

 

“Release?” Willow’s mom asked.

 

“From prison,” Sib’s mom responded.  “He’s being held on some trumped-up charge of dark magic use, but he was just out huntin’.”  

 

“That’s terrible,” Willow’s mom said.  “Is there anything we can do?”

 

“Like tell the truth?” Willow whispered to Sib.

 

“Sorry,” he responded.  “I ain’t proud of it.”  He was silent for the elevator ride down but said ‘bye’ to Willow before they split up in the main lobby of MACUSA.

 

“Well?” Sib asked after he and his mom returned to their cabin using the Firejump Network.

 

“They ain’t lettin’ him go if that’s what you’re askin’,” she replied to Sib’s question, dusting the floo powder from her hands.  

 

“It ain’t like he hurt nobody,” pleaded Sib.  “What’s their justification?”

 

“Simple...dark magic.  He used what they’re callin’ dark magic and there ain’t no leniency.”

 

“He used a killin’ curse to get us a deer.  What was he supposed to do? Hit it with a rock?”  Sib balled up his fists and pounded the top of the kitchen table. 

 

His mom pulled him into an embrace.  “I know. It don’t make no sense.”

 

“When we goin’ to see him next?” Sib asked, resting his head on his mom's shoulder and willing away the tears that were forming in his eyes.

 

“Let’s go at Thanksgivin’.  Right after we visit your Gramma.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“And Sib,” his mom added. “Hide your amulet in your Stor-All so your brother can’t get to it.  That repair was almost as expensive as the Thunderbird.”

 

Sib smiled.  “Firebird, ma.  And maybe not quite as bad as that.”

 

*******

 

Sib had hidden his amulet in his Stor-All, afraid that his brother would break it again before he started classes.  At the same time, he worked diligently over the last weeks before school to avoid his brother at all costs.  The day before the first day of school, his luck ran out.  Sib was just coming back from a day spent exploring the woods around his cabin when his brother jumped off the roof of the storage shed and wrestled Sib to the ground.  After pushing his face in the dirt, Arc let him go. Sib scrambled upright and tried to dust himself off.

 

“If pa was here, he’d tan your hide good.” Sib threatened.

 

“Well, pa ain’t here, is he?” said Arc.  “And why not? ‘Cause he used magic and those rat bastards came and took him away.” 

 

“We’re tryin' to get him free,” Sib said, but his brother ignored him.

 

“Pa gets taken away ‘cause he used magic; ma despises me ‘cause I can’t use magic; and you…”

 

“I what?” Sib dared him.

 

“You...replaced me,” Arc said, his glassed-over eyes looking past Sib.  “You...made me not matter.”

 

“I don't know what you're talkin' about.” 

 

“Magic's caused me nothin’ but pain.”

 

“Pain?  Lack of magic is what’s caused me pain,” Sib retorted.  “If I could use my magic, I’d curse you every time you came near me.”

 

“Try it,” Arc threatened.  “And you’ll rot for the rest of your life in Spellhold with pa.”  Sib’s blood boiled over and he rushed his brother, trying to knock him over, trying to punch him, trying to make him hurt...like he had made Sib hurt.  His brother quickly overpowered him and wrestled him to the ground with Sib’s arm pinned behind his back.

 

“Lemme go!”

 

“You’re the one who charged me...and you deserve a lesson.”  Arc stood up and slammed his foot down on Sib’s arm which felt like it had exploded.  Sib heard the snap of the bone and the agony swept over him like a landslide.

 

Arc, realizing that he had gone too far, ran off into the woods. Sib sat up, seething with fury and cradling his broken arm.  He was too filled with rage to feel the throbbing pain. “Next time you come after me and I have a chance to fight back, I ain’t gonna hesitate.”

 



Chapter 3: Pathfinders and Popsicles
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Sib watched the bus appear with a 'Bang!' out of nothingness and pull to a stop in front of him.  His mother had walked with him to the nearest road and they were waiting together.  “Make sure you go see the school nurse first thing,” she said to him.  “You’d think I’d be half decent at fixin’ broken bones by this point, but I ain’t.”

 

“It’s alright ma,” Sib replied.  “I’ll take care of it.” He climbed on board, waving good-bye with his good arm and found a seat near the front.  The other fifty or sixty students inside were all goofing off with their friends, but Sib sat alone since he knew that his friends were on a different bus than his.  As the bus jumped from stop to stop at incredible speeds, he stared through the window at the blurring world thinking about the year ahead.


His thoughts were interrupted when a student plopped on the seat next to him.  The new kid started talking immediately and it was obvious he was off to his first day ever at Gampton Hall.  “My brother told me that the sorting hat went nuts last year,” he said to Sib.

 

“It didn’t go nuts,” Sib replied.  “It just started workin' the way it was supposed to.”


“Well, I hope it doesn’t put me in the fifth house,” the kid whispered.  “You know, Pathfinder.” He didn’t realize that the house was Sib’s.

 

“What’s the matter with Pathfinder?,” Sib quizzed him.  “It’s just as good as the other houses."

 

“Well, first off it’s cursed,” the kid replied as if he knew what he was talking about. “You know, the prophecy and all.”

 

“It ain’t cursed, I tell ya,” Sib was starting to get annoyed.  Does everyone talk about Pathfinder like this?  

 

“Plus, they don’t even have a Quidditch team,” the student continued.  “I hope I get ‘Hammersmith’.”

 

The bus slammed to a halt and the driver called to the students.  “Last stop, Gampton Hall Academy! Everybody off!”

 

As Sib moved to stand up, he continued with the first-year.  “The hat’s going to put you where you belong.”

 

“Well, I don’t belong in Pathfinder.”  He climbed off the bus, Sib following him. The first-year looked around as he got outside, unsure of where to go. 

 

Sib pointed him in the right direction and remembered that part of the initiation for first-year students was a river boat ride through a series of fear-inducing rapids.  In bitterness, he sent the student off.  “Try not to wet yourself,” he hissed. 

 

His arm began throbbing again and the banter on the bus had cemented Sib’s bad mood.  He walked over toward the carriages that carried all of the remaining students to the front door of the school.  Other students continued to mill about, getting off the buses, finding friends, and migrating to the long line of pegasus-pulled carriages lined up on the side of the road.  The carriages were old, and Sib ran his free hand along the side of the nearest one. There might be two hundred and fifty years of history in this wood, he thought.  He looked to the creatures who were hitched up to pull each of the carriages.  Giant white horses with beautiful angelic feathered wings were lined up two to a carriage - one in front of the other.  Willow would go nuts over these.  He smiled, thinking of Willow’s love for almost all critters.  Wonder how she would feel about harpies?

 

“Aren’t they beautiful?” a voice called out behind him.  Sib turned and saw Willow admiring the pegasi.  

 

“I was figurin’ you’d like seein' them again,” he replied, knowing that Willow had been in Care of Magical Creatures Club the previous year and had helped take care of them.  

 

“That one is William,” she said pointing to the horse in front.  “And this one is Chippy.  I’m not surprised that Chippy’s not leading.  He’s a lazy lump.” She went over to the lazy one and started petting the side of his neck.  “Oh,” she said, noticing Sib’s arm in a sling. “What happened?”

 

“My stupid brother,” he replied.  Willow was familiar enough with his situation and frequent injuries that she didn’t need to ask any more questions. He returned to the subject of pegasi.  “I guess you still like him, lazy and all,” said Sib, nodding at Chippy. Willow just smiled and continued rubbing the pegasus' neck.

 

“Oh, hey, Willow,” another student called out.  Sib recognized him as a fellow second-year; a tall skinny brown-haired kid with severe acne.

 

“Hi Norbert,” Willow replied, turning her head toward him.  Sib remembered that Norbert had been in Hammersmith house, which was where Willow had spent almost all of last year before discovering that she truly belonged in Pathfinder.  “How are you?”

 

“Fine, but I’m kinda worried about my brother,” he said to both of them.

 

“What’s up?” Willow asked.

 

“Well, he’s not the fastest broom in the shed, if you know what I mean.” 

 

“Is that so?” asked Sib.

 

“I’d say he’s dumb as a rock, but I’d be insulting several of the more clever rocks.”

 

“Oh come on,” said Sib.  “He ain’t as slow as all that?”

 

Norbert turned to the group of people walking by.  “Beene!” he called. A young boy looking like a smaller version of Norbert emerged from the group and wandered over.  “Beene, you’re supposed to go with the first years.” He pointed the opposite direction that Beene had been walking “That way.”

 

“Okay, got it,”  Beene said and started walking the direction Norbert had pointed.

 

“That’s the third time I’ve told him,” Norbert said.  “I feel sorry for whatever house he ends up sorted to.”  He sighed. “Well, see you in the banquet hall.”

 

Sib and Willow waited for only a few more minutes before they were joined by their other friends; Incheon, a heavyset Korean boy with short hair that his mother had plastered down with what looked like snail slime; Lef, a short, thin and cute black girl, whose normally frizzy hair had been straightened and hung to her shoulders; and Lily: pale, wearing blue-framed glasses and having long straight brown hair that hung down to her waist.  They greeted each other and climbed on the carriage that was being pulled by William and Chippy.  They each found a comfortable spot to sit. Incheon and Willow were careful to sit in the middle - away from the doors and windows.

 

“Heights,” explained Incheon.  Sib was well aware that his friend was not a fan.  “What happened to your arm?” Incheon asked.

 

“My brother decided that he don’t like bein’ a squib,” explained Sib.  “So he sat on me and then jumped on my arm. My ma did what she could, but she told me to go to the school nurse to fix it right.”

 

“Let me see that,” said Lef.  Lef was amazing with anything having to do with healing.  “Are you okay with me giving it a try?” she asked after looking it over.

 

“Sure,” replied Sib.  “Even if you can’t get it right, I can still go to Mrs. Praecuro after.”

 

“Well, you wouldn’t be able to get to the school nurse for hours,” she said.  She took her amulet in her hand and pointed it at Sib’s arm.

“Brackium Emendo!” she called.  Sib took a sudden inhale.  “Sorry!” cried Lef.  “Did I hurt you?”

 

“No, it…” he started.  “It just felt weird. Like the bone was movin’ around inside my arm.” It immediately felt better.  Sib pulled his arm out of the sling and carefully moved it around.  “Lef,” he said. “You are awesome...no matter what Incheon says about you.”

 

“Hey!,” replied Incheon, getting in on the joke.  “That was supposed to be a secret.”  Their banter was interrupted by the sudden movement of the carriages.  Almost instantly, they picked up speed and lifted off of the ground, the pegasus wings making a rhythmic deep beating sound as they pulled the carriage into the air.

 

“Oh, I don’t like this,” Willow said.  

 

“You’ll be fine,” said Lef, who was leaning out the window. “Just don’t barf.”

 

“Or if you do,” said Sib who was on Willow’s other side.  “Barf that way.” He pointed toward Lef. He turned to the window on his side of the carriage and looked down to see the ground dropping further and further away as they climbed into the sky.  He looked around and could see the forest in almost every direction with a few breaks here and there for a farmstead or small village. Looking forward, he could see the carriages were all flying in one long line; a procession of pegasi pulling them into the air and over a river which now lay beneath them, almost a mile across.

 

“I can see the rapids!” Lef called from the other side.  “And look! There are the boats!” She was half hanging out of the window; gesturing to the others with both arms.  Willow leaned over and grabbed Lef’s legs, which were up on the seat. Lef looked back at her.

 

“I know how clumsy you are, Lef, and keeping you from dying is distracting me from the terror I’m feeling right now,” Willow said to her.  Lef just shook her head and turned back to the view.

 

Sib returned to his window and could see the island that held Gampton Hall and the magical town of Gampton laid out in front of him.  It was several miles long but narrower in width.  Shaped like the iris of a snake’s eye.

 

“Lily,” asked Willow.  “Don’t you and Incheon live in Gampton?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“So a bus picks you up on the first day too?”

 

“Yeah, why?”

 

“Well, it doesn’t seem to make sense.  The bus picks you up on the island, zooms you over to the mainland, and then you take the carriages right back to Gampton Hall.” 

 

“I guess they just wanted us to enjoy this magnificent ride,” replied Incheon, looking green and holding on to the seat with white knuckles.

 

“I get the impression that things make sense differently in the nomaj world,” Lily observed.

 

“Yeah,” Willow replied.  “It just seems like a waste of energy.”

 

“There’s no lack of energy in the magic world,” Lily responded.  “We can leave the lights on all the time and it doesn’t matter; or fly around the world a hundred times.”  Sib looked ahead of their carriage and saw the procession start to descend.  He felt his stomach lurch upwards as the carriage started to dive. Willow let out a little scream.

 

“It’s alright,” Sib soothed.  “We’re just comin’ down to land.”

 

“I think I’ll call out sick on the first day next year,” said Willow.

 

“I think I’m going to be sick the first day this year,” said Incheon, who looked ready to hurl.

 

Lef came back in from the window, reached in her bag and pulled out a couple of small envelopes, handing one each to Incheon and Willow.  “Here, eat these.”

 

“Why didn’t you give this to me fifteen minutes ago?” complained Incheon after eating the small flower petal that was inside.  

 

“Because it’s foeniculum.  It’s usually used to soothe babies,” replied Lef.

 

“Then why do you have it?”

 

“‘Cause I knew you were a big baby,” Lef retorted.  “But you feel better, don’t you?”

 

“Hm.” Incheon grunted.

 

The carriage jostled as it touched down on the gravel driveway outside of the school and the carriages rolled to a halt; the doors opening on their own.  The group got out and moved together with the other students toward the main stairs of Gampton Hall.  Sib glanced up at the gigantic mansion, so unlike his humble cabin in every way.  It was designed like a European villa, with three square towers along the front and a long building running the entire length along the back.   The sharply pitched roof held two floors of dormers and the courtyards in the front held a patio on the left and a conservatory on the right.  Despite the fact that Gampton Hall was about as different from Sib's house as one could get, he smiled as he walked up the main stairs thinking about how he felt equally at home in both places.  He followed the others into the entrance hall, through the conservatory, and finally entered the grand banquet hall.  The ceilings in the hall towered seventy feet over their heads.

 

“I’ll see you later,” Lily called to them as she moved off toward Featherpenny's blue and silver-trimmed table of about eighty students.  Sib looked around and saw another table of about a hundred students on the far side of the room and recognized the red and gold of Hammersmith.  The smaller silver and green Murgatroyd table and the yellow and black Suncorn tables were on the opposite side of the room. In the very center was a table sized for ten that was decked out in purple and white.

 

“This is us,” Willow called to them.  After they sat down, she burst into an announcement.  “I want to start a Quidditch team.” There was a moment of silence while Lef and Incheon looked at her.

 

“Are you insane?” said Lef.  “We’ll lose every game!”

 

“We’re not just going to lose,” added Sib, knowing this would be the reaction.  “We’re going to get destroyed. We’re talking epic beatings...for the record book.”

 

“I’m in,” said Incheon.

 

“What?” questioned Sib.  “Why?”

 

“Record beatings,” said Incheon.  When the others gave him a puzzled look, he continued.  “Like you said, we aren’t just going to lose. We’re going to set a record for the worst team in the history of Gampton Hall.  We’ll be immortalized.” He looked dreamy.

 

“Now you’re insane,” said Sib.

 

“Naw,” replied Incheon.  “Just hungry.” He pulled something to eat out of his own Stor-All.  “Where are those little twerps anyway?” 

 

“We were those little twerps just one year ago,” reminded Willow.

 

At the prompting, a loud knock came from one of the side doors.  Mrs. Black, the Chancellor of the school and a woman whose appearance and bearing fit her name went over to the double doors.  She was middle-aged, had jet black hair and carried a stern look that never left her face. Somehow her British accent exaggerated this rigidity.  She opened the double doors, greeting a burly, bearded teacher that Sib didn’t recognize. Shortly after, a trail of soaking wet first-year students dragged themselves into the banquet hall and stood near the front;  puddles forming under their feet.  

 

Mrs. Black went to stand in the center front of the hall and touched her wand to her throat, magnifying her own voice.  “Welcome back everyone.  I’m excited to start a new year at Gampton Hall.  Before we sort the first years, I have a few announcements.”

 

“We have a number of new members of the staff this year and I would like to introduce them: Mr. Woodhead, our new Care of Magical Creatures instructor.”  The man who had brought in the first year students waved his hand.

 

“He looks like a lumberjack,” Sib heard Willow whisper to Lef.  

 

“What’s a lumberjack?” asked Lef.  

 

The students in the room clapped and Mrs. Black continued after it faded. “Mr. Holmes will be taking over all Alchemy lessons this year.”  As the long-haired man waved, Sib clapped with the others. Mr. Holmes had been their Alchemy teacher this past year and was apparently taking over the advanced Alchemy lessons that Mrs. Black had been teaching.  “Miss Anastasia Knox will be assisting Mr. Zolock with History of Magic.” There was rowdy applause at this announcement. Mr. Zolock had been an incredibly popular teacher and everyone was glad to hear that he wasn’t going to let death interfere with his plans to teach. 

 

“Miss Knox must be here to help with the enchantments since ghosts can’t cast spells,” guessed Lef as Mrs. Black continued.

 

“And finally, Mr. Albert Butsack will be taking over Nomaj Studies.”  A mix of polite clapping and impolite twittering at the unfortunate name followed.

 

“I will warn all of you that I will be paying greater attention to the rules this year,” Mrs. Black continued.  “I’ll not repeat them, but you know where they are posted and you are all expected to abide by them.” The room was silent and Sib heard a student quietly muffle a cough from across the room.  “House points will be awarded for beneficial actions and taken away for detrimental ones.  Out of bounds locations in the school include the kitchens and the north woods.”  Mrs. Black was looking directly at the Pathfinder table when she said that.

 

“What?” whispered Incheon.  “Why would she think we would wander out of bounds?”  Sib smiled. He and the other Pathfinders had wandered out of bounds at least a dozen times the previous year, racking up a record tally of negative points.   

 

“What about the Wendigo?” Willow asked, referring to a dangerous creature that had stalked the grounds the previous year.

 

“Maybe it’s gone,” Sib said, hoping it was true.

 

Mrs. Black was wrapping up.  “...and, as we have discovered, it is entirely possible for a house to rack up a deficit of points for continued misbehavior.” Sib remembered that his house had finished the previous year with negative two hundred and eighty-five points.  “Now, let’s commence with the sorting.”  She turned around, grabbing a stool and a battered hat and moved them to the area in front of the first-year students.  She turned to the first years and spoke to them. “The hat was a gift to Gampton Hall when the school was founded and has been sorting students ever since.  We call it ‘Amrose’ after the name of the Hogwarts Chancellor who gifted it. Amrose will look into your mind and sort you into one of five houses.” She looked at the hat.  “Amrose, do you have anything you want to say before we start?”

 

“Certainly!” bellowed the hat.

 

“Then I yield the floor to you.” 

 

The battered hat, which was speaking from a slit on the cone began his song in a melodious baritone voice:  

 

Sorry sopping students standing

Waiting to be sorted

While questions of my mental state

Are what have been reported

 

I’m here to tell you all the truth

That I am well and good

And I have come back here and now

To do what ‘ere I should

 

Old spells that once held me in check

Are lifted now, it’s true

Two centuries of waiting and

I’m back, long overdue

 

I’ll sort each student true to form

Based on their truth at heart

I’ll see inside your mind and then

Make sure it’s right from start

 

For those few who are strong and true

Who charge headfirst forthwith

You’ll find your home forevermore

In brave house Hammersmith

 

In Featherpenny wise and witty

Students will find home

To search for knowledge near and far

Inside a dusty tome

 

For healers true, there’s bright Suncorn

Whose aim is to protect

They’ll never tire; faithful all

Depend, defend, deflect

 

House Murgatroyd the cunning bunch

will ever use street smarts,

their guile, their wits, and stealthy ways 

unlike their counterparts

 

Of those who try me on their head

And fate cannot decide

I place them in the house of elk

Pathfinder to reside

 

The old fifth house is new again

and sparked the Prophecy

it’s up to all together to 

avoid catastrophe

 

Despite the coming thunderstorm’s

Ever distant grumble

Deny the call to darkness deep

Upon which many stumble

 

Remain faithful to Gampton Hall

Cougar, Elk, Owl, and Fox

Snapping turtle too should stay true

Both witches and warlocks 

 

Mrs. Black nodded her head at the conclusion of the hat’s song.  "Sage advice, Amrose.  Thank you."  She turned back to the waiting students.  “The hat has reminded me that I have left you here ‘sorry and sopping.’ Let me address that.” She raised her wand, twirled it in the air and each new student was surrounded by a tornado of wind that whipped their wet cloaks around them.  A moment later the wind subsided leaving them all dry, but windswept. “Mr. Woodhead? You may begin.”  The man who had led in the first year students nodded his head.  

 

"What was that all about?" Lef asked.

 

"I have no idea, but it sounds like we're in for an interesting year," Willow responded.

 

The conversation was interrupted by Mr. Woodhead reading the first name off of the list.  “Appleby, Jennifer!”   

 

Sib noticed that Incheon had his hands folded like he was praying and was mumbling to himself.  “Oh please not her.”

 

“What?” Sib asked as Jennifer Appleby was sorted into Suncorn. 

 

Mr. Woodhead called the next student.  “Bae, Hye-lin!”

 

“Please,” pleaded Incheon to nobody in particular.  “Please don’t let her be in this house…”  

 

After a moment of silence, the hat announced “Pathfinder!”, and Sib started clapping and cheering with Willow and Lef.  

 

Incheon looked like someone had spit in his ice cream.  “Son of a…”

 

“Bittner, Suzanne!” Mr. Woodhead called out as Hye-lin approached the Pathfinder table.  She was a petite Korean girl who had her hair put up in a french braid.  She nodded to Willow, Lef, and Sib and then looked at Incheon.

 

“Puke-face,” she said in greeting to him.  She sat down, turning her back to Incheon to watch the rest of the sorting.

 

“Friend of yours?” asked Sib.

 

“Hm,” grunted Incheon.   

 

The sorting continued, students going to Hammersmith, Featherpenny, Suncorn, and Murgatroyd while Sib tried not to let his thoughts wander.

 

“Hedges, Adam!” 

 

One boy pushed another in line.  “Go!” 

 

The boy named Adam stumbled out of the line after being shoved.  He was small, but overweight and his stick-straight black hair looked like it hadn't seen a comb in years. “Shut up!” he responded back to the boy who had pushed him.  “I know my own name!” He shoved back.

 

“No, you shut up,” the first one responded, escalating the conflict by grabbing the other and trying to get the boy named Adam into a headlock.

 

Mrs. Black pointed her wand at the wrestling first years.  “Petrificus Totalus!” The two boys completely froze and fell over sideways on the floor with a loud clunk.  Both were completely paralyzed. The room erupted into laughter. Mr. Woodhead went over to the boys, dragged the one named Adam away from the other and set his petrified frame against the stool.  He placed the hat on the boy’s still-paralyzed head and waited for Amrose to decide.

 

“Pathfinder!”

 

“Naturally,” Incheon said.  His voice dripping with sarcasm.  “We’re making out like bandits on this one.”

 

Mrs. Black pointed her wand at Adam.  “Finite Incantatem.” The boy collapsed on the floor, finally free of the body-bind spell.  She did the same with the other student. Adam got to his feet and wandered over to the Pathfinder table.

 

“Hiya,” said the boy to his new housemates.  “You can call me Hedges.”

 

“That’s great, Hedges,” said Incheon.  “Sit down and try not to hurt yourself.”  

 

More students were sorted to Murgatroyd and Suncorn before Sib recognized Norbert’s brother being called.

 

“Nuffledim, Bradley!”

 

“I go by Beene,” the first-year boy said to Mr. Woodhead.  He was the one who had been wrestling with Hedges earlier in the sorting.

 

“What?”  

 

“Beene,” the boy said.  “I don’t go by Bradley - everyone just calls me Beene.”

 

Mr. Woodhead looked at him blankly.  “I don’t care,” he said. “Just sit on the stool.”  The room broke into giggles.  Beene walked over to the stool and sat on it, waiting for the hat. 

 

When Mr. Woodhead placed it on his head, Beene looked startled.  “Oooh!” he cried.  “It’s talking to me!” The room erupted into fresh peals of laughter again.

 

“Dear God,” said Incheon.  “Don’t tell me he’s just figuring out how it works now.”

 

“Pathfinder!” the hat called out.

 

“Oh, we’re really getting the cream of the crop on this one,” Incheon intoned, slapping the table as the others clapped.  He turned to Sib. “Remind me to murder Amrose when I see him next.”

 

“Aw, come on Incheon,” Sib said.  “It won’t be that bad.”  

 

Beene made his way to the table and was trying to sit next to Hedges.  “Move over,” he said.

 

“You move over,” Hedges responded.  The surrounding tables were looking toward them.

 

“I’m standing here,” Beene said.  “You’re the one that has to move.”  They began pushing and shoving each other.  Sib leaned over and whispered to Willow.  “We’d better fix this before Mrs. Black body-binds our whole table."  She nodded.

 

“Boys,” Willow said in a soft voice.  They were still shouting at each other. 

 

“Shut your face!” “No, you shut your face!”

 

“Boys, please,” pleaded Willow in a slightly louder voice.  They continued to ignore her and push each other, each trying to force themselves onto the bench at the table.  Mrs. Black was approaching them. Sib knew he had to act.

 

“Hey!”  Sib yelled at them.  The whole room was looking at their table now.  “You, Beene!” Sib pointed at a spot next to Incheon.  “Sit there and shut up.”

 

“Told you to shut up,” Hedges said to Beene.

 

“And you, Hedges!” Sib yelled.  “Shut your trap too. Not a sound for the rest of the sorting.”  Mrs. Black, who had also been observing the ruckus had come halfway towards their table. 

 

“If it’s alright with you, Miss Carter, we’ll continue with the sorting now?”  Willow looked abashed. 

 

“Sorry, Mrs. Black.” 

 

Mrs. Black turned back to Mr. Woodhead and nodded at him.  He read the next name.  “Parker, Neal!”  

 

Sib leaned over to Incheon.  “Never mind. It’s that bad.”  After Neal was sorted to Featherpenny, they heard the next name announced.  

 

“Rodriguez, Quinta!”  A small Hispanic girl took the stool, looking like she couldn’t care less about where she was sorted. 

 

After a few moments, the hat decided.  “Pathfinder!”  Quinta wandered over to the table to applause from the group and sat at the empty spot next to Hedges.

 

“Hi, I’m Hedges.”

 

“Listen, special sauce,” she hissed back.  “Just keep your stupid pie hole shut and we’ll get along just fine.”

 

“Oooh, you’re fun,” said Incheon.  Quinta glared daggers at him but didn’t respond. 

 

The dozen remaining students were sorted, evenly divided between the four other houses.  At the conclusion of the sorting, Mrs. Black announced that the houses would report to their respective homerooms for initiation and that they should all return to the banquet hall for club sign-ups in another hour.  All of the students at the tables around them got up and started moving towards the exit doors.

 

“You know,” said Incheon, perking up.  “I thought this year was going to be bad, but now I think I was wrong.” 

 

“That’s the spirit, Incheon,” Willow said.

 

“It’s not going to be bad,” he continued.  “It’s going to be the most horrific dragon-dung flavored popsicle of a year ever and I’m going to end up eating every bite.” 



Chapter 4: Initiated
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“So, uh…” started Sib, looking to their house President, Willow.  “Where do we go?”

 

“I have no idea,” Willow responded.  “I guess Mrs. Black will tell us. Or maybe we should look for the Hunter?”  The eight of them remained seated, looking around the room for a clue as to where they were supposed to go or for their house ghost - The Hunter.  Mrs. Black approached them as the last students left the hall.

 

“As president of Pathfinder house,” she addressed Willow.  “You will need to take your group to the new Pathfinder student lounge, which you will find at the end of the third-floor corridor.  The passphrase is unchanged from last year.”

 

“Oh, okay.  Thank you, Mrs. Black,” she responded.

 

“And I trust your initiation ceremonies will be less isolating than the ones you dealt with last year?”

 

“Yes, ma’am.”

 

“Good.  Now off you go, we need to reset this room for the club tables.”  They got up and followed Willow through the conservatory and back to the entrance hall.  

 

“Last year,” Willow said to the new students, “they didn’t let first years use the lifts, but rule number one: ‘anything we do, you can do.’  So if you’ll just…”

 

“I’m going first,” Hedges called out and started to rush toward the lifts.

 

“No way, I’m going first,” Beene responded and tackled Hedges around the middle, dragging him to the floor.

 

Quinta stepped over them and walked to the lift.  “What floor?” she asked Willow.  

 

“Third.”

 

“Third floor,” said Quinta and the lift whisked her upward.  Hedges and Beene glanced up.

 

“I’m gonna be second,” Hedges said.

 

“Nuh-uh, I’m going next,” Beene replied, holding Hedges back.  The two continued to grapple on the floor of the entrance hall.  The figures in the paintings on the wall turned away in embarrassment.  

 

Sib turned to Incheon as they walked past the two wrestling boys toward the lifts.  “How’s that first bite of the dragon dung popsicle?”

 

“A little chewy.”  

 

They whisked up to the third floor and followed Willow to the end of the corridor that held a stone archway against a blank grey wall.  Along the top of the arch was the phrase ‘Say Our Name And Enter’ carved into the rock.

 

"The password is the name that the Native Americans called themselves," she told Hye-lin and Quinta.  “Andaste!” she called as the first-year boys finally caught up.  The door glowed blue like a wall of translucent mist and Willow stepped through.  The others followed, their bodies disappearing into the doorway like a stone falling into a pond.   

 

“This is new,” said Sib as they emerged on the other side.  The last time he had been here - on the last day of the previous school year - there had been a small clearing in the woods on the other side of the doorway surrounded by dense trees on three sides, the gigantic stone boulder holding the gate on the fourth. 

 

Now he stepped into a room richly furnished with wood everywhere; the floors, the walls, and the ceiling.  It was like his cabin, only improved a thousandfold. Willow was gazing out of the windows.

“The clearing and woods are still out there,” she said to the others.  “They must have put this building in over the summer.”

 

“Who’s Mabeobsa?” asked Quinta, pointing to a locker.

 

“That’s me,” replied Incheon.  “What’cha got?”

 

“A locker,” she said.  “I thought your name was Incheon.”

 

“My parents named me Mabeobsa.  It means ‘mage’ in Korean.” Incheon shrugged.  “I always felt it was the same as naming a cat ‘Cat’.  When I was seven, I picked a nickname - Incheon is the city where my family emigrated from.”

 

“I guess ‘jerkface’ was taken,” Hye-lin added, walking to the right side of the lounge to find her own locker with the first years.

 

Sib came over to Incheon.  “So what is your cat's name?” 

 

“Goyongi.”

 

“What's that mean?”

 

“Cat.”

 

Sib laughed.  Incheon just smiled and walked further into the lounge.

 

Sib explored the area.  In addition to the view of the clearing and the woods directly across from the portal back to the school, the room itself was set up with two wings - one on either side of the entrance arch.  The left side had the lockers for the four second-year students, although there was a fifth locker with no name on it. Beyond the lockers was a lounge and study area with a fireplace located right in the middle of the room.  Sib could see the first years had a mirror image setup of what they had. He walked over to where Willow was sitting in one of the chairs.

 

“Where does the smoke go?” she asked.

 

“What are you talking about?” Sib responded.

 

“The fire - it burns the wood and makes smoke.  Where’s the chimney?”

 

Sib reached his hand out and put it inside the fire.  “It’s magical,” he responded waving his un-singed hand at her, and then remembering Willow’s nomaj upbringing he added, “it’s just set up to be a decoration.”  Willow shook her head in wonder, and then sat bolt upright on the edge of her lounge chair.

 

“The grove!” she said.  “We need to take the first years to the circle of stones for their wands!”

 

“Oh yeah,” Sib replied.  “You want me to round ‘em up?”  Willow nodded and looked around for the door that led outside to the wooded grove.  Finding it at the far end of the second year’s wing, she waved at Sib.

 

“Listen up!” Sib yelled to the cabin, his voice easily carrying to the far end of the first year area.  “Y’all come with us for the initiation!” The others lined up behind Willow and followed her outside into the clearing.  Sib trailed the group, making sure the others didn’t wander off the path on the way to the pool of water where their wands were turned into amulets the previous year.

 

“Where’d the school go?” asked Beene, looking to where it should have been, but seeing a giant thirty-foot boulder instead.

 

“We’re on a different island,” Lef explained.  “The door was a portal to this location which is where an ancient American Indian magic school once stood.” 

 

“But why didn’t the school go through the portal too?” Beene asked.  

 

Lef spent the next two minutes trying and failing to explain to Beene how a magic portal works.  The others - amazed that Beene had been able to find his way out of bed that morning - just listened and continued to follow Willow through a pathway in the woods.  This is new too.  The previous year, they had to crash through this wooded area twice without a path; once chased by a ghost and the second time trying to make it in time for finals.  By the time they reached their destination, Lef had given up on her attempts to educate Beene, and their attention was now all focused on the ghostly figure who stood at the entrance to the circle of stones.

 

In front of them stood their house ghost, the Hunter.  He was a huge Native American figure, well over six feet tall and decked out in buckskin.  He carried a six-foot longbow over his shoulder that Sib had seen him use several times the previous year to cast ghostly spells.“Hello Hunter,” Willow said.  “Do you know who did all of this?”  

 

The ghost, understanding that Willow was referring to the building, the path, and the now cleared circle of stones nodded his head.  “Puterschmidt and Diatomungi performed the magic.  I told them what to do.” Mr. Puterschmidt was their Alteration teacher. He must have done the building.  And Mr. Diatomungi the path and the clearin’; referring to their Herbology teacher.  

 

Willow nodded and continued.  “Thank you, Hunter. I’ll be sure to thank Mr. Puterschmidt and Mr. Diatomungi when I see them next.”  She pointed past him into the circle of stones. “Can we take the first years in to have them change their wands?”  The Hunter nodded and stepped aside. The others filed past him.  

 

The circle of stones was set up like a mini Stonehenge, with five giant stone monoliths forming a circle around a pool of crystal clear water.  The last time Sib was here, the whole area had been overrun with devil’s snare and they were barely able to get in and out without getting tangled up in the vine.  Now, Sib couldn’t see a trace of it. He could see figures carved on the stone monoliths. One had a small circle, one a triangle, one a half-circle - the flat part facing up, one had a larger circle and the last one had nothing.  He had no idea what they were supposed to be.

 

“You’ll need to put your wands in the water,” Willow was telling the first years.  “It will warp your wand into this shape.” She held up her amulet to show them.  

 

“No way,” said Hedges.  “I’m sticking with my wand.”

 

“Me too,” said Beene.  “My parents said I’m supposed to use a wand to make magic.”

 

“But it’s not going to work,” Willow started explaining.  

 

“Think he’s going to notice?” whispered Incheon to Sib.  Sib remembered the challenges they had all last year as their wands would not function at all until they were able to change them into the amulets.

 

“What happens if we don’t?” asked Hye-lin.

 

“Your wand won’t work the way it’s supposed to,” said Willow.  “You won’t be able to cast the most basic spells. At least, that’s what happened to us.”

 

“Will this change any wand?” asked Quinta.  “Mine's lignum vitae.”

 

“It’s what?” asked Incheon.

 

“Ironwood.”  She tried to bend her wand, but it was as rigid as a metal spike.  “Unyielding. It’s the strongest, densest wood in the world. Will the water change it?”

 

Willow looked to the Hunter.  The ghost turned to Quinta and nodded his head.  Quinta pushed past the others and put her jet black wand in the water.  As everyone watched, the wand twisted into the familiar amulet shape and lanyard as if her ironwood wand had been made of putty.  She pulled the amulet out of the water, put the lanyard over her neck, held her amulet up to the sky and cast a spell. “Expecto Patronum!” she shouted.  

 

Sib was nearly blinded by the bright white light that burst from her amulet.  As he shielded his eyes with his arm, he caught a glimpse of a huge winged shape made of mist flying off over the treetops.  “Holy…” he muttered.

 

“Yeah...,” added Incheon.  “Hey Quinta,” he asked her.  “Uh...what the heck was that?”

 

“Something my grandfather taught me,” she responded.  She walked away from them back toward the path leading to the lounge.

 

“Can you teach us that spell?” asked Sib, but Quinta just ignored them and continued walking, staring intently at her amulet.

 

Willow turned to the others.  “Just so there won’t be any fighting, Hye-lin, you go next and then Hedges and Beene can go at the same time.”  After Hye-lin transformed her poplar wand, the two boys dipped their maple and sycamore wands into the pool.

 

“What happens if you put an amulet in the pool?” asked Hye-lin.

 

Sib looked at Willow who just shrugged her shoulders.  Sib walked over to the pool and put his amulet in the water.  He watched as it unwound itself and slowly turned back into his grandmother’s hemlock wand.  “Hey, I didn’t know it goes back.”

 

“Maybe that will be our graduation ceremony,” said Willow.  “You know, to eventually leave Gampton Hall.”

 

“I don’t know,” said Sib.  “I’ve kinda grown attached to the amulet.”  

 

“Besides,” said Incheon.  “With my wand in my back pocket, I was always afraid of blowing my buttcheek off.”

 

“Like we would be so lucky,” said Hye-lin.

 

Sib smiled and put his grandmother’s wand back into the pool; watching it transform back into the now-familiar amulet.  

 

*******

 

“First years aren’t allowed to use the jumps,” Willow said.  “And we were told that we would die if we jumped the staircase before second year.” She had the first-year students lined up beside the large central staircase.  The grand staircase was in the middle of the three towers that lined the front of the school building and there was a twenty-foot opening in the center. The stairs wound over a hundred feet from the top of the fourth floor all the way to the second basement.  Students, instead of walking down, would often jump into the center, calling out what floor they wanted to be safely deposited.  

 

“When I say so, you’re going to jump,” Willow explained.  Before she had a chance to say anything else, Hedges and Beene started running toward the stairway.  “...wait, I…” Willow began, but they had already thrown themselves over the edge and disappeared.

 

“That’s just a special kind of dumb,” Incheon was saying.  “I bet the stairs are idiot-proof, aren’t they?”

 

Lef, who had rushed to the edge to see what happened, nodded her head.  “Yes, they landed at the second basement and are currently trying to bludgeon each other with a shoe.”

 

Willow turned to Hye-lin and Quinta, who were still waiting at the top.  “When you jump, just call out the floor you want to go to. Unless you're a moron and then apparently you’ll land safely in the second basement.  I’ll meet you on the first floor.” She set out for the stairs with Incheon.

 

“What,” asked Hye-lin.  “Isn’t she jumping too?”

 

“Oh, heck no,” said Sib.  “She ‘n Incheon would rather walk down six flights of stairs than jump the center.  I suppose you can walk if you want to.”

 

“Not if the turd-burger is walking,” said Hye-lin, nodding her head towards Incheon.  “I’m jumping.” 

 

Quinta just shrugged her shoulders and the two of them took a running leap into the center of the stairs, calling out “first floor!” as they fell.  Sib watched over the edge to see the invisible parachute catch them near the second floor, slowing them and redirecting them to softly land on the first-floor hall.  He and Lef followed a second later.

 

“Sib,” asked Willow when she reached the first-floor landing. “Will you and Incheon take Hye-lin and Quinta into the banquet hall and show them around to the different clubs?  I’ll go with Lef to wrangle up Frick and Frack.”

 

“Sure,” replied Sib. He led them back through the conservatory and they stepped into a transformed layout in the banquet hall.  Instead of tables for each house, the room was filled with booths for every conceivable club.

 

“There’s just about anythin’ you could think of doin’ here,” he told the girls.  “Wizard Chess Club, Quod-Pot, and Herbology club - that’s Lef’s thing - are over there.  Choir is in the back there, you can hear ‘em.” He turned to the other side of the room.  “Charms and Transfiguration Clubs over there if you like Thaumaturgy and Alteration classes, and Comic Club on the other side.”

 

“Comic?” asked Hye-lin.  “Like the magazines?”

 

“Oh, no - that’s Manga club - straight back.  Comic is Care of Magical Creatures - C.O.M.C..  Take your time and look around. Find somethin’ you’re really into.”

 

After the girls left, Sib stared around at a loss.  He hadn’t signed up for any clubs last year. His hobby was carving wood, but there wasn’t a club for that.  He didn’t really fit in anywhere else. He started walking the loop, following Incheon’s lead.  “So why does Hye-lin have it in for you?” Sib asked his friend.

 

“We grew up together,” Incheon responded, looking at the booth for Nomaj Collections Club and admiring what Sib recognized as ink pens.  “Me and her and Lily in Gampton. I’ve been throwing frogs on her since before I could walk.”

 

“Did you ever throw frogs on Lily?”

 

“Heck no,” he said, shaking his head.  “She was always on her broom and never stayed in one place long enough.  No, Hye-lin and I have been sort of forced into each other’s company since we were babies.  Our parents are close friends,” he added in explanation. They hurried past the choir club so they could hear themselves think again.  “So what are you going to sign up for?” Incheon asked.

 

“Dunno.”

 

“What are you interested in trying out?”

 

“Dunno.”

 

“Man, I wish I could be as decisive as you are.”  He stopped and looked at the table for Illusions Club.  “I think I’m going to do this.”

 

“Really?” asked Sib.  “Since when did you start likin’ illusions?”

 

“Since about four seconds ago,” he said and signed his name on the sheet.

 

“Can you even do charms?” asked Sib.  “I don’t remember you likin’ Thaumaturgy class that much.”

 

“Dunno,” replied Incheon.  “I did enough to pass my final, but I haven’t cast a spell since the last day of classes.”

 

“Really?” asked Sib.  “Not even ‘lumos’?”

 

“No.  My parents are really strict about that kind of thing.  I had to give up my amulet for the whole summer. Now, let’s find you something.  You like dirt, right?”

 

“What?”

 

“Dirt,” Incheon repeated, looking around.  “The brown stuff that’s under your feet when you’re walking around in the forest.”  

 

“What about it?”

 

“Lord knows you’re caked in it often enough.  Do you like growing things in it?”

 

“Not really,” Sib responded, self-consciously rubbing his dirty fingernails on his robe.  “I tried growing some crops once, but they never came up. I’m pretty sure my brother sabotaged 'em.” 

 

“Okay,” replied Incheon.  “So not herbology.” He turned his head toward the far corner of the room.  “Yes,” he said, moving toward the Care of Magical Creatures Table. “They definitely have dirt where creatures live.”

 

“But I’ve never taken care of anything in my life,” protested Sib as they reached the table.

 

“Not true, my friend.”  He held out a quill for Sib to sign up.  “Seems to me you did an outstanding job caring for four magical creatures last year named Incheon, Willow, Lef, and Lily.”

 

Sib looked at the paper.  “I guess.” He shrugged and signed his name.  “At least I didn’t have to scoop your poop.”

 

“Yet,” replied Incheon.  

 



Chapter 5: The Fawn
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The first day ended early after the club fair.  The following day was Sib’s first day of classes, and he woke up early and slipped into the kitchen without waking up his brother.  He found the floo powder in the familiar box on the mantle, grabbed a handful and stepped into the now cold fireplace. Throwing the ashes at his feet, he called out ‘Gampton Hall!’ and felt the familiar jerking and spinning sensation of traveling through the Firejump Network.  He emerged a few seconds later in the entrance hall of the school, quickly stepping out of the fireplace to allow the next student to jump in, only to realize that he could have taken his time. The hall was empty and probably would be for another hour.  

 

The sun was shining through the trees and he stood in a sunbeam that was blasting through the window across from the fireplaces, feeling the heat on his face and arms.  The school was quiet except for some snorting and snoring from the figures in the pictures on the wall. He walked to the lifts and decided to take the stairs - both to enjoy more of the early morning light that was shining in on the staircase, but also to avoid waking up any of the paintings.  He had come to learn that many of them were rather ornery when woken up earlier than usual.   

 

After walking down the third-floor corridor, and calling out ‘Andaste’ at the door, he entered the Pathfinder lounge, finding it well lit and the fireplaces blazing, but the room still cool in the early morning light.  Without stopping, he walked to the back of the second-year side, opened the door and wandered through the woods to the circle of stones where the first-years had transformed their wands the day before. The skin on his arms was raised with goosebumps with the chill of the morning, but he didn’t care at this point.  He just wanted to enjoy the peace of the place.  

 

He sat down on a nearby rock and reached in his bag for his schedule.  He had all the same classes as last year except that now Mysticism had been substituted for Art.  That morning, he was scheduled for Alteration first where they transfigured objects, followed by History of Magic, and Nomaj Studies before lunch.  Afterward, he had an extended Alchemy lesson before he ended the day with Mysticism - his new subject.

 

When he folded his schedule and put it back in his bag, he was startled by the appearance of their house ghost right in front of him.

 

“Oh, hello Hunter,” he said in greeting.  The ghost just nodded at him.  Not long for words, I guess.  “Say,” he continued.  “Do you know what them figures are carved on the stones?  There’s one that’s a triangle and then a couple of circles, and then the half-circle?"

 

“They are the Orenda,” said the Hunter.  "The power that drives your magic."  He gestured toward the stone with the triangle on it.  “The mountain stands for ‘earth’.” He pointed at the stone with no markings “Invisible is the air.”  He walked to the other side of the pool and Sib got up to follow him. “The water from the river,” he said, pointing to the half-circle with the flat part on the top.  “And the fire in the sky,” pointing to the small circle.

 

“The sun,” said Sib.  “I got it. What about that one?” He pointed to the last stone with a larger circle on it.  

 

“The power of spirit,” replied the Hunter.  “Look at your totem.” It took a second for Sib to realize he was talking about his amulet.  Sib held it out in front of himself and he saw the shapes. A small circle at the top with a triangle beneath it and a half-circle below that.  The sun above the riverside mountain - with air all around.  

 

“The spirit binds everything together,” said the Hunter.  “All are connected.” Sib saw he meant the outer circle that surrounded everything.  

 

“But what does that all mean?” asked Sib.

 

“They are the source of your power.  They are the Orenda.  Honor the Orenda and they will grant you power.  Dishonor them and they will cast your power away.”

 

“I never really thought about where the power comes from,” said Sib.  “I guess I always took it for granted.” He paused for a moment. “How do I honor them?”

 

“You have already started,” he said.  Before Sib could ask what he meant, he had faded away into the surrounding trees.  

 

Sib took a moment to look around himself to see what the Hunter had been saying.  He felt the slight breeze against his skin and the dappled sunlight dancing on his arms through the leaves of the trees above.  He heard the distant rumble of the river rapids that were just beyond sight through the heavy undergrowth. He knelt down and put his hand on the earth, the grass still slightly damp with dew.  He breathed in the smell of the woods and he felt a connection, like the warm feeling that rolls over you when you know you are loved.

 

He started daydreaming and his mind wandered.  He saw a creature moving in the mist, too distant to make out clearly.  He saw a mound of dirt with a wisp of snow on the top.  He saw his father in the woods followed by a flash of green lightning.  And then the images faded away.

 

Shaking his head at his strange wandering thoughts, he stood up, dusting his hands on his jeans and headed back toward the Pathfinder lounge to get ready for classes.

 

*******

 

By the end of his first day, Sib’s apprehensions about his amulet working in school were gone.  He had breezed through the warm-up activity in Alteration - easily able to transfigure the chair into a table and then back again.  He had also found History of Magic fascinating because Mr. Zolock - a ghost after passing away suddenly at the end of last year - remained to teach them, but he now had an assistant, Miss Knox, who had curly red hair and skin that was almost as pale as the ghost.  Miss Knox had a gift for illusion charms and kept the class in rapt attention with her live illustrations of the Battle of Hogwarts from twenty years before.  

 

Unfortunately, Nomaj Studies and Alchemy were a bit of a let-down after an interesting morning.  Their professor for Nomaj Studies was almost as clueless about nomaj as their teacher from the previous year - who had known less than nothing.  Sib figured out quickly that his favorite phrase was ‘I’ll get back to you on that.’

 

Alchemy - never being one of Sib’s better subjects even when his amulet was working - was worse for being twice as long as usual.  Mr. Holmes frowned at his potion at the end of the period and scolded Sib for putting in too much asphodel and mimbleroot. Sib was pretty sure that he had put in the right amount but didn’t want to argue with the professor.  He was late getting out of potions and he quickly grabbed his things and headed off to his last class - Mysticism. He had to hustle to make it before class started.    

 

“I start each day with divination,” Miss Pyx was telling the class as Sib and the last few stragglers walked in.  “I’ll tell you what I saw today.” She was young - in her mid twenties as far as Sib could tell - petitely built with southeast Asian heritage.  Philippino, he guessed.  Her straight black hair was pulled back into a ponytail.  Sib found a seat with the other Pathfinders on the far side of the room.

 

“As I gazed into the crystal ball,” Miss Pyx continued.  “I saw a young fawn, just getting its legs under it and then, a moment later, a murder of crows burst from the underbrush around the fawn as if another creature approached.”  She paused and looked around at the class. Sib and the other Pathfinders were together with the Hammersmith second-years.  “So what does it mean?” she asked them.  She let the quiet fill the room.

 

“I guess we shouldn’t start there,” she continued after an uncomfortable silence. “After all, I’m not even positive I know what it means.  I think we should start with what it could mean.  What about the fawn?  What could a fawn stand for?”  She looked around the room and called on a Hammersmith girl - Felicity, Sib remembered - who had her hand up.

“Could you be having a baby?” she asked.

 

“Jeez,” Miss Pyx replied with a smile. “I hope not, but it’s not a bad guess.  What else could it mean?”

 

“It’s a student,” whispered Sib to himself.

 

“What?” whispered Incheon.

 

“Nuthin’, just talkin’ to myself.”

 

“Shhhh,” hushed Willow, who was sitting on Sib’s other side.

 

Miss Pyx called on another Hammersmith who Sib remembered went by Pete. “Could you be getting a pet?” Pete asked.

 

“It’s a student,” whispered Sib again.

 

“What?” whispered Incheon.  

 

“Shhhh,” whispered Willow.  Sib just shook his head.

 

“Interesting idea, but remember what the fawn was doing,” Miss Pyx prompted.

 

“It’s a student,” repeated Sib to himself.

 

“What?” whispered Incheon.

 

“Yes?” Miss Pyx had called on Willow.

 

“Could it be a student?” 

 

“Excellent, Willow.  Five points to Pathfinder.”  Willow was smiling. Willow had known Miss Pyx from the previous year when she helped the Pathfinders to decipher the shared dreams they all had about the Hunter and the circle of stones.  “The fawn was just learning to walk,” Miss Pyx continued. “So it could be fair to guess that it involved a student who was just beginning to learn about magic.” 

 

“Those were my points,” hissed Sib to Willow.

 

“Then you should have spoken up,” said Lef, who was sitting across from him.

 

“What?” whispered Incheon.

 

“Shhhh,” hushed Willow.

 

“And the group of ravens?” Miss Pyx asked the class.

 

“Aren’t ravens bad luck?” asked Felicity.

 

“Excellent,” replied Miss Pyx.  “Five points. Yes, crows, ravens, and magpies are often harbingers of bad luck or bad tidings.  So now we have a student who is beset by bad tidings.” She looked around the room. “I hope it doesn’t pertain to one of you.”

 

She walked over to a shelf beside her desk stacked with crystal balls.  “I’d like each of you to come and get a crystal ball and we’ll see what you can see.”  Sib lined up with the rest of the class, picked a ball and brought it back to his table. 

 

“Look into the crystal ball,” Miss Pyx instructed them when they were all settled again.  “Gaze through it as if you were staring off into space a thousand feet below the ground. Let the movement of the mist reveal itself to you and tell me what you see.”  Sib moved the ball to be right in front of him and stared into it, seeing the clear glass and the base beneath it. He shifted his point of focus like Miss Pyx said, staring at a point in space far beneath the ground.  He felt the warmth in the room on his skin, breathing in the slightly stuffy air and sensing the stiff wood of the chair and the stone tile floor beneath his feet. The crystal became cloudy, swirling with mist like the fog in a forest valley on a cool morning.

 

The mist began to coalesce forming a shape that moved as if it was charging through a tunnel towards him.  It was moving fast...too fast for a normal animal to move. Sib began to tremble as the shape became a creature, its teeth fangs.

 

“You okay?” whispered Incheon, shaking his shoulder.  “You look like you saw a ghost in there.” He nodded toward the crystal.

 

“What?” said Sib who looked up at Incheon and shook the cobwebs from his thoughts.  “Yeah, ‘m alright.” He looked back down at the crystal - it was clear and the image had gone.  He turned back to Incheon. “What did you see?”

 

“Well, first there was this glass ball,” Incheon started, looking at it.  “And then it became a glass ball... Think it means anything?”  Sib smiled and then frowned. Was I the only one who saw somethin’?

 

“Ah, yes,” Miss Pyx called out.  “Tell us what you saw,” she said to a Hammersmith girl who had her hand up.  

 

“I saw neon green leaves falling to the ground followed by a storm,” she said.  

 

“Great,” Miss Pyx said.  “I think we can work on interpretation with that.  Now, what might falling leaves signify?” 

 

“Autumn?” someone called out.

“And autumn is a time of...?” Miss Pyx prompted. 

 

“Change.” 

 

“Right.  And how about the storm.  If there’s a storm brewing, it often means what?”

“That there’s trouble.”

 

“Correct.”  Miss Pyx brought her hands together in a clap.  “So there you have an interpretation of your vision: a change followed by trouble.  Helpful, huh? We don’t know what this change is; we don’t know when it’s going to happen; we don’t know how significant that trouble will be.  We don’t even know if we interpreted the vision correctly.”

 

“That’s part of the challenge with Mysticism,” she continued.  “The trouble could be as simple as misplacing your box of floo powder, or as serious as getting Dragon Pox.  Everything boils down to correct interpretation. Whether dreams, prophecies, or visions, we’ll be looking at ways to improve your abilities this year to see, clarify, and interpret all of them.”

 

The girl who had the vision raised her hand.  “So what did my vision actually mean?” she asked.  

 

“Truth be told,” Miss Pyx responded.  “I don’t know. We often don’t know what our visions mean until after they actually happen.”  She turned to the rest of the class. “So if that’s the case, why do we study Mysticism at all?  Why do I have a job and why do you have to sit and stare into crystal balls?”

 

“Because if you can see the future, maybe you can change it?” volunteered a Hammersmith boy.

 

“But that’s the trick,” Miss Pyx responded.  “If you see something happen and then avoid that thing, then you didn’t see the future at all, did you?  No, if you interpret your vision correctly, it will always come to pass - but perhaps not in the way you thought or hoped it would."  She turned back to the class. “Why else?”

 

“Because sometimes those changes can be so big that it affects everyone,” said Willow.

 

Miss Pyx smiled.  “You’re referring to prophecy.  Yes, prophecies often have a greater impact and - if correctly interpreted - will allow people to better prepare for when it happens.  Great job. Perhaps if we have an idea about things that might happen in the future…”

 

Sib zoned out as Miss Pyx continued.  He was thinking of the previous year. The rise of the Pathfinder house from obscurity was foretold by a prophecy - but that same prophecy marked the rise of their house as being the beginning of a five year time of troubles and ending with the exposure of the magical world to the nomaj.  The uproar nearly caused the four of them to be expelled from the school before cooler heads prevailed.

 

Is that the change?  He thought.   The rise of the Pathfinder House?  But that already happened...

 

He was shaken out of his thoughts by the sound of rumbling chairs as the students returned their crystal balls to the shelf.  He got up with the others and put back his crystal ball. Let the Mystics figure it out.

 

*******

 

“Dismoveo!” Incheon chanted and the neon green ‘newbie’ badge peeled off of the Hammersmith student’s uniform.

 

“Wow, thanks!” the first-year said and held the removed badge out for his friend to see.

 

Sib looked at the other Hammersmith first year.  “You want that badge off your robe?”

 

“I’m not supposed to get help with it,” he said.

 

“You know they’re just gonna keep bullyin' you until you get it off, right?” Sib remembered Willow’s challenges with the ‘newbie’ badge that she had worn all last year.  He and Incheon had set themselves to intervene with the Hammersmith first years to try and right that former wrong. They had started finding new Hammersmith students in the very first week of classes and charming the badge off of their robes despite the fact that the first-years were supposed to learn how to do it on their own.

 

“Uh..” he hesitated.  “I don’t know…”

 

“Look, do you want it off or not?”

 

The boy looked at his friend, who encouragingly nodded at him.  “Yeah, sure,” he said.

 

“Dismoveo!” Sib chanted and the badge peeled off of his robe.  The student reached out to grab it and missed.  The neon green badge fluttered to the ground like a maple leaf falling from an autumn tree.  Sib had a sinking feeling in his stomach, but he couldn't quite pinpoint why.

 

“Make sure you tell all the other first years where you lost it,” called Incheon after them as they walked away.

 

“I’m not sure we should be doing this,” said Sib.

 

“Oh, come on,” replied Incheon.  “What’s the worst that can happen?”

 

They figured out the worst that could happen before lunch.  Word spread rapidly among the Hammersmith first-years that Incheon and Sib were removing badges.  It was only a matter of time before the older Hammersmiths found out and hunted them down. After a short confrontation, Sib and Incheon were lying on the ground in the second-floor hallway; immobilized, suffering about a dozen jinxes each, and currently about five minutes late for Thaumaturgy class.

 

“Don’t you see the irony?” asked Incheon through what looked like a beak where his mouth used to be.

 

“Mmmph,” replied Sib, who was having trouble locating his mouth, but he was pretty sure it was somewhere on his backside.

 

“We should be at ‘SQUAWK!’ Thaumaturgy class right now.”  Incheon let out the sound every other sentence now, so Sib knew that particular curse was slowly wearing off.  Sib felt Incheon’s feathery arm - or was it a wing - moving over his own non-functional legs.

 

“Mmmph?” questioned Sib.

 

“We learn all about charms in Thaumaturgy.  We could be learning the ‘SQUAWK!’ countercurse right now.”

 

“Mmmph.” 

 

“Why am I hungry for worms right now?” Incheon asked himself.

 

“Mmmph.  Mmmph mmm mmmph mumm mummum.”

 

“Oh.  ‘SQUAWK!’ Right.”

 

“There you are,” said a voice.  Sib turned his swollen head to see Mrs. Black, the Chancellor, standing over them.  “I see that you’ve already discussed the first-year badges with the Hammersmiths.”

 

“Mmmph mmm,” said Sib.

 

“Funny,” replied Incheon.  “I don’t remember there being much ‘SQUAWK!’ discussion.”

 

*******

 

“What did you think you were doing?” Mrs. Black asked them after she had un-jinxed them and escorted them back to her office.

 

“We know they're bullyin’ the first years,” said Sib.  “We just wanted to stand up for ‘em.”

 

“Is that your job?” Mrs. Black raised her voice at him.  “Are you the disciplinarian in this school?”

 

“No, ma’am,” Sib responded, abashed.

 

“I told all of you on the first day that I would be paying greater attention to how students were treated in this school.  Don’t you think I know how to do that? Don’t you realize that I was already taking action to prevent those horrible traditions from continuing?”  Sib and Incheon remained silent.

 

“And now…” she continued.  “Now you’ve intervened and created a hundred enemies in one quick action.  I can’t protect you. I’m not going to follow you around the school to make sure you don’t end up in a pool of your own foolishness.”  She paused and turned to look out of the window onto the lawn behind the school.

 

“You’ll both lose twenty-five points for your rash behavior and the only reason I’m not taking more is that you’re in for a world of retribution from the Hammersmiths.  I’ll tell them not to do it, but you’ll both have to have eyes in the back of your head for the rest of the year.” She turned back to them. “I hope I don’t have to explain what will happen if you ever charm another badge off a first-year robe?”

 

“No, ma’am” they both responded.

 

“Now get to class, both of you,” she said.  “Lord knows you could use some training in charms to defend yourselves.”

 

*******

 

“Can you believe she took away twenty-five points from each of us?” Sib asked Incheon as they made their way to the Thaumaturgy classroom.  

 

“Do you think that sets a record for the fastest house into negative points?” Incheon asked.  “Maybe we should have started earlier…”

 

“You’re jokin’, right?”

 

“I’m always joking.” 

 

Sib saw the time and realized the class was nearly over.  “We might as well head to the banquet hall for lunch.” They changed direction and walked in silence for a while before Sib pulled Incheon to a halt.

 

“The storm,” Sib said.

 

“What are you talking about?” Incheon responded, looking through the nearest window at the bright blue skies overhead.

 

“The neon green leaf that falls to the ground followed by a storm...we charmed off the neon green badges and now we’re sufferin’ that storm.”

 

“What are you talking about?” he repeated.

 

“The vision from Mysticism class.  The one with the neon green leaves.” 

 

“Right.  I don’t remember even going outside today.”

 

“They ain’t literal leaves.” 

 

“So you’re a Mystic now?  Then tell me what I’m going to have for lunch.”

 

“What you always have - a sandwich.”

 

“Amazing!  You can predict the future.  Now come on, I’m hungry.”

 

Sib thought about arguing with him, but he wasn’t sure he believed it himself.  Is that what it meant?  He shook his head as they reached the door to the banquet hall.  Let the Mystics figure it out.

 

*******

 

By the following week, Sib and Incheon had settled into a routine.  As they made their way to each class, Sib would scout each corridor ahead for Hammersmiths while Inchon would watch to ensure they didn’t get jinxed from behind.  So far, they had only cost their house forty points for being late to classes. It was a tally that Willow was upset with them for, but that Incheon thought was fine, especially seeing as they had avoided being turned into a puddle of goo for the past week.

 

They were making their way to their Friday afternoon Mysticism class and Willow was relentlessly scolding them for racking up so many negative points already.  “If you keep this up, you’ll have the house at three hundred points below zero by Thanksgiving!”   

 

“You say that like it's a bad thing,” Incheon said.

 

“The object is to score the most points, not the least, you dolt.” 

 

“I think you’re looking at this the wrong way,” Incheon responded.  “We will score the most points...just the most negative points.” He smiled at her and walked into the classroom.  Sib saw that Willow was trying to think of a sharp retort and failing.

 

“We’re gettin’ better,” Sib reassured her.  “We only lost ten points today - down from twenty yesterday.”  She just shook her head at him and they walked into the Mysticism room together.

  

Sib and the rest of the class had been working at the crystal ball for more than a week.  Like the others, he had not been able to see anything besides a vague swirling mist. Today, I don’t care, he thought.  I’m just going to zone out.  Miss Pyx began her lecture, but Sib wasn’t paying attention.

 

He gave the crystal ball in front of him the thousand-yard stare.  Without looking, he could tell that his right leg was in a sunbeam and he could feel the sharp difference between where it struck his leg and where his leg was shaded.  The room was stuffy from being filled with students all day and the air he breathed in was humid, making it feel warmer. He emptied school thoughts from his mind and began to think about his weekend...about wandering through the woods early the next morning before the fog had lifted from the valleys; smelling the dewy earth and the feeling of breaking the cobwebs on the trail with his skin.

 

The fog was thick around him and his footfalls were muted by the moss under his feet. He looked ahead to see where the trail was leading him. 'There’s somethin’ movin’ in the mist...a creature of some kind.'  He gazed more intently, trying to make it out.  It was moving toward him quickly - too quickly it seemed - and then the creature burst from the fog, leaping at him with claws flared, roaring with its almost human-like face and waving its scorpion tail.  Sib was suddenly pinned to the ground by the manticore and felt the searing pain in his left shoulder as the stinging barb stabbed him.  

 

Sib yelled and fell through the forest floor, landing on the hard stone tile floor of the Mysticism classroom.“Whoa!” Incheon said as he reached over to help him.  “Are you okay?”

 

He was lying next to his seat.  He glanced around and saw that everyone was looking at him.  “Uh, yeah,” Sib replied, looking at his left shoulder and seeing nothing.  “I guess I just fell.” Incheon helped him up and he resumed his seat.  Sib shook his head to clear his mind and rubbed his shoulder.  Man, that hurt.

 

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Incheon asked him again.

 

“Yeah, ‘m alright,” Sib replied, shaking him off.  Miss Pyx looked at him, but he just turned away in embarrassment and she continued on with her lesson.

 

*******

 

“You go on ahead,” he said to the others at the end of class.  "I have a question for Miss Pyx." The others nodded and left him as the room emptied.  When the last student had gathered their things and departed, Sib approached the teacher's desk.

 

“Miss Pyx?” She looked up from what she was doing and nodded for him to continue.  “If you see that something is going to happen, is it going to happen, or can you avoid it?” 

 

“You can’t avoid it,” she replied.  “But sometimes you can change the circumstances.”

 

“Change the circumstances?  I don’t think I understand.”

 

“Okay.  Hmmm... an example,” she pondered.  “Let’s say you had a clear vision that you were going to fall off a cliff and it’s not a metaphor for a financial loss or personal embarrassment.  Actual cliff - actual fall. We’ll learn later how to tell the difference,” she said as an aside. “Not so pleasant, right? Unless you misinterpreted, at some point in time that vision is going to come true.  No matter how much you avoid cliffs, you might just find that a cliff comes to you when you least expect it or are the least ready for it.”  

 

“Sorry.  How can a cliff come to you?”

 

“Maybe there’s an earthquake and the ground opens up in front of you - whoop! down you go.  You can change the circumstances by trying to be prepared. Maybe the next time you find yourself near a cliff, you harness yourself to the nearest tree before going anywhere close.  Carry a rope, so that when it does happen, it’s not catastrophic.”

 

You mean just be prepared to handle the vision when it comes?” Sib asked and Miss Pyx nodded.

 

“Now, what did you see in the crystal ball?” she asked him. 

 

“Oh,” Sib was caught off guard.  He didn’t realize it was that obvious.  “Nuthin’. I...uh...just slipped off my chair is all.” 

 

“Really?  You were scared out of your seat by nothing?  I don’t think so. Nobody sees anything in the first few months of classes.  It’s one of the reasons other schools don’t have Mysticism until the third year.  You were the only student who has seen a true vision in this class...and in the first four weeks.”

 

“But Francesca had a vision too - on our first day.” 

 

“Only because I planted it in her crystal so I could keep the class moving.  While everyone here carries the gift to see, very few have the ability to see clearly and fewer still to correctly interpret what they see.  The neon green leaves falling before the storm was my vision. It was about you, wasn’t it?”

 

Sib was shocked into telling the truth.  “I guess so. Me ‘n Incheon were charmin’ the badges off of the Hammersmith first-years.  They’re neon green, you know.” 

 

“The neon green badges, of course!”  She nodded. “And the storm?”

 

“The Hammersmith students - all above fourth year anyway - have it in for Incheon ‘n me.  They try to jinx us to heck every time they can get away with it. And then Mrs. Black docked us twenty-five points apiece since she was tryin’ to fix those badges already.”

 

“That is a storm.  I want you to know that you have a gift, Sib.  One that I have never seen develop this early.  I can help.”

 

“I’m alright,” Sib replied.  “I don’t need any help.”

 

“You’re the fawn,” she said.  “If you’re going to do this by yourself, you’d best hurry up and learn to run.”



Chapter 6: The Prophecy
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Sib left the Mysticism classroom, his mind a jumbled stew of thoughts.   Should I have told her about the manticore?  It wouldn’t matter, there’s nothin’ she could do about it anyway.  Should I tell the others about what I’m seein’? ...And have everyone look at me strange because I’m seein’ things that nobody else can?  It’s like the dreams...

 

All last year, Sib had been haunted by recurring dreams - all having to do with the Hunter and the circle of stones.  They were extremely vivid, but he didn’t dare to tell anyone about them because he knew they weren’t normal. He eventually discovered that all of the Pathfinders were having the same dreams - making them realize that it was the Hunter who was trying to talk to them and to guide them into finding the truth about Pathfinder House.  

 

And then there’s grandma…  His grandmother had been in the National Magical Medical Center since the time he was born.  She was completely paralyzed - except for her eyes, which she used to communicate with Sib and his family when they went to visit.  Sib’s mom had told him that her paralyzation had something to do with Mysticism. He didn’t want to end up the same way. No, he thought as he reached the Pathfinder lounge.  I ain’t tellin’ nobody.  He walked into the lounge just in time to hear Willow’s reminder.

 

“Remember,” Willow called to the others as they were gathering their things to head to their clubs or leave for the day.  “Mandatory tryouts for the Pathfinder Quidditch team on Monday!” She turned to Sib, practically exploding with excitement.  “This is going to be so great!”

 

*******

 

They are god-awful.  Sib stood watching the tryouts after school on the following Monday.  Hye-lin seemed to be able to hold her own on a broom, but Quinta couldn't even get off the ground.  Hedges and Beene were at least flying but spent the entire time trying to butt into each other.

 

“I’ll knock you off!” Beene said, ramming his broom into Hedges’.

 

“Just try it!” Hedges responded and they proceeded to bash into each other like a pair of dim-witted goats.  The rest of them were trying to ignore the boys. 

 

Willow was still trying to convince Lef to play. “Please,” she pleaded.

 

“I stink,” replied Lef.  “And I hate playing Quidditch.”

 

“But she can’t fly at all,” Willow said, pointing at Quinta, who was stomping on her broom; cursing it as if it had punched her mother.  “If you don’t play, we won’t have a team.” 

 

“You mean you won’t have a team,” Lef clarified.  “Nobody else is thrilled with the idea of going up against players six years older than us.”

 

“Fine.  I won’t have a team. But you know how much I’ve wanted this.  Come on...please?”

 

Lef thought for a moment.  “Okay, I’ll do it. But I reserve the right to quit.”

 

“Done.”  Willow blew her whistle and the four first years came over to where she was.  “The four second years are going to play, so there are only three spots left.”

 

“Oh, thank god,” said Quinta.  “I thought you were going to make me do this.”  She took her broom and threw it like a javelin back toward the field.  

 

“Now, we’ll need to figure out positions,” Willow said.

 

“Uh...,” Sib interrupted.

 

“What?” Willow looked at him.  

 

“You really think giving them a couple of bats is a good idea?” he said, gesturing his head towards the boys, who had fallen to the ground off of their brooms and were busy wrestling in the dirt.

 

“I guess not.”

 

“And since you’re the only one who can really fly,” Sib continued.  “I think we got us a seeker. Incheon and I will be the beaters and Lef ain’t flying far, so she’ll goaltend.”

 

“...So we have three new chasers,” Willow finished for him.

 

“Looks like you got your team.”

 

*******

 

“What number do you want for your jersey?” Willow asked them after they had returned to the lounge.  “The keeper is number one and the seeker gets number seven, but you can pick from the rest.”

 

“I want eighty-four,” Incheon said.

 

“There are only seven players,” Willow explained.  “So there’s one through seven.”

 

“That’s great,” Incheon responded.  “I want eighty-four.”

 

“I’ll take zero since that’s how many points we’ll score,” said Sib.

 

“Will you two be serious?” Willow demanded.  

 

“Do you want us to play or not?” asked Sib.  Willow stared at him, but Sib didn’t blink. 

 

“Fine,” she said, giving up. She turned to the others who were distracted by Hedges and Beene.  The two were pushing and shoving each other in the back of the room.

 

“I want my favorite number!” Beene yelled.

 

“No!” Hedges responded. “I want my favorite number and I called it first.”  They started wrestling each other again.

 

“Hey, idiots!” Quinta yelled at them.  They both stopped fighting and turned to her.  “What’s your favorite number?”

 

“Eight,” Beene said.  

 

“Thirteen” Hedges called at the same time.  They immediately resumed fighting with each other.

 

Willow shook her head and turned to Hye-lin.  “And you?”

 

“Eleven,” she said.  

 

“So we have zero, one, seven, eight, eleven, thirteen and eighty-four,” she summarized.  "We’re going to look ridiculous.”

 

“And the numbers won’t help either,” added Incheon.

 

“Are you really set on this?” Sib asked Willow.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Okay,” he said.  “But you’d best prepare yourself, ‘cause it ain’t gonna be pretty.”

 

*******

 

“What do you mean I have to scoop poop?,” Sib asked Willow as they were standing outside of the Pegasus barn.  “Ain't I carin' for magical creatures in ‘Care of Magical Creatures Club’?”

 

“You’ll definitely get out within a month, but everybody has to rotate through the barns.”

 

“But why can’t I just vanish it with ‘evanesco’?”

 

“Because Mr. Diatomungi needs the manure for his mushrooms,” Willow responded.  “Look, just put your head down and plow through and you’ll be out with the blink dogs and salamanders in no time.”

 

“And where are you goin’?”

 

“I’m headed down to see Corey.  I’ll see you in a bit.” 

 

Great, he thought as he grabbed a pitchfork and headed to a stall in the back of the barn.  She goes off to hang out with her best friend, the man-eating manticore, and I’m going to scoop poop for an hour.  I’m going to murder Incheon for signing me up for this...  He had worked through four stalls and was spreading fresh hay on the ground when he was startled by the sound of someone talking right next to him.

 

“Over here,” the voice said.  “We can talk in private.” Sib looked around, but couldn’t see anyone next to him.  Then he noticed that the barn had a rounded roof as the barn was a half-cylinder laid on its side.  He was hearing voices perfectly from the opposite side and the voices were carrying across the ceiling.  Not wanting to disturb them, and desperately bored from the monotonous work, he crouched down and waited in silence to hear the conversation.  

 

“The wyverns and the manticore.”  Sib recognized the voice as Mr. Woodhead’s, their COMC teacher.

 

“What about them?” a second voice asked.  Sib didn’t know who this was, and his view to the opposite side was blocked by bales of hay stacked up in the center of the barn.  He guessed it was one of the older students.

 

“Why are they here?  Whose idea was it to have them in the first place?”

 

“I don’t know,” replied the student. “The wyverns were here when I started and the manticore arrived the summer before last.  Miss Mercana was the one who took care of them mostly.” Sib remembered Miss Mercana fondly.  She was their COMC teacher from last year.  She was removed from the post because people found out she had arktanthropy: she was a were-bear.

 

“Well, we’re going to have to get rid of them,” Mr. Woodhead said.

 

“What? You mean release them?”

 

“Into the wild?” Mr. Woodhead exclaimed.  “Are you mad? No - I mean we’re going to have to put them down.”

 

“I...I don’t know how to do that.”

“Neither do I.  We’ll have to call in MACUSA.  BPMS has a ‘cleaner’ they call it.  Shoots a green light at creatures too dangerous to release and they’re done.”   

 

“But they’re called the Body for the Protection of Magical Species,” the student protested.

 

“In this case, you and I are the magical species that need protecting,” Mr. Woodhead responded. “Wyverns and manticores don’t have any place near people.  Both are cold-blooded killers and with magical resistance to boot. I’m not putting myself or any of you in that kind of danger.  Don’t worry,” he continued.  “MACUSA knows what they’re doing.  I’ll try to get them in here in a week or so.  Until then, nobody goes near them, you hear me?”

 

Sib heard the two of them shuffle off.  I have to tell Willow!  But what’s she going to say?  And worse...what’s she going to try to do?

 

*******

 

“We have to convince Mr. Woodhead,” she said when Sib had found her.  “I don’t know about the wyverns; they were always pretty nasty, but we can’t let them kill Corey.”

 

“I’m not sure how willin’ Mr. Woodhead is gonna be when he hears that I was snoopin’ on their conversation,” replied Sib.  “So you might want to start thinkin’ about your best jailbreak plan in case you can’t convince him.”

 

“He just has to listen to reason,” said Willow.  Sib saw the conviction in her eyes - like the Pathfinder Quidditch team, there was no way of talking her out of it.

 

“Alright,” replied Sib.  “But could you - you know - kinda’ leave me out of it?  I only been in COMC club for a week and I don’t want to get tossed before I actually get to care for a magical creature.” 

 

“Yeah, okay,” Willow dismissed him.  She was already planning how to make her argument, her face wrinkled in thought like a trial lawyer on a big case.  “I’m going to see him right now. I’ll see you later.”  She strode up toward Mr. Woodhead’s office, with purpose and energy in each step.  Sib didn’t see her for the rest of his time mucking out stalls and he figured she would update them all in the student lounge the next morning.

 

*******

 

“I can’t believe he wouldn’t see reason,” Willow was fuming.  She had indeed tried - relentlessly it sounded - to convince Mr. Woodhead of the manticore’s good qualities.  She was pacing back and forth in the Pathfinder lounge the following morning, preventing anyone from leaving while she vented. “He said he didn’t want to accept the liability!  As if that matters when he’s talking about cold-blooded murder.”

 

“What’s it called when a manticore eats a person,” asked Incheon.  “Are they warm-blooded?”

 

“Hush,” Lef said to him.

 

“We’ll just open the gate and let him go,” Willow said with resolve.

 

“Right,” piped up Incheon.  “I’m sure he’ll just bound off into the woods like a puppy and not start murdering the students all around him.  Because, you know, manticores are nice like that.”

 

“We can lure him into the forest with food!” Willow clarified.

 

You can lure him into the forest because you’re food,” Incheon said.

 

Willow stomped her foot in frustration.  “I don’t know what to do!”

“Have you asked Miss Mercana?” asked Sib.

 

“You’re right!  She’ll know what to do.  I’ll send Fred to visit her tonight.”  Sib remembered Fred - he was a pseudodragon; a dragon-like creature about the size of a small dog.  He had been Miss Mercana’s, but she had given Fred to Willow at the end of last year. Like an owl, Fred could pass messages back and forth between them.

 

“What if we snuck it out?” suggested Hye-lin, caught up in the conversation.

 

“In what?” Incheon asked.  “Do you have a giant manticore-proof cage in your back pocket?”  Hye-lin shot him a glance that made Sib flinch. 

 

“What if it isn’t a giant cage?” asked Lef.

 

Incheon turned to her.  “I suppose you’re volunteering to stuff the manticore into a wand box?”

 

“The small carved dragon,” Lef said.  “The one we got inside last year. We could use it to smuggle the manticore out.” 

 

Sib nodded. During the previous year, he had carved a small wooden pseudodragon as a gift for Willow at Christmastime.  At the end of the year, Mr. Zolock - before he died - had enchanted the pseudodragon carving to grow into a giant hollow shape that they had all crawled into and then he had shrunk it down again with them inside to avoid detection.  It might work.  

 

“That’s an amazing plan, Lef,” Willow congratulated her.  “Thanks! I’ll just need to ask Miss Mercana where we can take Corey once we get him out.”

 

“Great,” said Incheon.  “Can Sib and I get to class now?  We have to cut across the school three times to avoid death by jinx and we’re already going to be late.”

 

“And cost us more points?” scolded Willow.  “I’m sure the Hammersmiths have had their revenge.  You haven’t been jinxed in two weeks.”

 

“And I don’t intend on breaking that record, either,” Incheon replied.  He waved for Sib to follow and they hurried out, Sib scoping ahead to see if the path was clear.

 

*******

 

“So Miss Mercana just said ‘meet me in Gampton’?” Incheon asked.  Willow nodded at him, handing him a piece of paper. Willow had sent messages to all of them to meet her in the village of Gampton on Saturday morning.  Sib and Incheon were already waiting when she arrived in the village square.  Sib had to give up his hike through the woods, but he felt some responsibility for the whole thing since he was the one who had overheard Mr. Woodhead in the first place.  “It’s not that Gampton is a metropolis,” Incheon continued, handing the small scrap of paper back to Willow.  “But where, exactly, are we meeting her?”

 

“I don’t know,” replied Willow.  “Oh, look!” she exclaimed. “Here come Lily and Hye-lin on their brooms.”

 

“Ugh,” replied Incheon.  “I feel my breakfast coming back up.”

 

“Oh, come on,” Sib joked.  “Lily isn’t that bad.” Incheon smiled at him and then frowned when Hye-lin landed and gave him the finger when she thought nobody was looking.

 

“I see you two have made up nicely,” Sib said to him. 

“Hm,” Incheon grunted.  Lef joined them a moment later, having used the Firejump Network like Sib to apparate near the square.  

 

Sib looked around while they were waiting.  He had been to Gampton before to visit Incheon, but he had jumped directly into his house and hadn’t seen the village proper.  They were in the village square, the grey cobblestones beneath their feet lining a street that was wide enough for two carriages to easily pass, but the streets around them were currently empty.  There was a statue of a mage in the middle of the square. Sib saw the name ‘Gamp’ on the base, but he didn’t know who that was. He was sure Mr. Zolock would know a funny story or be able to show a reenactment of a battle he was in.  

 

There were trees lining the sidewalks, casting a pleasant shade on the square.  Shops of all kinds lined the four streets that led from where they were standing. Sib saw an owl post office on one corner; and a small grocery, a jewelry store, and a branch of Gringott’s Wizard Bank on the other three.  His observations were interrupted by the arrival of Fred, flying lazily down to them from the treetops above, his leathery wings nearly transparent where the sun hit them. He landed on Willow’s shoulder, furled his wings and turned his long serpentine neck to look at her. 

 

“This way,” Willow said after a moment, pointing them to the street between the post office and the jewelry store.

 

“How do you know that?” asked Hye-lin.  “He didn’t say anything.”

 

“Fred can talk telepathically,” replied Willow.  “I had trouble hearing it at first, but I worked at it all summer.  Fred said Miss Mercana is waiting in the woods on this side of town.”  The village street ended after three blocks.  There were a series of small cape-cod style cottages at the cul-de-sac where the street stopped, but a path led past them into the woods beyond.  

 

“Do you live near here, Lily?” Willow asked her.

 

“No.  Incheon, Hye-lin, and I live on the opposite side of the village, closer to the river.”  They had reached the tree line of the forest and Willow saw a figure ahead, draped in a dark green cloak.  Her reddish-brown hair - now shot with streaks of grey, Sib noticed - was pinned up in a messy bun. As they approached Sib thought she looked like she’d been sleeping outside for a while.

 

“Hi Miss Mercana,” greeted Willow.  “How are you?” 

 

“I’ve been better,” she replied but smiled warmly at them all.  “Man, I forgot how much I missed teaching you guys.” She glanced at them all and stopped at Hye-lin.  “I don’t think we’ve met.”

 

Hye-lin introduced herself as a first-year student at Gampton Hall and Miss Mercana nodded.  “Nice to meet you Hye-lin.” She turned back to Willow. “Your plan to get Corey out by shrinking him within the wooden carving won’t work.”

 

“Why not?  We can figure out a way to work the spells.”  Sib had his doubts, but he was sure that Willow didn’t.   

 

“Because manticores are resistant to magic.  He won’t shrink.”

 

“So even if we got him inside the wooden pseudodragon…”

 

“He would be crushed when you tried to shrink it again.” 

 

“I won’t be crushed,” said Incheon.

 

“You be quiet,” hushed Lef.

 

“So what do I do?” lamented Willow.

 

“I don’t know.  But if you can find a way to get him out, get him to the Wendigo circle.  I can take it from there.”

 

“The Wendigo circle?”

 

“It’s a giant circular patch on the ground where nothing grows.  It’s just outside the school grounds, beyond my old bear enclosure.”

 

"Why is it called the Wendigo circle?"

 

"No idea.  Ask Professor Zolock...he’ll know.  Anyway, that’s not the reason I asked you to meet me here today."  She handed Willow something from inside her robe. Sib saw that it was a newspaper and Willow opened it up and gasped.  “That’s why I wanted to show you in person,” Miss Mercana said.  “They published the prophecy...or at least a version of it.” She gestured to Willow.  “Go ahead, read it out loud to the others.”

 

Willow swallowed heavily and started reading the article.  “The headline says ‘Prophecy Revealed’ in big type. Here’s the rest of it.” 

 

"Sources from within MACUSA have, for the first time, revealed the entirety of the prophecy as it relates to the possible revealing of the magic world to the nomaj.  This prophecy, given to MACUSA fourteen years ago, has long been the subject of conjecture and discussion at the highest levels of government and it was classified as ‘top secret’ by the government because of its possible inflammatory contents." 

 

"Shunted away in a dusty corridor with other prophecies, this prediction had little effect on our daily lives with the exception of the banning of all dark arts and their teaching at all schools in the United States shortly after the prophecy was given.'Good riddance,' one MACUSA official, who asked to remain anonymous, was quoted as saying.  'It gave us a good reason to do what we had wanted to do all along'.” 

 

"But now, things are different.  Starting in September, Gampton Hall Academy has started sorting new students into a fifth house, known as Pathfinder.  Where did this fifth house come from? What prompted Gampton Hall administrators to allow this to happen?  We interviewed the former Chancellor of Gampton Hall Academy, Mr. Hobilard McCracken about the happenings at Gampton Hall.  'It all started with a band of misfit students.' "  

 

“Hey,” piped up Incheon.  “I thought it was just one misfit student and then the rest of you.”

 

“Quiet,” hushed Lef.  “Let her read.”

 

Willow continued.  “They were poking around where they shouldn’t have been,' McCracken added.  'And discovered secrets at the school that were meant to stay hidden and safe.  I warned them, but now there’s no going back. The fifth house has indeed started under the new administration.”

 

“That’s a lie,” piped up Sib.  “It started at the beginnin' of last year!”

 

“Quiet,” hushed Lef.  “Let her finish the article.  It’s probably not the only lie.”

 

“The current Chancellor, Mrs. Patricia Black, could not be reached for comment.  Now, with Gampton Hall Academy sorting students into a fifth house, another series of questions has arisen.  How will we protect ourselves from the nomaj? And how will we maintain our way of life?  Here, exclusively in the New York Ghost, the prophecy has been published so that we can see for ourselves the danger it portends:"

 

“I see five bloody harvests, five years of darkness; and at the end...there is nothing.  The end of the era of magic is nearing. The nomaj will rise and replace the mage. Legions of mages will become powerless.  We must suppress the magic deprived and magic depraved. Gampton Hall’s fifth house will mark the beginning. Only those who follow MACUSA can avoid the end.”

 

“That isn’t right,” said Incheon.  They all looked at him. “At least from what Mr. Zolock told us last year, what he said is different from what you just read.”  Sib had every reason to believe Incheon as he had an audiographic memory. He was able to remember everything he heard - word for word.

 

“Is there anything else?” asked Lef.

 

"Yes," said Willow.  "One more paragraph. With the implications clear regarding who will reveal the secret and where safety lies, MACUSA has enacted swift and rigorous legislation aimed at protecting the public and ensuring the continued safety of the magical world.  Effectively immediately, the ‘MFA’ or Magical Freedom Act has been implemented. This act empowers MACUSA to search for and prosecute more fully and comprehensively those who would aid in the violation of the Statute of Secrecy.  The Act creates a registry for human-hybrid individuals to ensure proper governmental oversight and control. All exemptions for wandless mages have been suspended indefinitely as has parole for all those accused or prosecuted for the use of dark magic.  Let us at the New York Ghost hope that MACUSA is doing enough.” 

 

My pa, thought Sib.  He ain’t gettin’ out.

 

“My mom,” said Willow.  “She won’t be able to get a wand.”

 

“Miss Mercana,” added Lef.  “Does the human-hybrid thing apply to you?”

 

“Oh yes,” she nodded.  “Were-bears count.  I’m supposed to surrender myself to twenty-four-hour surveillance...in Spellhold prison.  Some freedom act, huh?”

 

“So what are you going to do?” asked Willow.

 

“For now, I’m going to make myself scarce.  I wanted to tell you so that you didn’t send Fred to me.  It’s a whole lot harder to hide when there’s a pseudodragon flying around.”

 

“Is there anything we can do?” Sib asked.

 

“Yes,” she replied.  “Find out the truth of the prophecy.  And I mean the whole truth. Not just what it actually said, but what it actually means.”

 

“And how do we do that?”

 

“I have no idea, but you figured out the Pathfinder thing last year, and before the end of next week, you’re going to figure out how to sneak a manticore out of Gampton Hall too.  I believe in you.” She turned and talked just to Willow. “Don’t send Fred until you are ready to bust Corey out and then I’ll meet you at the Wendigo circle. Good luck.” She waved goodbye to them and disappeared into the woods.

 

They were all quiet as they walked back towards the village until Hye-lin spoke out.  “Pathfinder house is exciting!” she said. “Is it always like this?”

 

“Like what?” Willow asked.

 

“You know.  Breaking the rules, discovering mysteries, meeting outlaws.”

 

“No, not always,” Incheon responded.  “There was that one day last spring when nobody was trying to murder us.  You remember that, Sib?”

 

Sib glanced at Hye-lin and for a second he thought he caught her smiling but as soon as he looked again, the smile was gone.  She and Lily had reached their brooms. “Bye!” called Lily and Hye-lin to the group.

 

“See ya, pukeface,” Hye-lin added to Incheon before flying off.

 

Willow was tying her shoe and her foot wiggled on a loose cobblestone.  She picked up the stone, leaving a hollow brick-shaped hole in the roadbed. She looked up at Lef, Incheon and Sib.  “The only way I can see is to dig a tunnel. Just far enough to escape.”  Sib was overcome with deja-vu.  He stepped back, suddenly unsteady on his feet.

 

“Whoa there, boss...” Incheon reached out to steady him.  “You alright?”

 

“Yeah,” replied Sib.  "Just a wicked case of deja-vu."  Except he realized it wasn’t deja-vu after all.  He had heard Willow say that exact phrase in that exact same way when he was stuck in the woods waiting out the harpy.  It was how he knew to dig a tunnel to escape. If one of my visions is coming true...what about the manticore?

 

 

 

 

 

 

(* Blink dogs and pseudodragons originally created by Gary Gygax, Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual, TSR, 1977)



Chapter 7: Skunk Butt
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Sib and Willow were standing by Corey’s enclosure on Monday afternoon, staring at the creature which was pacing back and forth on the far side.

 

“He does that every afternoon,” Willow explained.  “It’s how he gets his exercise. Then he wanders over here and we talk.”

 

“You talk?” Sib asked.

 

“Well… I talk, he listens.” 

 

“Even if we dig a tunnel,” Sib asked.  “How are we going to get him into it?”

 

“I can get him through,” she said.  “He’ll come to me.”

 

“Yeah, but what’s he going to do when he gets to you?” Sib had an involuntary shudder as he remembered his vision.  He caught himself rubbing his left shoulder.

 

“I’m not worried about that,” she said.  “I’m just wondering how we get him to the circle.”

 

“Well if he ain’t goin’ then you’ll need to lead him there.  Too bad we can’t dangle a steak in front of him the whole way.”

 

“I was wondering,” Willow said.  “Could we use the pointer light like Mr. Hendershot uses in Thaumaturgy?”

 

“I guess,” replied Sib.  “It’s a simple enough charm.  Do you think it will work?”

 

“Well, pointer lights work on cats,” she said.  “This should work too. He’s just a cat, right?”

 

“Sure,” Sib responded.  “He’s just a nice fluffy cat.  Just a nice giant murderous fluffy cat.”

 

“What about the tunnel?” Willow asked, ignoring his snarky comment.  “Have you dug one before?” They started walking to the edge of the woods where the tunnel would have to start.

 

“I’ve done it before, but it ain’t the same as when you’re diggin’ through clay.  That tends to stay put. This sandy loam, though…” He stooped over and picked up a handful of dirt and let it run through his fingers.  “It ain’t gonna stay without help.”

 

“So what do we use?  Are we going to need wooden boards and stuff?”

 

“You are such a nomaj,” joked Sib.  “No, we ain’t gonna use boards and stuff.  We’re going to use magic. We just need somebody smart who can help us figure out the right spell.”

 

“Lily!” exclaimed Willow.  “She’ll know. Now how do we actually dig?”

 

“It’s a spell.” Now that they were at the starting point, Sib pointed his amulet at the ground. “Evanesco Lutum!” A tubular hole appeared in the ground, descending about four feet into the earth.  Almost immediately, the walls of the tunnel started to crumble inward.

 

“Where does the dirt go?” Willow asked.

 

“Away,” replied Sib, surprised that Willow didn’t know that.  “To the place where vanished things go.” 

 

Willow shook her head.  “I am such a nomaj.”

 

*******

 

Herbology on Tuesday morning was the next class they shared with Lily; the Pathfinders being combined with Featherpenny for the session.  Willow had relayed the request the previous day and Lily was giving her recommendations as they walked into the woods for the day’s lesson.

 

“Of course there’s ‘impervius’,” she told them.  “Or you can use the permanent sticking charm, but you’ll have to make sure you aren’t touching the wall, or you’ll be stuck too.  Personally, I’d choose ‘quasi lapis’.”

 

“I haven’t heard of that one,” said Willow.

 

“It makes the object as hard as stone.  It should be exactly what you need for the tunnel.”

 

“Awesome, thanks!” said Willow.  “Now, I have another favor to ask.  With one of us working on the tunnel, we need someone to step in for us at Quidditch practice.  Do you think you could help?”

 

“I don’t know,” replied Lily.  “It depends on whether Featherpenny is practicing.  And whether we’re close to a game. And whether I might get injured.”

 

“Injured?” questioned Willow.  “Why would you think that?”

 

“I heard that a couple of your players are…” she hesitated.  “...unskilled.”

 

“Hey!” Incheon interjected.  “Sib and I are right here, Lily.”

 

“I was talking about the other dimwits,” she said.  “Adam and Nuffledim.”  She pronounced it 'a-dim' and 'nuffle-dim'.

 

“Ha!” laughed Incheon.  “Yes, they’re a crime against humanity.”

 

Willow frowned at him and then turned back to Lily.  “Just think about it, alright?”

 

At that point, Mr. Diatomungi had split them into groups and was sending them out to find Lady’s Tresses.  "Good for thinning potions, and for whatever reason, it makes the blink dogs calm," he explained to them.  

   

Sib and Incheon had been hunting half-heartedly and found that the best place to look without really trying was about fifteen feet behind where Mr. Diatomungi was walking.  A Featherpenny student was nearby and pointed out a plant to the professor.

 

“Mr. Diatomungi, is this what we’re looking for?” 

 

“No, Oliver.  That’s a checkered rattlesnake-plantain,” he responded.  “Let’s hope you don’t need that.” Oliver moved off to look elsewhere and Mr. Diatomungi moved to help another student further into the woods.

 

Sib recognized the name immediately.  He waited until the rest of the class had passed and dug the plant out of the ground.

 

“What are you doing with that?” Incheon asked.  

 

“Savin’ it for later,” replied Sib.  “Who knows when you might need a checkered rattlesnake-plantain.” The two of them caught up with the rest of the class and Sib managed to pull Lef aside when they stopped.

 

“Lef, do you know how to use this?” He held up the plant to show her.

 

“What is it?” asked Lef.

 

“You mean you don’t know?” said Sib.

 

“Well I’m sorry, mister outdoorsy,” Lef said in self-defense, crossing her arms.  “No, I don’t happen to know about every plant in the forest.  I'm so sorry to disappoint you.”  She stomped away, leaving Sib dumbfounded.

 

“What did I say?” he asked Incheon.

 

“She’s a girl, so you probably said words.  That’s usually enough to upset them.”  

 

Sib looked over the plant.  The leaves themselves weren’t much, but the roots looked to be hollow.  He broke one open and a clear but extremely noxious liquid squirted out.  Sib dropped that root and he and Incheon hurried away with the rest of the plant.  

 

“Dude,” said Incheon as they moved away from the cloud of stink.  “I don’t know when you would need to smell like a rotten egg and skunk butt sandwich, but I think you’ve found the solution for just such an occasion.”

 

*******

 

The following afternoon, Sib was walking into the lounge with the rest of the Pathfinders and Lily.  They were returning from Quidditch practice, which had gone horribly - but honestly Sib didn’t expect anything else. Willow was working on the tunnel which was coming along better than he expected.  We might have it done by Friday, Sib thought.  Plenty of time to get the Manticore out.

 

Lily had joined them at practice against her better judgment, but Sib thought her presence was a great addition.  She knew more about Quidditch tactics than all of them put together. She was currently lecturing Lef on goaltending.

 

“You have to watch out for the feint,” Lily was saying.  “You’re going for the first move and leaving yourself open.”

 

“God,” Lef complained.  “You’re as bad as Willow…” She was interrupted by Willow bursting through the portal and rushing over to Sib who was putting his Quidditch jersey in his locker.

 

“They’re here,” she said.

 

“What do you mean they’re here?” said Sib. “We were supposed to have another week!”

 

“Are you coming?” she asked, panic in her voice.  

 

“But the tunnel ain’t even half done!” he said to her as he grabbed his Stor-All and started following her toward the portal.  

 

“They’re here now!” cried Willow.  “We have to go.  I've already sent Fred to warn Miss Mercana.   I just hope we’re not too late.” She bolted out of the lounge, down the third-floor hallway and jumped into the middle of the stairway, shouting ‘first floor’ as she fell.  Sib followed right behind, realizing that Willow had to be in a panic if she was jumping the stairs.

 

They burst out of the back door of the school and started sprinting toward the treeline where the tunnel started.  To their right, they were startled by a bright flashing green light that lit up the inside of the wyvern’s enclosure.

 

“Hurry!” panted Willow.

 

“Go!” yelled Sib. “I’m right behind you.”  Something about the green light was nagging him in the back of his mind.  It quickly faded as they crashed into the underbrush in the woods and found their way to the tunnel entrance.  

 

“I’ll go in,” she said.

 

“You need to reinforce the tunnel,” Sib told her, panting for breath.  “It’ll collapse if you don’t.” 

 

“We don’t have time,” she replied.  “It’ll hold.” She started toward the tunnel entrance.

 

“I’ll go with you,” Sib said.

 

“No,” she said.  “He’ll follow me out.  Just be sure you’re ready with the laser light.”

 

“Yeah, sure,” Sib responded, not knowing what a laser was, but knowing which charm she meant.  Willow disappeared into the tunnel. Sib glanced through the trees and saw a second green flash from the wyvern enclosure.  There goes the other oneAin’t nothin’ left but the manticore.

 

Sure enough, he saw four mages exit from the wyvern’s enclosure, making their way toward the manticore’s pen.  You’d better hurry, Willow.  Just as he thought it, he heard a rumble that could only mean the worst.  He rushed down into the tunnel entrance and pulled out his amulet. “Lumos solem!” he called, blasting the darkness with sunlight.  The tunnel’s collapsed!  Willow’s gonna be trapped with the manticore.  He hurried inside, sprinting to the area of the collapsed tunnel.  I figured. It’s right where we stopped shoring it.

He began blasting away at the dirt in front of him with ‘evanesco’, occasionally stopping to shore up the sides and roof quickly with ‘quasi lapis’.  It was so dusty, he couldn’t see more than a couple of feet in front of him. Suddenly, Willow barreled into him, crashing through a thin wall of dirt.  

 

“Move!” she cried.  “He’s right behind us.” 

 

Sib didn’t need any more explanation and sprinted back toward the tunnel entrance hot on Willow’s heels.  They burst into the afternoon sunlight and Sib kept going, moving further back into the woods and expecting the creature to burst from the tunnel at any second.  Willow stopped sooner and turned back to the tunnel, waiting for the manticore. “Where is he?” she wondered aloud.  She started walking back toward the tunnel.

 

“Willow don’t…” Sib started moving toward her to stop her from going in the tunnel but it was too late.  The manticore burst from the tunnel, knocking Willow to the ground. It spotted Sib and charged at him. Sib tried turning but the manticore moved too fast, knocking him onto his back, pinning his shoulders to the ground, and bringing the giant black scorpion tail down, stabbing Sib in the left shoulder.  

 

The pain was beyond anything he had felt before and Sib screamed in agony.  The manticore jumped off of him and moved away. Willow came streaking over to him, looked up to see that the manticore had gone into the woods and then put her hand on his shoulder.

 

“You’re bleeding,” she said.

 

“Venom,” he gasped.  “My...bag…” Sib pleaded, pointing to his Stor-All, which was propped against a nearby tree.  Willow ran over, grabbed it and rushed back, setting it within reach of his good arm. Sib could feel a sharp burning where the manticore had stabbed him, but what scared him was the intense cold that was settling in his arms and legs.  He reached inside his bag, his fingers brushing against everything but what he needed. A roll of twine, a bit of cloth, the ring from the niffler’s den. Finally, he grabbed onto the roots of the checkered rattlesnake-plantain and pulled them out.

 

“Break…roots…” He was gasping - the cold now in his neck and moving upward. “Anti-venom…”

 

Catching on, Willow grabbed the roots from him and burst open one of the root balls, spraying the horribly stinking liquid all over his shoulder.  “Oh my god,” she said.  “It stinks like rotten fish and fart.”  But she didn’t stop, grabbing several more roots, breaking the liquid-filled sacs and pouring the festering contents on his shoulder. 

 

The cold had reached everywhere and Sib felt himself shivering uncontrollably.  When he thought he couldn’t be any colder, a sudden sense of peace and warmth swept over him like rolling hot air out of a quickly opened oven.  He passed out.

 

*******

 

“Good god,” someone was saying.  “Did you roll him in pickled haggis and sewage?”  Sib was lying on the ground but still felt too weak to open his eyes.

 

“He told me to use these,” Willow’s voice responded.

 

“Smart.  It’s probably the only thing that could have saved his life.”  Sib finally recognized the voice of Miss Mercana. “Look, I think he’s coming around,” she said.  Sib opened his eyes and saw that he was in a clearing in the woods.  The two of them were leaning over him. Miss Mercana knelt down.  “Willow really overdid it with the rattlesnake-plantain.  You really only need a drop or two to counteract the manticore venom.” 

 

“I didn’t know,” croaked Sib.  

 

“It’s alright,” she replied.  “Better safe than dead. You’re just going to stink to high heaven for a little while.  Here, let me help you sit up.” She grabbed his good arm and pulled him upright.  Sib looked at his left shoulder.  His shirt was torn and blood covered his entire left side.  He pulled aside the tear in his shirt to see that his shoulder was healed.  He tried moving his left arm and found it stiff, but unhurt.

 

“It may stink,” Miss Mercana said.  “But the rattlesnake-plantain neutralizes the venom well enough.  I used dittany for the cut.” Sib looked around the clearing. The ground was scorched and black.  Not even weeds were growing on it. He saw that he was near the center of a circle about fifty feet in diameter.

 

“Is this the Wendigo circle?” he asked.

 

“Yes,” Miss Mercana told him. “Corey is playing a little ways off.  You’re good.”

 

“How did you get me here?” he asked Willow.

 

“Pluma,” she said.  Sib nodded. Mr. Hendershot had been teaching them that one in Thaumaturgy.  It was a charm that made any object as light as a feather.     

 

“Are you feeling okay now?” Miss Mercana asked him.

 

“Yeah.  I think so.” She helped him to his feet.  

 

“Willow, can you help him back to the school?  I can take care of Corey from here.” 

 

“Yes, thanks Miss Mercana.” 

 

“I’m not your teacher anymore, so I think it’s time you all started calling me Ursula.”

 

“Thanks, Ursula,” said Sib.  “Really.”

 

“You’re welcome,” she said.  “I’ll eventually call in a return favor, but for now just be careful.” She headed off into the woods in the direction where a frolicking manticore was busily trying to devour a butterfly.

 

“I’m really sorry,” Willow said to him as they started walking back to school.  “He was just playing and..” 

 

“It’s alright,” said Sib.  "At least he didn’t try to tear my face off.  I don’t think I have a root to fix that.” Willow smiled and suddenly hugged him.  Sib wasn’t sure what to do.  

 

“Sorry,” Willow said again as she released him.  “Thanks for helping me get Corey free.”

 

“You’re welcome,” said Sib, catching the faint smell of honeysuckle as she stepped back.

 

“I think I got some of your stink on me,” said Willow, smelling her shirt.

 

“Ditto,” joked Sib.  Willow slapped his good shoulder in return.

 

*******

 

Lef and Incheon were waiting for them when they walked into the student lounge.  As soon as Willow and Sib entered, both of them wrinkled their nose.

 

“Skunk butt?” Incheon asked him.  Sib nodded.

 

“What happened?” Lef asked.  “We were going to follow you, but we decided to wait since too many people would have drawn their attention.  By the time we were able to get down there, you were all gone. All that we found was Sib’s Stor-All.” Incheon pointed it out sitting on the floor by Sib’s locker.  Sib and Willow took turns telling them about the break-out.  When they got to the part about the manticore sting, Lef interrupted them.

 

“But what did you use to neutralize the venom?”  Willow reached in her pocket and pulled out the remaining few roots.

 

“Oooh, a checkered rattlesnake-plantain!,” exclaimed Lef.  “These roots are an antidote to wyvern and manticore venom.  I didn’t even know it grew here.”   

 

Sib had an instant flashback to his previous vision.  “Why didn’t you mention that before?” he asked her. 

 

“Because I only learned it a half-hour ago.  After you showed me that plant, it kept bugging me, so I looked it up in the library after we couldn’t find you.  I wasn't sure it was the same one, but now I am.”

 

Sib only half-heard the rest of the conversation.  Lef wouldn’t have saved me in time, he thought.  

 

“What did you do about the hole in the manticore enclosure?” Lef asked Willow.  “Wasn’t it going to be obvious that someone dug him out?”

 

“I used ‘reparo’.”

 

“And it worked?” 

 

“Perfectly”

 

Sib walked over and sat on one of the chairs while Willow relayed the details of getting Sib’s unconscious body to the Wendigo circle and about their meeting with Ursula there.  

 

If I hadn’t had the vision, I wouldn’t have known how to save myself.  I couldn’t have avoided the manticore...I would have been dead. He remembered Miss Pyx’ guidance to him: ‘You’re the fawn: if you’re going to do this on your own, you’d best learn how to run.’ 

 

Incheon came over to talk to him.  “How ya doin’ buddy?” he asked.

 

I think it’s time I talked to Miss Pyx, he thought.  I guess I do need help learnin’ how to run.  "I'll be alright," he replied.

 

*******

 

"I just don't want you to get your hopes up too much," Sib said.  "They've been playing together for years. We've only had a few days."  Willow was getting them pumped up before their first Quidditch game.

 

"It doesn't matter if we lose," Willow said.  "We'll still give them a good fight."

 

"When we're not busy fighting with ourselves," said Sib, looking over towards Hedges and Beene who were already at each other; arguing over who would get the quaffle first.

 

"We'll be fine," said Willow.  "I have a good feeling about this."

 

"Must be gas," interjected Incheon.  "'Cause we're going to get destroyed."

 

They met the Suncorns in the middle of the field to shake hands.  The Suncorn chaser was easily twice as large as Willow and Sib just shook his head when her hand disappeared inside his.  He could probably lift her over his head with one arm, he thought.  They prepared themselves and as soon as Mrs. Broombreaker set loose the four balls that make up a game of Quidditch, Sib kicked off from the ground but immediately had to duck his head to avoid having it taken off by a bludger.  Above him, the quaffle was in the air and Hedges and Beene were racing towards it from opposite directions.

 

"I got it!"  "No, I got it!"  "Shut up, I'm..."

 

Hedges and Beene collided with each other in a sickening head-on crunch.  Both missed the quaffle which bounced off of their senseless heads as all three shapes fell to the ground thirty feet below.  The Suncorns, recognizing that the ball was still in play despite the injury on the field, grabbed the quaffle and set off towards the Pathfinder goal.  Mrs. Broombreaker was nearby and was able to halt the fall of the two unconscious chasers and set them down easily on the field. The school nurse quickly rushed to their side.  Sib, recognizing that there was nothing that he could do for the two boys and that the game was still on, rushed to defend the goal as quickly as he could but was too late. Suncorn had scored their first points. 

 

And so it went.  Hedges and Beene were stuck on the sidelines, too woozy and concussed to continue, so the Pathfinders played with a single chaser.  Hye-lin never had a chance. With nobody to pass the ball to, she was quickly overwhelmed by the Suncorn defenders and lost the ball every time she had possession.  Lef, who had never defended against anyone with skill was easily fooled, falling for feint after feint. The score climbed higher and higher: one hundred to zero; one hundred twenty to zero; one hundred seventy to zero and still the game went on.  

 

Sib was exhausted from chasing bludgers.  His shoulder ached and with no ability to gain points and down more than the snitch was worth, the game was effectively over.   All that was left was for Suncorn to keep running up the score, improving their chances at the Quidditch championship. 

 

In his disgust and frustration, Sib reached out and smashed a bludger toward a Suncorn chaser, not caring if she had the quaffle or not, but she ducked and Hye-lin, who was right behind her, took the bludger full to the face.  She was blasted off of her broom, arms and legs splayed and she dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Mrs. Broombreaker was there to slow her fall and the nurse again charged onto the field from her spot by Hedges and Beene, but Sib still felt awful.  He abandoned the game and flew directly down to where Hye-lin was lying, her face covered in blood.

 

"You just clubbed her in the head!" said Incheon, also rushing to her side. 

 

"Shut up.  I wasn't tryin' to," replied Sib.

 

"Aw, don't worry about it.  I must have done that to her a dozen times." 

 

The entire Pathfinder team  - goalie and all - rushed to Hye-lin's side.  Even Hedges and Beene, who had been sidelined with concussions, came running over.  The Suncorns, although they didn't have to, held the ball and one of the chasers even flew down to see whether she could help.  Sib watched as Mrs. Praecuro cast ‘episkey’ which fixed a rather horrible broken nose and proceeded to mop up the blood from Hye-lin's face with ‘tergeo’.  

 

"I'm so sorry Hye-lin," said Sib.  "I swear I didn't mean it."

 

She looked up at him, face back to normal, but her game shirt was covered with blood, crimson stains splattered all over what used to be a white '11'.  "I know what I signed up for," she said. "This isn't the first time some idiot has hit me in the face with a bludger." She glared at Incheon and spat blood at his feet.  "Let's go." Standing up to polite applause from the audience, she walked over to her broom, got on and kicked off the ground. 

 

Sib turned to Incheon, a look of amazement on his face.  "Has she always been a badass?"

 

"Oh yes," Incheon replied. "Very bad, and very much an ass."

 

The game resumed, but nobody's heart was in it.  Even the Suncorns looked lackluster as they scored their twenty-fourth goal.  Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Sib was heartened by a sudden quick movement from Willow.  She was racing toward the opposite end of the field after the snitch but the Suncorn chaser had seen her and was trying to cut her off.  Even this short moment of hope was quickly over as the Suncorn chaser easily caught up, nudged Willow out of the way and grabbed the snitch to end the game.

 

Sib sat cradling his face in his hands in the locker room, trying to forget the horror.  "Can we quit now?" he asked Willow, who was consoling a distraught Lef.

 

"Quit?" she replied.  "Absolutely not. After all, we can't get any worse."

 

"Challenge accepted!" proclaimed Incheon.



Chapter 8: Rings and Revelations
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“Can you believe that Mr. Woodhead accused me of breaking Corey out?” Willow fumed.  They were huddled in the Pathfinder lounge the following week, waiting for the bell to signal the start of the first class of the day.    

 

“Uh…” started Sib.  “You did break him out.” 

 

“That’s not the point,” she said.  “He said I was responsible and he wanted me to tell him where Corey was - like I was hiding him in my back pocket or something.”

 

“So what did you tell him?” asked Lef.

 

“Nothing,” she said.  “I started crying, so he got all awkward and told me I could go.”

 

“Were you really that upset?” asked Sib.

 

“Of course not,” said Willow.  

 

Sib was confused. Can they just start crying like that?

 

“So what are you going to do?” Lef asked her.

 

“Well, for one I’m quitting COMC Club.  I only really cared about Corey anyway and with him gone, the only thing left is scooping pegasus poo.”

 

“Are you goin’ to any club then?” Sib asked.

 

“I’m going to start my own,” she said.  Sib noticed she had that same look in her eye that meant that there was no use arguing with her.  “I’m going to start a club for Quidditch tactics and strategy. I’ve invited all the other Quidditch teams and we can get together and learn from each other.  What do you think?”

 

“Uh...sure,” said Sib.  “You really think other teams will be willin’ to share?  They seem to take Quidditch kinda seriously.”

 

“Of course,” she replied.  “Why wouldn't they?”

 

*******

 

“I can’t believe they won’t share!” said Willow the following week, blocking Sib and Incheon’s attempts to leave the lounge to go to class.  “They all showed up and then they just sat there, glaring at each other.”

“What did you think was going to happen?” asked Incheon.  “Everyone was just going to tell each other their best moves?”

 

“Well…” Willow paused.  “...Yeah.”  

 

“Oh, Willow,” sighed Incheon.  “I love your hopeful deluded optimism.  Like how you think that Sib and I won’t lose more points if you don’t let us leave right now.”

 

“Are you still hiding?” she asked, still not letting them go.  “Don’t you think it’s getting a little ridiculous?”

 

“They’re just lulling us into a false sense of security,” Incheon said. “The moment we let down our guard, then -Bam!- we’re goat cheese.”

 

“By the way,” Willow continued to block their departure.  “Did you talk to Mr. Zolock about the language in the prophecy?  Did he say it was wrong?”

 

“He didn’t say it was wrong,” Incheon said.  “He said that it wasn’t the way he remembered, but he admitted that he’s never actually heard the prophecy and he has all of his information second-hand.  To be fair though, he did say he doubted that the version in the newspaper was accurate.”

 

“So how are we going to find out what it actually says?” 

 

“I don’t know.  Goat cheese?” he added, pointing toward the door.

 

“Fine,” she said.  “But don’t lose any more points!”

 

*******

 

Mr. Puterschmidt had not docked them points that morning, almost expecting Sib and Incheon to show up late and out of breath.  He had even moved them to the table closest to the door in the back of the room so they would be less disruptive when they got there.  By the end of the day, Sib and Incheon were congratulating each other for getting through another day of no jinxes and no lost points. Sib told the others he was going to stick around in the Mysticism classroom to talk to Miss Pyx and waited for the room to clear after the lesson.  

 

“Miss Pyx?” he asked after the last student had left.  She put down her quill and nodded to him. “I think I might take you up on your offer.”

 

“Good,” she said.  “Tell me what changed your mind.”

 

“I had a vision that day,” began Sib.  “The one that knocked me out of my chair.  It was like I was inside the crystal and a manticore came chargin’ out of the mist and stabbed me with his stinger in my left shoulder.”

 

“No wonder you fell out of your chair.  Go on.” 

 

“So...I...uh.” He paused, not realizing until this moment what he was about to confess to.  “Can you keep a secret, ma’am?”

 

“Does it involve putting a student in danger?” she asked.

 

“Just me,” Sib said.  Miss Pyx nodded and held up a finger for him to wait.  She went over to the door, pulled it closed and cast ‘muffliato’ on it so nobody could overhear their conversation.

 

“I swear,” she said, turning back to him.  “I will keep what you say to me in confidence.”  Reassured, Sib proceeded to tell her about Corey’s breakout, the vision coming true, and the use of the rattlesnake-plantain.  He left out Willow’s part in the breakout, claiming the whole idea was his.

 

“I have about a thousand questions,” Miss Pyx began. “But I’ll save most of them for later.  First, I want to know if you can come work with me after school during club time.”

 

Sib thought for a moment.  He would have to quit COMC, but honestly without Willow there he found he didn’t care much.  “Yes, ma’am. I’m gonna drop COMC club anyways.”

 

“Okay, good.  Next, I think you’re leaving something out.  If we’re going to do this, I need you to be completely honest.  I swore to you that I would keep this between us. In return, I need you to tell me everything.  Including the role of your partner in crime.”

 

“How did you…” began Sib.

 

“Are you really asking that of your Mysticism teacher?”  She smiled.

 

“Right.” He sighed and told her everything about the plan including Willow’s part in it.

 

“You mentioned this didn’t put anyone in danger.  Where’s the manticore now?”

 

“Miss Mercana has him,” replied Sib.  “She said she would take care of him.” 

 

“Good,” she replied.  “If anyone can manage a manticore, it's her.  How is Ursula?”

 

“Not great.  She looks like she’s been livin’ rough.”

 

“I can imagine.  Okay, next question.  Why did you happen to have rattlesnake-plantain in your bag?  Did you learn about that from Mr. Diatomungi?”

 

“No,” said Sib.  “I guess that’s really the thing that made me come to get your help.  It turns out the manticore wasn’t the first vision I had.” Sib told her about being chased by the harpy over the summer and the four visions he had about each of his four friends.  He told her how the vision about Willow’s tunnel idea had helped him get away from the harpy and how the vision about Lef’s identification of checkered rattlesnake-plantain had made the difference between his own life and death.

 

“So if you hadn’t paid attention to the vision and trusted that what you saw was true, you’d be dead right now,” she summarized.  Sib nodded.

“Sheesh.  You’ve certainly had enough to think about.”  She put her hands on her desk and stood up. “Okay, that’s enough for today,” she said.  “ I’d like to start next time with literal visions. That seems to be what you’ve been experiencing so far.”  Sib nodded again and then gathered his things.

 

“Are you going to tell your friends?” she asked as she opened the door and ended the ‘muffliato’ spell.

 

“I reckon so,” he replied.  “I’ll just need to figure out the best way.”

 

“Sometimes, your visions themselves are the best way.”

 

*******

 

That night, Sib’s mom was sitting at the kitchen table with a cloth, polishing the two pieces of jewelry she owned; a necklace and her wedding ring.  Sib’s brother had retreated to the bedroom, so Sib was avoiding going there until he knew that his brother was asleep.

 

“Hey ma,”  Sib opened up his bag and reached inside.  “While you’re polishin’ up jewelry…” He found what he was looking for and pulled out the tarnished silver ring that he had found in the niffler’s den.  

 

“Oh!  Want me to polish it up?” she asked.

“I want you to have it, ma.” 

 

“Did you find this?”, she said, holding it up to the light.

 

“Yeah,” he said.  “It was in a niffler’s den along with a bunch of other junk.”

 

“Sib, that’s awful nice of you.  But look, it don’t fit on my finger.”  She had tried it on and couldn’t get it past her knuckle. 

 

“You could wear it on your pinky finger.  Or you could sell it.”

 

“An old tarnished silver ring like this?” she said.  “Wouldn’t be worth the floo powder. You found it. You go on and keep it.  Wear it for good luck.” She polished it up with her other jewelry and handed it back to him, gleaming in the light.  He put it on the middle finger of his right hand. It felt odd having a ring on, but somehow it made him feel better wearing it.  Like I own somethin’ worth havin’, he thought.    

 

“Ma, we’re goin’ to see Gramma over Thanksgivin’, right?”

 

“Sure,” replied his mom, setting aside the jewelry and the polishing cloth.  

 

“What happened to her?  I know she’s paralyzed. But I mean… what happened to make her like that?”

 

“I don’t know,” his mom responded.  “And I don’t think she does neither.” 

 

“But you said it had to do with Mysticism...with her tellin’ fortunes or somethin’, right?”

 

“She weren’t involved in no parlor tricks, Sib,” she scolded.  “Your gramma was a true seer.”

 

“What do you mean?” 

 

His mom paused for a moment.  “Well, I guess you’re old enough to know…” she started.  “He didn’t tell me not to...”

 

“Ma, what are you talkin’ about?”

 

“Your Gramma - she’s the one that made that prophecy about the nomaj.  The one that’s been in the papers and all.”  Sib was dumbfounded.  The prophecy.  All I had to do all along was ask my Gramma about it.  “Does she remember?” he asked. “She knows what it says?”

 

“I don't know,” his mom replied.  “We've never talked about it.  But you can ask her yourself when you go.”  She nodded toward the bedroom door. “You’re brother’s started snorin’ so you get off to bed.”  Sib got up, hugged his mom goodnight and went to sleep, knowing that one part of the mystery of the prophecy was going to be easy to solve.

 

*******

 

Sib and his brother were eating breakfast the next morning.  Sib had toasted a couple of pieces of bread from the previous night’s dinner and was eating them dry.  His brother was half-awake, shoveling generic cereal into his mouth on the other side of the table and ignoring Sib’s existence.  Other than when he was asleep, Sib found this time of day to be the safest to be in his brother’s company.  Their complete lack of conversation was interrupted by an owl which flew in the open kitchen window, dropped a letter on the table and then flew back out with an impolite ‘screech’.

 

“Hey look,” Arc said, grabbing the letter.  “Ma got some magic mail. Wonder what it says.”

 

“That’s ma’s.  You shouldn’t be openin' it.”

 

“Shove off dogbait.”  He tore open the letter and read it out loud.  “Dear Cass,” he began. “Thanks for offering to try to get me a wand.

 

“Stop it!  That’s ma’s!”

 

“Shut your face and let me finish.  It’s about magic so it must be important.”  He turned back to the letter. “I’ll definitely take you up on that.  To answer your question, Willow uses a white oak wand with a griffon feather core.  Sincerely, Heather.” He crumpled the letter into a ball and threw it across the room.  

 

Sib got up and retrieved it, opening it back up to see his friend’s name and her mom’s name. Why is my mom askin’ about Willow’s wand wood and core?

 

“Hey fartbreath,” his brother said, shoveling cereal in his mouth again. “Ooh fouldn’t wead ma’s maol.”  Sib folded the crumpled letter and put it back on the table, smoothing and resealing it with a charm. Arc’s eyes caught something.  He swallowed and stood up from the table staring at Sib.  “Nice ring. Give it to me.”

 

“I ain’t givin’ you nuthin’,” replied Sib.  He bolted to the side and grabbed his Stor-All, but his path to the fireplace was blocked.

 

“Give me the ring, or I break your arm again.” 

 

“I said, I ain’t givin’ you nuthin’.  Now get out of my way.” Sib made a move to the left, but his brother shifted and grabbed for Sib’s arm, barely missing.  Sib braced himself. If I can just barrel him over long enough to escape...  He started charging and his brother fell over unexpectedly, choking on a fly that had flown into his mouth.  Sib stumbled forward, caught his balance and was able to grab a handful of floo powder and jump to school just before his brother recovered.   Lucky break, he thought as he stepped out of the fireplace and started for the lifts.  

 

As he walked into the third-floor lounge, his thoughts were still overwhelmed with the letter to his mom.  How is she gettin’ a wand for anybody?  And why ain't anybody me?  Without letting on that he had read her mom’s letter, Sib started questioning Willow as soon as she showed up.  “Hey Willow,” he asked. “Did your mom ever get that wand before the regulations came out?”


“No,” she replied.  “It was more bureaucratic paperwork.  Now I don’t know if she’ll ever get a wand.”

“Has she, uh, ever mentioned maybe gettin’ a wand from somebody else?”

“You mean other than Miss Chantrix?  Wouldn’t they all have to go by the same rules?”  It was enough for Sib to realize that her mom wasn’t sharing anything with Willow.

 

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right.”  He decided to change the topic. “Listen, you are never gonna believe what I found out last night.”  Without waiting for a response, he jumped right in. “My Gramma is the one who gave that prophecy.” 

 

“Your Grandma!” she exclaimed.  “Then you could just send her an owl and…” She stopped when she saw Sib shaking his head.

 

“Naw, she can’t talk none.  She’s been paralyzed and in NMMC for the last fourteen years.” Sib pronounced it 'nimmick'.


“Nimmick?" she asked, and then she remembered.  "Oh, right.  The National Magical Medical Center where Lef's Grandmother works.   So you can’t talk to her at all?” 

 

“We communicate,” Sib said.  “She uses blinks to talk to me.  For other things, we can spell out words to help her say what she likes.  I’m goin’ to see her at Thanksgivin’ break, so I’ll ask her about the prophecy then.”  Incheon and Lef walked in and Sib shared the news with them about his grandmother.  


“That’s great,” said Incheon.  “Now I can stop working on who gave it.”


“And what work have you done?” asked Willow doubtfully.

 

“Okay, now I can stop not working on who gave it.”  Incheon smiled and gestured for Sib to head out of the portal.  They had to make it out to the greenhouses for their first class and their path was now more convoluted than ever to avoid the Hammersmiths.  Sib waved to Lef and Willow and headed out.

 

*******

 

It was the last Saturday before Thanksgiving and he still hadn’t told any of his friends about his visions.  He felt that if he just started babbling, they wouldn't hear him out. He didn’t even know if they were aware that he was working with Miss Pyx after school.  None of them had asked him what he was doing, assuming he was still in COMC Club. Now, with their second Quidditch game just a quarter-hour from starting, he didn’t think this was the time to tell them either. 

 

“The Murgatroyd seeker is really tough,” Willow was saying.  “She has the same broom that I do, so she probably can’t outrun me, but she’s really aggressive.  Her tactic will be to just stick right next to me and then smash me out of the way when we go for the snitch.  I don’t know how to get away from her. I wish Lily were here. She would know.”

 

Sib saw Lily approaching through the window and remembered the vision from the summer.  Sometimes your visions are the best way, he remembered Miss Pyx saying.  He turned to Willow. “I’d start with an inside loop and then transition to a bell tailslide,” he said. “There’s no way she could follow that.”

 

“Thanks, Sib.  Now, what’s a bell tailslide?”

 

“Beats me,” he replied.  “Ask Lily. Here she comes now.”  He got up and started putting on his equipment.  Lily entered and wished them all good luck. Willow quickly relayed her concern to her.  She nodded and thought for a second. “I’d start with an inside loop and then transition to a bell tailslide,” she said.  “There’s no way she could follow that.”

 

Willow looked over at Sib, confused about how he would know exactly what Lily was going to say.  Figuring he could tell her afterward, he exited the locker room and kicked off the ground to do a few warm-up laps before the game began.  He was sure Lily was busy explaining the process for the bell tailslide to Willow. 

 

This match against Murgatroyd, like the one against the Suncorns, was not about Pathfinder scoring goals.  Either Willow caught the snitch before the other team scored fifteen goals or they would lose. Sib looked at their team and thought about their chances.  The dimwits, even on their best day are more of a hindrance to Hye-lin than a help...and this is not their best day.

 

As the game progressed, Sib and Incheon did their best to keep the bludgers flying at the Murgatroyd chasers, but Sib knew it was only a matter of time before they would pull away and make the match unwinnable.  Willow had called a timeout with the green and silver team up one hundred and twenty to zero.    

 

“It’s like I thought,” she told them.  “The seeker won’t get off my tail. I just know she’s going to block me and Mrs. Broombreaker is too busy watching for collisions to call a foul.” She glanced at Hedges who was picking grass and Beene who was picking his nose.  She shook her head. “As soon as I see the snitch, I’m going for the tailslide.” Now she glanced at Sib with a questioning look on her face, but she dropped it and the familiar look of insane confidence returned and she pointed at him and Incheon.  “You keep them out of the goal for as long as you can and I’m going to win this thing.” 

 

They kicked off again as the game resumed, the Murgatroyd seeker taking up her position in Willow’s shadow and the opposing team dominating play on the rest of the field.  The score was one hundred and forty to nothing when Sib saw movement from above and glanced up in time to see Willow streaking through the air, performing a full loop and then continuing into a steep climb straight up into the air.  The Murgatroyd seeker followed right on her heels, but as Willow’s climb petered out, she dropped tail-first back towards the ground, twisting on her broom as she fell and passing the still climbing Murgatroyd seeker behind her. Turned around, she was now in a power dive, plummeting toward the ground and she was all alone.

 

“Willow sees the snitch,” Sib called to the others.  “We gotta hold ‘em off!” He charged toward the nearest bludger, smashing it toward the opposing chasers, more to slow them down than make them drop the quaffle.  They easily avoided it, but the chaser with the quaffle ran into his teammate and fumbled the ball anyway. The quaffle dropped and Hye-lin grabbed it from underneath, sprinting to the opposite end.  Sib followed, chasing Hye-lin as she worked to make a shot. He turned his attention back toward Willow who had pulled out of the dive and was now charging at full speed toward a point just off to his left.  He heard a cheer from the crowd and turned again to see that the Murgatroyd goalkeeper had caught Hye-lin’s shot and was getting ready to throw it back into play.  

 

“Sib, look out!” He turned in time to see a bludger bearing down on his face and had no time to duck.  At the same time, a small golden ball buzzed past his left ear, struck the oncoming bludger and diverted it just past the other side of his face, brushing his right ear.  The bludger whizzed away toward the Murgatroyd goal just as the goalie threw the ball. The quaffle and bludger collided, the bludger bouncing back toward the field of play and the quaffle rebounding past the Murgatroyd goaltender and through one of the three hoops. 

 

“Pathfinder scores!” the announcer called.  Sib looked around at the others in amazement.  What a lucky break, he thought.  What are the chances?  

 

The only one who hadn’t seen the goal was Willow, who had lost sight of the snitch and was now chasing the Murgatroyd seeker who had spotted it.   Just as Willow wasn’t worried about the opposing seeker outpacing her, she wasn’t able to catch up herself. Before the quaffle was even put back into play, the snitch was caught and the game was over. 

 

Sib and Incheon were in the locker room, taking off their equipment.  Willow was consoling a distraught Lef. “Look,” she said. “We’re improving.” 

 

“We lost two hundred and ninety to ten,” said Sib.  “How’s that improvin’?” 

 

“I almost had that snitch.  It changed direction right as it was going past Sib’s head and then I lost it when it hit the bludger.” She paused for a second, lamenting the lost opportunity.  “Hey, we scored, didn’t we?” 

 

“By amazing, inexplicable, crazy luck, yes,” said Incheon.  

 

“But we’re still getting better,” Willow responded. 

 

“Just think,” added Incheon.  “If we keep getting better at this rate, we’ll win a game sometime in July… of our senior year.”

 

Willow pulled Sib aside as the others were leaving the locker room.  “What was that?” she asked. Sib knew what she was referring to.

 

“I knew what Lily was going to say before she said it.”

 

“Like you read her mind?” she asked.

 

“No.  It ain’t like that. I knew back in August that she was going to say what she said.  I just didn’t know until that moment when or what the context was. I might as well tell her everything at this point, he thought.  “I’ve been havin’ visions.” 

 

“Like the one you had in Mysticism that knocked you out of your seat?”
 

“How did you...?” he started.
 

“With the look on your face?  You aren’t scared of much, Sib.  It was pretty obvious you saw something you didn’t like.  You didn’t seem like you wanted to share, so we didn’t press you on it.”

 

“We?”

 

“All four of us.  Me, Incheon and Lef who saw it and we told Lily afterward.  We all know you saw something that day, but I didn’t know you had other visions.  Are you doing anything about it?”

 

“I’m goin’ to see Miss Pyx after classes.”

 

“So you quit COMC too?”

 

“Yeah, but it’s alright.  I don’t really like dirt that much.”

 

“What?”

 

“Never mind.  Just somethin’ Incheon said” he waved it away.  “Listen, Willow. Thanks for not buggin’ me about it.  I wasn’t ready to talk about it ‘til now.”

 

“Were you scared?”

 

“Thinkin’ that Corey was going to stab me in the shoulder?  Heck yeah.”

 

“Wait!” she gasped.  “That was your vision?”  Sib nodded. “And you helped me get him out anyway?”

 

“Well...yeah.”  She hugged him. Sib didn’t know what to do.  He caught a strange mix of honeysuckle and sweat and his heart started racing.

 

“Sorry,” she said as she released him.  “That was incredibly brave of you.”

 

Sib felt his cheeks get flushed and he looked down in embarrassment.  “Thanks.”

 

“So…” she began.  “You knew about the rattlesnake-thingy?  The stinky roots?”

 

“Yeah - that was one of my visions too.  I heard Lef tell me they were a cure for manticore venom.”
 

“But I was there.  She said that after you’d been stung.”

 

“I know.  Messed up ain’t it?”  She nodded and they walked silently back up to the school, both lost in thought.  Maybe there's a chance she does like me...

 

*******

 

“Oh, hello Sib. I didn’t expect you today,” Miss Pyx said as he came in.

 

“I figured you didn’t want to be here late the day before Thanksgivin’ so I came a day early,” he replied.  “Are you still good?” 

 

“Of course.”  She gestured for Sib to have a seat and grabbed a crystal ball for him to use.  “I’d like to try something different today,” she said as she set it down in front of him.  “We haven’t had any luck with me talking you through the vision. This time, I’m going to leave.  I don’t want you to have any distractions. Remember to look at the sharpness of the vision like we talked about.”  Sib's recent visions had just been the same pile of dirt.  Neither of them had any idea what it was supposed to mean.


She had talked to him over the last few sessions about how sharper images mean the vision is more imminent than more fuzzy ones.  He supposed that’s why the manticore vision he had was so sharp and clear - much clearer than the visions from the end of the summer.  She closed the door as she left and Sib turned, staring at the crystal.  He found his mind wandering and after about ten minutes of nothing, he got up from his seat.  “This ain’t workin',” he said to the empty room.

 

“It’s stuffy in here.” He walked over and opened a window.  A gentle afternoon breeze was blowing and he could smell the moldering leaves from the surrounding forest even up here on the third floor.  A shadow passed over the sun and he could feel the air temperature of the breeze slightly drop. He shivered, but didn’t step away from the window; his hands pressed down on the cold stone windowsill.     

 

He thought about going to the hospital to visit his grandmother in a few days and remembered the sharp antiseptic smell of the room mixed with the smell of the fresh flowers that he and his mom always brought her.  The white of the room always overwhelmed him with stark coldness, but his grandmother’s eyes contained a warmth that he always found reassuring and comfortable.

 

He could see the three of them now. His mother reading something to her on the far side of her hospital bed and his grandmother listening and then turning her eyes to Sib.  “Yes,” she blinked, and then “I love you.” Then came a series of blinks that Sib didn’t understand. Over and over she blinked at him, short blinks and long ones without a pattern. There was a look of urgency in her eyes that he didn’t understand.

 

“Gave up, did you?” 


Miss Pyx’ voice startled him out of the vision.  He turned back to her and shook his head a little to get his bearings.  “Pardon?” he said.

 

“The crystal ball.  You seem to have given up on it.”

 

“Uh…yeah.  I...I didn’t need it.” He told her what he had seen - about how the daydream had transitioned seamlessly into the vision and about how clear it was - as clear as the manticore that had charged out of the tunnel.

 

“And what she said,” Miss Pyx asked.  “She said ‘yes’ and then ‘I love you’ and then started blinking?”

 

“She’s paralyzed,” Sib explained.  “She communicates by blinking. One blink is ‘yes’; two for ‘no’; three for ‘I don’t know’ and four for “I love you.”  We made up that fourth one so she wouldn’t have to spell it out for us every time we were gettin’ ready to leave."  

 

“Oh.  So she blinked out ‘yes’ and ‘I love you’ but then she kept blinking?”

 

“It was weird,” Sib replied.  “Fast and slow, and not the same.  Can you tell me what it means?”

 

“Your visions have been extremely literal so far.  Does the phrase ‘yes, I love you’ mean anything?”

 

“Nothin’ more than what they are.”  

 
“Well, perhaps we’ll know more once you’ve had a chance to talk to her over the break.  We’ll pick up then. Have a happy Thanksgiving.”   


*******

 

The next morning, he was telling Willow about his vision from the previous day.  “She was blinking at you...like what?” Willow asked.


“Well, first she said ‘yes’ and then she said ‘I love you’ and then she started blinkin’ somethin’ I couldn’t follow.  It just kept goin’ on - kinda' freaky.”

 

“What do you mean she said ‘yes’ and ‘I love you’.  I thought you said she was paralyzed. Did you hear her talk?”

 

“No, she blinked ‘em out,” he explained.  “We set up one long blink for ‘yes’ and two short for ‘no’.  Three long blinks means ‘I don't know’ and four quick blinks means ‘I love you’.  But then she kept blinkin’ away all jumbled together.”


“Wait,” Willow paused for a moment.  “You mean like long blinks and short blinks?  Without a pattern?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I wonder…  Sib, if this happens while you’re visiting her, I want you to write down the blinks - long and short - including the gaps in between.  I think she might be trying to talk to you without other mages knowing.”

 

“You mean like a code?”


“Not like a code.  A code. Nomaj use it, but I doubt mages would know what it means at all.”  

 

“But how would my Gramma know a nomaj code?” Sib asked.  Willow blinked at him slowly three times. “Oh, very funny,” he said. 

 

“I thought so,” Willow replied, smiling.  They grabbed their things and headed off for their last day of classes before the break.



Chapter 9: Yes, I Love You
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“Oh,” said Sib’s mom when they had reached Sib’s grandmother’s hospital room.  “Who are you?” 

 

“Security, ma’am,” replied the mage.  “From MACUSA. I’m on protection duty for Mrs. Hooplander.”  He was huge - easily six and a half feet tall and thick like a water barrel.  Sib was sure he could squish anyone who came near without even trying.

 

“Does she really need it?” questioned Sib’s mom.

 

“Not for me to say ma’am.  I was posted here right after the prophecy was published.”

“Oh.  Okay.” The two of them passed the security guard and walked into the hospital room.  It was as Sib remembered, stark white - ceiling, floor, walls and bed linens, but as soon as he saw his grandmother’s eyes, the room seemed to warm.  Sib’s mom made to shut the door as usual, but the guard stopped them.

 

“Sorry,” he said.  “Open at all times.” Sib’s mom nodded and then continued into the room.

 

“Hi Gramma,” Sib said to her.  “I love you.” She blinked four times rapidly and her eyes flicked to Sib’s mom.

 

“Hi Teresa,” Sib's mom said.  “I love you.” She got four blinks in response too and Sib’s mom set the flowers they had gotten - purple mums - on the table at the end of the bed where Sib's grandmother could see them.  “I got letters from Turus that I can read to you.” One long blink for ‘yes’. Sib’s mom went to get a chair. “Arc sends his best.” Sib’s gramma glanced at Sib.  

 

“He ain’t got no best,” Sib whispered as his mother pulled the chair over.  His grandmother smiled with her eyes.  

 

“Sib, hand me them letters from your pa so I can read them,” his mom said.  Sib sat on his chair and pulled the letters from his Stor-All, handing them over.  While he had his bag open, he pulled out a piece of parchment and a quill thinking he might need them later.  

 

Sib’s mom made herself comfortable and grabbed his grandmother’s hand.  “I know you can’t have no Thanksgiving feast,” she said. “But if’n there’s anything we can get you, you just let us know.”  Sib’s grandmother blinked once.  

 

“I saw you have protection now, Gramma,” said Sib.  He was shocked at the sudden look of fear in his grandmother’s eyes.  He was about to say something, but it passed as quickly as it had appeared and he knew she hated it when people made a fuss over her.  

 

Sib changed the topic.  “Listen, Gramma.  Ma told me that you gave the prophecy that’s been published in the papers and I was hopin’ you might be able to tell me what you said.”   She blinked three times and her eyes flicked to the door. Sib glanced up to see the guard looking in the room. When Sib’s eyes met his, he turned back to the hallway.

 

“I don’t understand,” Sib said.  “You don’t remember givin’ the prophecy?” She blinked twice.  

 

“Sorry, Sib,” his mom said from the other side of the bed.  “There are some things that she just don’t remember anymore.”  Sib glanced at her and she blinked twice. Sib sat back in his chair in disappointment as his mom opened up a letter and began to read.  She don’t remember nothin’, he thought.  What’re we gonna do now?  Feeling at a loss he looked up at his grandmother who was listening to his mom.  It’s now.  This is the vision.  He reached over and grabbed the parchment and quill. 

 

His grandmother’s eyes flicked from his mother to him.  With urgency in her eyes, she started blinking ‘yes, I love you’ and then Sib started writing. ‘long short long long / short long short / short long long / yes / long short long short / I love you…’

 

*******

 

A day later, they visited a place that was as black as his grandma’s room was white.  The entrance hall to Spellhold - the mage prison - was a windowless jet black room. They arrived using the Firejump Network and proceeded with the few other visitors to the screening line.  Beyond the screening, Sib knew, they would board the lifts that would take them to the prison itself.

 

“No wands, weapons, fireworks, familiars, or potions please!” the guard called.  Sib and his mom surrendered their amulet and wand to the guard as well as Sib’s Stor-All and passed through the connecting archway onto an outdoor platform.  A gondola car waited for them and they climbed inside with two other families. Sib sat on the side facing the prison knowing the ride up and over would take at least a quarter of an hour and he wanted something to look at.  The prison itself hovered in midair, five hundred feet above the ground. It was a tremendous rock with a fortress perched on top as if a giant as tall as the clouds had picked up the fortress to look at it and the ground beneath followed like a turnip being pulled after its stem. He was amazed at the amount of magical energy that it would have taken to create it; and about how foreboding and hopeless the place made him feel.  No matter how many times he’d been to visit his father in the two years since he’d been imprisoned, he never got used to this ride.

 

They reached the prison and disembarked from the gondola on the very bottom tip of the floating fortress.  They would have to pass one more high-security screening before they could get to his father’s wing and they quickly moved to the lifts to take them up inside the heart of the prison.

 

The lifts weren’t labeled with levels, they were simply graded by the level of security warranted by the mage’s crimes.  Petty crimes were near the gondola, in the bottom end of the rock. As the crime became more and more serious, the greater the security and the higher the prisoners were housed.  Sib’s father was in “the Max” for maximum security. Sib’s mom stepped into the lift, stated where she was going and sped upward and out of sight. Sib followed her a moment later, shooting upward through the lift like a pea through a straw.  They arrived at the Max and were ignored by the two tired-looking security guards who were talking about the professional Quod-Pot match that had been played the day before. Sib and his mom approached a small table next to a doorway that led to the visitor area; the guards sitting on either side.

 

“...so then he passed the ball to McClatchey, right, and he was like, hey, who do I give this to before it explodes.”
 

“...and everyone was bolting from him like he was givin’ away Dragon Pox! Har! har!”  


Without even looking up they just gestured toward the small container in the middle of the table.  Sib’s mom had nothing magical on her, so she bypassed the table and walked through the doorway. Sib thought he didn’t, but when he tried to follow his mom, he was jerked to a stop as he tried to go through.  He stepped back and checked his pockets, pulling out a piece of candy with three 'W's printed on it - it was a Red Hot Jaw Breaker from Three Dubs. Incheon was a huge fan of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and slipped stuff into Sib's pockets without him knowing it all the time.  Well, it's better than the fart noisemaker he planted on me last week.  The guards hadn’t even stopped their conversation, they just pointed again at the small container and continued their play-by-play rehashing of the game.  


Sib walked to the table, dropped the candy in the small box and walked to the doorway but was unable to go through again.  This time, his hand caught on the doorway as if someone had grabbed his finger and was refusing to let go. The guards leaned back in their chairs and exhaled audibly, clearly bothered by this interruption.  

 

“All magical items in the bin, kid.” 

 

“You've been here before,” the other said.  “You know the drill.”

 

Sib looked ahead.  His mother had already gone in.  He stepped back out and looked at his hand.  The only thing there was his silver ring.  Maybe ma put a spell on it when she was cleanin’ it, he thought.  He pulled off the ring and dropped it in the container.  This time, the door let him through.

 

He caught up with his mom who was already talking to his dad through a transparent barrier.  Sound carried through like it didn’t exist, but it was impervious to anything physical like an object or even air.  Sib pulled up a chair next to his mother and said hello to his dad.  

 

“Ma said you found a ring a couple‘a months ago,” his dad said to him.  "Tell me about it.”

 

“Found it in a niffler’s den,” Sib explained.  “I tried to give it to Ma, but she told me to keep it.  Said it was my ‘lucky ring’.”

 

His dad laughed and Sib looked over to see his mom smiling as well.  “That’s a bit of an inside joke between us,” his dad said.

 

“How’s that?”

 

“Your Grampa had a ring like that.  He insisted it was his lucky ring. The fool never took it off for nothin'.  I remember one time when I was growin’ up, we had this old stove that he and your Gramma used to cook on.  Near the top, the stovepipe had come unhinged and every once in awhile, sparks would escape and fall down on the wooden floorboards.  We would have a game of runnin’ around like crazy chickens to stamp out the embers. Gramma was after his hide to fix it. Well, one day when I was about ten, your Gramma was out, and there he was, cookin’ us up somethin’ for dinner on that stove and the stovepipe ended up catchin’ the roof on fire.  We was crazy chickens alright, but there weren’t no stampin’ out that blaze.”

“Well, that old place - full o' dust and junk of all kinds - went up right quick.  Me and your uncle Andy, we bolted outside; but Grampa - he was caught between a solid wall of logs on one side and a wall of flame on the other.  Weren't no way he was gettin’ out. Me n’ Andy could see him through the side window. A'fore the smoke started gettin’ too thick, we seen the old man’s sleeve caught fire and he was wavin’ it around like a crazy fool.  Right then, the roof busted in right over his head, dumpin’ a load of snow right on top of him and puttin’ out the flames on his sleeve. Then the wall next to him collapsed outward, lettin’ him scramble away. He comes walkin’ out of the fire without a scratch on him.  He comes over to the two of us as we’re shiverin’ in the snow and he holds up his hand with the ring on it.”

 

“‘I knowed I’d get out okay,’ he said.  ‘I had my lucky ring on.’ Meanwhile his clothes was half burnt and the house and everything we owned in the world was goin’ up in flames.  Damn fool. It might’ve been a ring of luck, but the only kind my old man ever had was bad.”

 

Sib smiled and looked at his mom.  “Is that what you meant when you said it should be my lucky ring?”  She just smiled without responding and got up to use the restroom. Sib turned back to his dad as she left the room.  

 

“How are you, pa?”

 

“Well the food’s pretty good, but I could do with a few more trees if you know what I mean.”  Sib nodded, knowing how depressing this rock must be to someone who loved the woods like his father.  "Hey, show me that ring."

 

“I can't," Sib responded.  "When I was tryin’ to get through the sniffer portal just now, I found out my ring had magic cast on it - dunno what it does, but I couldn’t get it through the sniffer.  Pretty sure ma cast a spell on it.”


“Magic, huh?  Well, just be careful. There’s magic and there’s magic.  You don’t want to end up with a ring of foolishness.”

 

“My friend Incheon would ask how I would know the difference.”

 

“Ha!  That Incheon’s a funny one, ain't he?” 

 

“Yeah, Pa, he’s funny all right.”  Sib pointed at his head and twirled his finger.

 

His dad laughed again.  “Now you’re goin' on! Well, I ain’t laughed a spell in a good while.  Thanks, Sib.”

 

“What are you going to do now that they made them new laws?”

 

“Heard about that, have you?”

 

“Yeah, I read it in the paper.”

 

“Well, I talked to the lawyer about it.  He tells me I ain’t got but two options. I can either keep sittin’ in here, or I can choose exile if’n I want to.” 

 

“Exile!  Where you gonna go?”

 

“Well, that’s the thing with exile.  The only place they want you to go is ‘out’.  I been thinkin’ about it, I’ll tell you that much.  The problem is you, Arc, and ma o’ course. I don’t rightly feel good about yankin’ you out of the country with as poor off as we are and I don’t feel that great about never sein’ you again neither.  I ain’t in a hurry to decide anyways.”

 

Sib's mom returned and they told his dad about the visit to see his mother in the hospital - in which Sib left out the part about the blinking; about Arcturus - in which Sib left out the part about the broken bones and broken wand; and about himself - in which he left out the part about his visions.  Pa’s got enough on his mind to worry about without me heapin’ on.  

 

“I’ll see you again at Christmas pa,” he said as they got up to go.  “I’ll write like usual every week.” His father stood up and Sib could tell his eyes were glassy as they turned to leave.

 

“You alright, ma?” he asked as they crossed through the sniffer door.

 

“No, but you already knew that, Sib.”  She dabbed her eyes and then hugged him after he had gotten his ring and candy from the guard’s table.  They were still discussing the game and still ignoring Sib and his mom. “We’ll be alright,” she said as they made their way back to the gondola.  “And so will your pa.” 

 

I just hope you’re right. They boarded the gondola for the long descent.  He made sure to sit on the opposite side and stare through the window at the wind blowing through the endless sea of wheat so his mother could weep in privacy. 

 

*******

 

“I’m tellin ya.  My ma cast a luck spell on it.”  Sib was talking to Incheon in their lounge the following week before they headed out to classes.  “She even called it my ‘lucky ring.’”  

 

Incheon just shook his head.  “Doesn’t look lucky to me.” 

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because I’m not wearing it,” he responded.

 

“Listen,” Sib continued.  “Remember the snitch hittin’ the bludger instead of my face and then bouncin’ the quaffle into the goal?  It’s luck.” He held the ring up to make his point.  

 

“I don’t know,” replied Incheon.  “As I recall we lost that game by two hundred and eighty points.  I still think we should keep a lookout.”

 

Sib gave up.  “Well, alright,” he said.  “But I still feel pretty good about today.”

 

Willow entered and Sib quickly dug in his bag and pulled out the parchment that had the code of blinks on it from his grandmother.  “Here, Willow. I did as you said.”  

 

As she took it from him, she farted loudly.  Her face grew red and she reached in her pocket.  Pulling out a small device, she whirled and threw it at Incheon's head.  "If you plant another one of your stupid fart machines on me again," she yelled at him.  "I will murder you in your face!"  Incheon was doubled over laughing and just nodded at her threat.  She turned back to Sib, took the parchment and looked it over.  “Okay. It might take me a day or two to work it out, but I’ll get it done as soon as I can.”  Sib nodded and then he and Incheon made their way out to their first class, the two of them bursting into laughter as soon as they were through the portal.   

 

“Yeah,” Sib said.  “I definitely have a good feelin' about today.”

 

*******

 

“Lookin’ good down there,” said Incheon’s voice from somewhere above Sib.  “If I’m not mistaken, they’ve changed you into a rather gooey flobberworm-type thing.”

 

Whatever they had changed Sib into didn’t have eyes, but he could hear well enough.  He wiggled an appendage.  

 

“Yeah, I know,” Incheon replied.  “I’m thinking maybe we should have kept a better lookout.”

 

They attacked us from behind, thought Sib.  That was your job.  Sib tried to say something but just spit up on the floor.

 

“Apology accepted,” said Incheon.  “Now, I wonder which jinx is going to wear off first - the one that makes we weigh a thousand pounds, or the one that reversed gravity so that I’m stuck to the ceiling?”

 

Sib squeezed some liquid out of an orifice in response.

 

“Yes, I think so too.  I want you to know that I’m really sorry about what I’m about to do, but you happen to be directly below me.”

 

Sib heard a whooshing noise and knew that the jinx that held Incheon’s thousand-pound body to the ceiling was the one that ended first.  Incheon hit hard directly on top of Sib’s flobberworm body and goo shot out of every one of his openings as if Incheon had landed on a dozen tubes of toothpaste.  Sib gurgled pathetically.

 

“Me too, buddy,” Incheon responded, lying motionless on top of Sib’s squashed form.  “Me too.”

 

*******

 

“So were you hurt?” Lef asked Sib when she heard about their adventure the next day.  


“No,” he responded.  “That flobberworm thing may have been gross, but I didn’t feel a thing the whole time.”

 

“Easy for you to say,” added Incheon.  “You weren’t the one covered in flobberworm goo.”

 

“Well if you had kept a better watch…” started Sib.

 

“Let’s not go placing blame,” Incheon interjected.  “Let’s just say that mistakes were made.”  

 

Sib just shook his head and turned to Willow.  “How’d the codebreaking go?”

 

“Well, I decoded it,” she said, "But it doesn’t look like anything.  Here’s what I came up with.” Sib looked at the paper.  

 

‘YRW’ ‘C’ ‘NMEG’ ‘R’ ‘D’ ‘FGARDA’ ‘XMAS’.  

 

“Well that don’t make no sense.  Except for the Xmas.”

 

“I’ll keep working at it,” she said apologetically, but Sib could tell that there wasn’t much more she could do.

 

“It’s alright,” he said.  “Probably don’t mean nothin’ anyway.”  He put the page in his Stor-All. “Besides,” he added.  “We need to get prepared for that game against Lily on Saturday.  If we’re gonna keep improvin’ we’d best get at it.” He smiled, but it didn’t take away the deep disappointment he felt.  I really thought Gramma was tryin’ to tell me somethin’.  

 

*******

 

“We need to meet Lily on the two and a halfth floor,” Willow told them that Thursday morning in the lounge.

 

“One,” Incheon started.  “Why do we have to meet Lily?; and two, what is a halfth floor?”

 

“Well, obviously she wants to talk to us about the game,” Willow explained.  “And there’s a half floor right below the third floor corridor. Haven’t you ever wondered about the doorway halfway down the corridor stairs?”

 

“What do you mean, 'corridor stairs'?”

 

“There’s a stairway right outside the portal on the left.  It was closed last year when this hallway was out of bounds, but now it’s open.”  Incheon’s eyes grew wide and he sprinted through the portal. He re-entered a few seconds later.

 

“Hey,” he remarked.  “There’s a stairway just outside of the portal.”  He jerked his thumb over his shoulder.  

 

“Yes,” replied an exasperated Willow. “That’s what I just told you.”
 

“Well, why didn’t you tell me and Sib before we got shellacked by the Hammersmiths?” Incheon asked.  “Do you hate us, Willow?” 

 

“I didn’t know you didn’t know and I’m beginning to,” she replied.  “Now will you shut up and listen?” She turned back to the others.

 

“Lily was really secretive about it and doesn’t want anyone to find out she’s talking to us, so it’ll have to be quick.  We can’t go this morning: we go straight from Thaumaturgy right outside to the greenhouses.  But this afternoon after COMC, we need to take the north stairs on our way to Astronomy - got it?” She looked around with her usual penetrating focus.

 

“Need us to synchronize watches?” asked Incheon.

 

“Just be there, beefcake.” She gathered her things and started off for Thaumaturgy.

 

“Beefcake?” Sib said to Incheon.  “Think that was a compliment?” 

 

“It has ‘beef’ and ‘cake’ in it, so I’m going to take it that way.  Now come on, there’s a new stairway I just discovered.”

 

*******

 

Sure enough, halfway between the doors to the second and third floors, there was a landing with another door.  Willow and Lef were waiting for Sib and Incheon who had lagged behind on their way to Astronomy that afternoon. Willow pointed her amulet at the door as they arrived.  “Alohamora!” she called. The door clicked and Willow turned the handle and walked inside.

 

Everything was covered with dust.  It looked like this particular part of the building hadn’t been touched in a century.  Sib ran his hand across the frame of one of the paintings and coughed from the cloud that he brushed up.

 

“Why here?” he asked Willow.

 

“Because nobody has been here in decades.  Look, even the pictures are empty.” Sib looked and each of the frames along the wall were devoid of their subjects.  Empty tables, bowls of desiccated fruit and a wilted bunch of flowers were all that greeted them. 

 

“What is this place?” Lef asked.

 

“I don’t know,” replied Willow.  “It was Lily's idea.  But it’s probably the only place in the school where we can have a private conversation.”   A moment later, the door opened and Lily slipped in, out of breath from running up the stairs.

 

“I only have… a minute... “ she panted.  “Listen...they’re going to run up the score.”  She paused to take a few big breaths.  

 

“Really?” said Incheon.  “And I thought they were going to bring us doughnuts.” Willow cast him a look that shut him up.

 

“They told me I can't get the snitch,” Lily continued looking at Willow.  “But you can’t get it either. They’re thinking they can get five or six hundred points racked up.”

 

“Holy…” Sib replied.

 

“Yeah,” Lily agreed.  She turned back to Willow. “You’re going to have to find the snitch because they won’t let me.”  Willow nodded. “Then you’re going to have to beat me to it. The only way I can grab it is if you’re about to.”

 

“But..” Willow started.

 

“No time,” Lily said.  “I have to go.” She bolted back through the door and Sib could hear her footfalls as she took two steps at a time.  The four of them were silent as they contemplated what Lily had said.

 

“Just beat Lily to the snitch,” Incheon said.  “How hard can that be?”

 

Sib knew Willow was good, but Lily was off the charts.  He looked at Willow, expecting to see the look of insane confidence on her face, but all he saw was worry.  “This is gonna hurt, ain’t it?” 

 

*******

 

The team was huddled in the locker room, waiting to go out and face Featherpenny.  The weather couldn’t be worse. It was a miserable day with sleet, freezing rain, and wind.  Sib had gone out to take a few laps around the field but came back inside after only one circuit, his broom already starting to ice up.  

 

“Any visions for how I should beat Lily?” Willow asked him while he rubbed his hands together for warmth.

 

“Nope,” he replied.  “And somethin’ tells me an inside loop followed by a bell tailslide ain’t gonna do nothin’ to lose her.”  

 

Sib surveyed the team.  Hedges and Beene were on opposite sides of the room.  Willow had figured out that the only way to keep them from fighting with each other was to keep them separated.  Instead, they took this opportunity to loudly insult each other’s mother. Hye-lin was huddled in a blanket, shivering.  She had been practicing without a winter cloak earlier that week and was suffering from a rather wicked cold and fever. Willow had told her not to play, but with no substitutes, she really had no option when Hye-lin insisted.  Finally, Incheon and Lef were pulling on their equipment, clearly dreading the beating they were about to subject themselves to.  

 

“It’s time,” Willow announced.  They all stood up like they were heading to an execution.  We’re gonna get killed all right.

 

Sib thought it was going to be bad, but it ended up being so much worse.  They were all half-frozen within the first fifteen minutes and Sib had to use his bat on his broom just to knock the ice off.  Within thirty minutes, they were down a hundred and sixty points and Willow still couldn’t find the snitch. At the forty-five-minute mark, Willow saw the snitch and bolted for it, only to be blocked by Lily who swerved in front of her, blocking her vision and causing Willow to nearly plow into her.  Mrs. Broombreaker finally called a blocking foul with the Featherpennies up two hundred and ten to nothing.  

 

The Pathfinder team was granted a penalty shot, and huddled up to discuss it.  Willow took one look at Hye-lin who was a complete shivering wreck and made the mistake of asking the dimwits which one wanted to take the shot.  The two of them quickly claimed the honor, insulted the other, threw several punches, and then devolved into the icy mud, pulling hair and twisting arms.  

 

“You take it,” Sib said.

 

“But I’m supposed to find the snitch and end this thing.” 

 

Sib took a deep breath. “Just take the shot.  We’re all going to look for the snitch. Even Lef.  I want this over.” Willow dropped her head in defeat and took the quaffle over toward the goal to take the penalty shot.  Sib didn’t care to watch. He turned to the others, giving only a glance to the dimwits, who were now lying in the mud, too exhausted to spit at each other.

 

He looked at Incheon, Hye-lin, and Lef in turn.  “Forget the bludgers, forget the quaffle, and forget the goals.  Just spread out and find that snitch. As soon as you see it, yell out and I’ll block Lily from blockin’ Willow.”


“But you’ll get called for a foul,” Hye-lin pointed out through chattering teeth.

 

“Take a look at Miss Broombreaker,” Sib said.  “She wants this thing over almost as much as we do.”  Glancing up, they saw that it was true.  Her face was red and chapped and she kept rubbing her hands on her arms.   

 

"Just find it,” Sib told them.  Willow came over to apologize for missing the penalty shot, but Sib gave her a look that made it clear they didn’t care.  As the Featherpenny goalkeeper put the ball back in play, the five of them split up in every direction, with Willow flying straight up.  

 

With the goal empty, the Featherpenny team had no problem scoring points, but since Lef had to put the ball back into play after each goal, it bought the team more time to search as she flew back to the three hoops after each shot.  After five goals, Incheon called out and Willow streaked toward where he was. Sib saw Lily making a move to block her and Sib didn’t even try to hide his efforts to get in Lily’s way. As he expected, Mrs. Broombreaker turned a blind eye to his blatant foul, and as Willow approached the snitch, Lily had no choice but to get out of Sib’s way, quickly catch up to Willow, dart around her and grab the snitch to end the game.

 

The Featherpenny team complained to Mrs. Broombreaker, but the Pathfinder team didn’t stick around to find out the result of the argument.  They bolted straight for the locker room. The dimwits collapsed on a bench and silently glared at each other. Sib was helping Hye-lin who had collapsed on the floor as soon as she walked inside.  Willow was consoling a distraught Lef and she looked up to see the carnage around her. “Incheon,” she asked. “Why are you smiling?” 

 

“After our first game, you said it couldn’t get any worse,” he replied.  “Challenge accomplished.”

 

*******

 

The team had not spoken to each other about the match after they left the locker room.  For the next week, it was as if the subject was taboo. Willow didn’t even talk about practice for their last match against Hammersmith and the others didn’t remind her.  Sib was surprised to see her smiling as she walked into the lounge the following Friday morning.  “I have something for you,” she said to him. He sat up and put away his History of Magic homework.

 

“Remember the code that I wrote out for you from your Grandma?” she asked.  Sib nodded and fumbled through his bag, pulling out the scrap of paper she had given him before.  He looked at it, the letters making no more sense after a week and a half.

 

‘YRW’ ‘C’ ‘NMEG’ ‘R’ ‘D’ ‘FGARDA’ ‘XMAS’. 

 

“I was totally baffled by it,” Willow continued.  “But that 'Xmas' kept bugging me. It made sense even when the rest of it didn’t.  And then - as I was stewing over that last Quidditch game - I remembered that you have a code for ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘I don’t know’, and ‘I love you.’ I had taken out all the ‘yes'es and ‘i love you's the first time I decoded it.”

 

Sib looked at her in confusion.  She handed him another page. “It turns out that ‘yes’ is the same as ‘T’, ‘no’ is ‘I’, ‘I don’t know’ is ‘O’, and ‘I love you is ‘H’.  Sib looked at the new string of letters.  

 

‘YRWTCHNMEGITRIDOFGARDATXMAS’

 

“Did she say anything to you before she started blinking?” Willow asked.

 

“Yeah,” Sib thought back.  “She said ‘yes, I love you.’”  

 

“That makes more sense.”  She took out her pen and wrote ‘TH’ at the beginning of the string of letters.  “How’s your Gramma’s spelling?”

 

“It’s worse than mine.  And that’s sayin’ somethin’.”

 

“Here’s what I think she was saying.”  She tapped the paper with her amulet and spaces appeared between the letters.

 

‘THYR WTCHN ME GIT RID OF GARD AT XMAS’  

 

“It only makes sense with the first ‘yes, I Iove you’ turned into ‘TH’.” 

 

“Willow!” Sib said in amazement.  “This is incredible!” He got up and hugged her. “How did you figure out how to break the code?” 

 

“It’s just Morse code,” she said, blushing.  “It was nothing.” 

 

“Heck no, it ain’t.  You figured all this out on your own?”

 

“Yes, but I don’t know if the second word is ‘watching’ or ‘witching’.” 

 

“Don’t matter,” said Sib.  “I know one thing... We gotta’ get rid of that guard.”



Chapter 10: Believe in Miracles
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Sib was unable to focus on his homework.  His mind kept wandering to how he was going to remove the guard from outside his grandmother’s room.  He was gazing off into space through the lounge windows at the wooded grove, looking for inspiration to solve either his homework assignment or his guard problem.  The ongoing argument between Lef and Willow wasn’t helping him figure out either.  

 

“You told me I could quit anytime,” Lef said, walking away from Willow.  “So I quit.”

 

“But now?” Willow replied, following her.  “There’s only one more game.” 

 

“One more game against Hammersmith.  They’re even better than Featherpenny.” 

 

“But we…” Willow started.


“Don’t even say ‘we can’t get any worse’,” interrupted Lef.  “I know how that ends.”

 

“Please, Lef” pleaded Willow. “It’s the last game of the season.”

 

“Why can’t we just forfeit?,” Lef asked.  “The result is the same.”

 

“Actually better,” Incheon interjected.  “Forfeit games are scored as two hundred and fifty to nothing.  It would be our closest game of the season.”

 

“You stay out of this,” Willow scolded him.

 

“But he’s right,” said Lef.  “We could have forfeited the whole season and done better than how we played.”

 

Willow’s eyes took on the thousand-yard stare. “It’s not about the score.”  

 

“Here she goes…” whispered Sib to Incheon.

 

“...It’s about being part of the school,” continued Willow, the exasperated look now replaced by one of single-minded focus.  “We did this to come together as a house.  We did this to become part of the school.  We did this to show the others that we weren’t going to be a house of misfits…”

 

“Speak for yourself,” interrupted Incheon.

 

...We are going to be a house on equal standing with the others.” Willow finished, ignoring Incheon.  Lef stared at her without speaking.

 

“Are you gonna harass her until she says ‘yes’?” Sib asked Willow.

 

“Yes,” Lef responded without waiting for Willow to answer.   “Yes, she’ll be relentless about it.”  She paused and then sighed in resignation.  “You get fifteen goals, then I walk.”

 

“I swear,” Willow put up her hand.  “If Hammersmith scores fifteen goals you can walk away mid-game.”

 

“Do you think she’d be that relentless if I quit?” Incheon asked Sib while packing up his things to head to class.

 

“She don’t gotta worry about it,” said Sib.  “You ain’t gonna walk away from the worst team in the history of Gampton Hall.”

 

“Oh, right,” he replied, smiling.  “We’ve got that pretty well locked up, don’t we?”  He reached in his Stor-All and pulled out a small box.  “Here,” he continued.  “I got this out of the latest Three Dubs catalog.”  He held out a small box, not much bigger than the sandwich-sized ebony book that the five of them used to exchange messages over the summer.

 

Sib looked at the box, but knew enough about Three Dubs to know not to touch it.  “What’s it do?” he asked.

 

“Listen,” Incheon said, cracking open the lid.  Suddenly, the entire room was filled with raucous cheers as if twenty thousand fans were celebrating a victorious professional QuodPot Championship game.  Sib rocked back in surprise and the others all put their hands over their ears.


Incheon snapped the lid shut, cutting off the noise.  “It’s for when we break the record on Saturday,” he said.  “I looked it up and we’re already the lowest scoring team in the written records.  We’d have to score ten times to match the worst team ever.”

 

“Well, that ain’t gonna happen,” replied Sib.  

 

“Exactly.  We are going to be immortalized in history.”  Incheon looked positively gleeful at the prospect of being obliterated on the Quidditch field.

 

Sib stared at the box.  Could I use that to distract the guard?  Then he shook his head in dismissal; he was getting desperate for ideas.

 

**********

 

After taking their normal circuitous route to Herbology, Sib and Incheon caught the tail end of the line of students as they headed out of the greenhouses and into the woods again.  Sib pulled his cloak tight around him as the wind picked up.  He noticed that Incheon’s ears and nose were already starting to get red within two minutes of leaving the warmth of the school.

 

“Come on,” he said to Incheon.  “Let’s catch up with the others.”  He figured that if they moved faster, they might feel warmer.  They caught up first with Lily, who was walking with her head down towards the back of the line.

 

“Lily, you look upset,” Sib observed.  “What’s goin’ on?”

 

“The Featherpennies,” she hissed as if she wasn’t one of them.  “They’re absolutely horrible to me because they couldn’t rack up more points against Pathfinder.”

 

“But that wasn’t your fault,” he responded. “I wasn’t real coy about blockin’ you during the game.”

 

“No,” she replied.  “And that was brilliant, by the way,” she added, with a half smile.  But as quickly as it appeared, her smile was gone again.  “It doesn’t matter.  They couldn’t score enough points against Suncorn, so now they’re only in the lead by thirty points.  There’s no way they’ll win the championship and they’re taking it out on me.” 

 

“You mean there’s no way we’ll win in the first thirty seconds against Hammersmith,” said Sib.

 

“The team is pretty bad,” she said apologetically.

 

“Oh, we gave up on that a long time ago,” Incheon added.  “At the beginning of the season we aspired to be pretty bad, but now we’re just hoping to be horrifically abysmal.”  

 

Lily laughed, “I wish I was in Pathfinder.”

 

“Well, you gotta be where the hat put you,” said Sib.  There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment as if the two of them knew something that he didn’t.

 

“You’re sweating,” Incheon said to Lily, breaking the silence.

 

“Yeah,” she replied.  “I did an environmental charm to keep myself warm, but I think I overdid it a little.”  She pointed her wand in her mouth and cast ‘aguamenti’ to get a drink of water.  They were interrupted by one of the students ahead of them dropping suddenly to the ground.

 

“What happened?” asked Mr. Diatomungi as he charged back to tend to the student.    He was looking around at the plants to see if he had touched something he shouldn’t.

 

“He took something out of his pocket and ate it,” one of the students told him.  Mr. Diatomungi reached down into the student’s hand and pulled a green pod out of his unconscious fist.  

 

“Hollow stemmed asphodel seeds,” he said.  “These aren’t native…”  He held it up to inspect it.  The students were still staring at Oliver’s unconscious form on the cold forest floor.  “Oh don’t worry,” he told the class when he noticed their attention.  “He’s just unconscious.  The interesting thing about these asphodel seeds is that they have the ability to knock out a subject of any size - from a salamander to an oliphaunt, but only for a few minutes.  Oliver will be up and around in a moment.”  He started heading back the way they came.  “He must have thought it was sweet bean…,” he said to himself. “Well, that’s going to be our lesson for today.”  

 

*******

 

As Sib and Incheon walked away at the end of the lesson going back toward the school, Sib was trying to figure out how to get his hands on more of those seeds. Lef, Lily and Willow were just ahead of them, separated from the other students.  “Do you think we could look around for a couple of minutes?” Sib asked Incheon.

 

“Why?” Incheon responded.  “Especially when what you’re looking for is in your pocket.”  Sib pulled out two asphodel seeds that Incheon had slipped to him.

 

“Would you quit doin’ that?”  Sib was upset and impressed at the same time.  He had never felt a thing.

 

“I need the practice,” responded Incheon

 

“For what?”
 

“I have no idea.”

 

Sib just shook his head.  “Well, I’m thinkin’ that’s what I can use to knock out the guard.”

 

“Nice,” responded Incheon.  “Now how are you going to get him to eat them?”  

 

Sib hadn’t thought through that part.  “I dunno,” he responded.  “Maybe I’ll bake them into a cake or somethin’.”

 

“Don’t you remember what Mr. Diatomungi said?” replied Lef, turning around.  “They lose their potency if they’re cooked. He would have to eat them raw.”

 

“I could hide them in a candy or somethin’,” Sib said, grasping at straws.

 

“It won’t last,” Lily added.  “Oliver was only down for a minute.”

 

“Why not give him a real knockout?” Incheon asked, reaching in his pocket.  “A nice Sweet Stunning Sweet would put him down.”  He held one out for Sib to take.

 

“Only an idiot would eat a Three Dubs candy offered by a stranger,” Lef responded.  Sib looked ahead and saw Willow wince.  She had done just that the previous year and it had turned her hair green for a day.  He took the candy from Incheon anyway and put it in his bag. The group devolved into a roundhouse discussion while they continued their walk.

 

“What if we get Lily to put that environmental charm on him and then he’ll be thirsty and want a drink”


“That might work…” 

 

“But we can’t just leave him in the middle of the hallway, it’ll draw all sorts of attention.”
 

“We could transfigure him.”
 

“I can’t do that yet… can you?”

 

“Well no, but…”

 

“But maybe we could make it look like we transfigured him.”

 

“But he’d still be there.”

 

“Oh, yeah…”

 

“Hold up right now,” Sib spoke over them to make them stop.  “I don’t know what you’re all arguin’ about.  I’m the one’s gotta get that guard out of the room.”

 

“Right,” said Lef.  “And we’re going to help.”

 

“I ain’t gonna put you guys in a heap of trouble over somethin’ that’s my own problem,” Sib argued.

 

“Like busting out a manticore?” replied Willow.  Sib started to argue, but he wasn’t sure what to say. He hadn’t even thought twice about helping Willow.  Corey was definitely not his problem.

 

“Y’all could get in real trouble,” Sib responded.  “I can do this alone.”

 

“You will do it alone,” Willow responded.  “And we’ll be right there with you when you do.”  


Sib again opened his mouth to respond, saw the look in Willow’s eye, and closed it again when he saw Incheon shake his head.  Best let them get on with it, I suppose.

 

“Now,” Willow turned back to the others.  “We’ll need a distraction…”

 

“Easy,” Incheon said and pulled a deck of cards seemingly from nowhere.  “Pick a card,” he said as he fanned them out.  

 

“I mean we need a distraction for the guard,” Willow scolded.

 

“Oh, right.”


*********

 

“So, how’s it coming?” Sib asked Willow the following week while he gathered his things at the end of the day to go see Miss Pyx.    

 

Willow frowned.  “Not great.  Incheon is convinced he can get the guard to eat a Three Dubs candy, but I doubt it will work.  Have you ever seen the guard eat or drink anything?” 

 

“He was only there this last visit and no, he didn’t eat anything that I could see.”

 

“Do you think you might, you know, use a vision to see what we should do?”

 

“They really don’t work that way,” Sib explained.  “I don’t get to pick what I see.”

 

“Well, just try for us.  We need to figure out something if we’re going to go next Sunday.”

 

He thought about what Willow had said on his way to meet with Miss Pyx.  It was the last full week before the Christmas break. The Quidditch game against Hammersmith was on Saturday and they had planned to go see his grandmother the following day.  What if they don’t come up with anythin’?  Sib was debating whether an open attack on a MACUSA guard would land him right next to his dad in Spellhold when he arrived at the Mysticism door.

 

“You look troubled,” Miss Pyx said to him.  “Want to talk about it?”

 

Sib wondered how much he could really tell her.  Since every plan he’d come up with so far involved jinxing a government official, he thought better of it. “Can you choose what you want to see?” he asked her instead.

 

“Not that I know of,” she responded. “For the most part, you just have to take what you get.”

 

“But how do you know whether a vision is important or whether it’s just...you know…”

 

“Junk?”  

 

Sib nodded. 

 

“Tell me something that happened to you at the end of last year.”

 

“You mean like when we were figurin’ out about our wands and then sprintin’ to make it in time for finals?”

 

“Yes - that will do.  Picture the memory.  Can you see it clearly?”

 

“Yeah, I don’t know that I’ll ever forget it.”

 

“Now, tell me about what you did last Tuesday.”

 

Sib racked his brain, but couldn’t remember anything specific.  “I dunno,” he said after a moment.  “I was here and I went to classes, but I don’t have any specific memories.”

 

“Exactly,” she said.  “Your visions work the same way as memory.  You remember the things that have an emotional impact and the mundane disappears.  Visions are the same way - it’s always of things that will be memorable to you.  All of the future junk just fades away.  Think of it as memory in reverse.”

 

“That’s messed up.”

“Yes,” she said.  “Yes it is.  But it keeps me employed, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”  

 

Sib smiled.

 

“Are you ready to give it a shot?” she asked.

 

He nodded and then sat down at the table near the window.  The only visions that he had been able to conjure had been from this spot, so he got comfortable and tuned out Miss Pyx moving about behind him.  He found it easier to slip into a vision if he was near the outside.  He cleared his mind and hoped that he would see something new today.  Other than the vision of his grandmother blinking, his visions over the past month had been stuck on a pile of dirt with a dusting of snow on the top, and despite what Miss Pyx said about deeper meanings, he thought it was nothing but junk.

 

He reached out with his senses to connect with the world around him.  A fire was burning behind him, and he could feel the heat from across the room on the back of his neck.  The wind outside was starting to pick up as it will before a storm and it rattled the windowpanes.  He drifted.

 

He was standing near the circle of stones.  The grass was starting to green and there were a few small pink and white flowers in bloom at the base of a nearby tree.  He moved to look to the interior of the circle and saw a girl kneeling over the shallow pool with her head inches from the water.  Her long dark hair was covering her face, but he recognized her right away.  “Lily?” he said.  The figure didn’t respond - she just leaned closer to the water.  “What are you…?” Sib started and then was silent as Lily’s face broke the surface of the water and she was dragged under; her whole body disappearing under the cloudy surface.  “Lily!” Sib rushed to the edge and saw shapes swirling in the pool, but he couldn’t make any of it out.  He started to reach toward the water to save her and the instant his hand touched the surface, the vision popped like a needle piercing a balloon.

 

He was back in the Mysticism classroom.  “Was it the mound of dirt again?” asked Miss Pyx, who had been sitting behind him.  She walked around to the window side of the table.

 

“No, ma’am,” Sib replied.  He told her about what he had seen and done.  “...It was early March,” he concluded.

 

“Wow,” she replied.  “That’s some skill to get that specific.”

 

He shook his head. “Sorry.  That ain’t skill.  The liverwort was bloomin’.  That’s early March.”

 

“Oh,” she replied.  “Well, good that you noticed a detail like that.  That’s something.  So do you think Lily was in trouble?  Was she in danger of drowning?” 

 

Sib laughed.  Miss Pyx cast a questioning eye at him, so he clarified.  “I know a couple‘a fools who could drown in that water, but Lily ain’t one of them.  It’s only six inches deep.”

 

“But she fell in?” 

 

“All the way - past her boots.”  Miss Pyx was silent.  Sib gave her a moment as he didn’t know what to make of that either.

 

“Well,” she said finally.  “It’s a shame this is our last meeting before the break, you finally have a really good one to work through.”  She turned to stare outside at the first patter of cold rain against the window.  “Either you’ve just had another figurative vision like the mound of dirt; or there’s more to that pool than meets the eye.”

 

*******

 

The weekend before the Christmas break marked their last Quidditch game of the year.  As Sib and the other six Pathfinders slogged out of the front door and down to the field, none of them exchanged a word.  Hedges was dragging his broom on the ground, pressing down the dewy brown grass like the trail of a giant slug. Sib, who was bringing up the rear, saw that everyone had their head down.

 

He thought about their situation.  Pathfinder was in dead last place with only ten points.  Hammersmith was in second place in the standings, thirty points behind Featherpenny.  All Hammersmith would have to do would be to score three goals and they would share the title; four goals to be the outright champion; or they could just catch the snitch to win the Quidditch Championship.  It's as good as guaranteed.  Pathfinder had given up at least thirteen goals in every game and although she had come close to catching the snitch, Willow’s chances against the Hammersmith seeker were...well, zero.  Willow's broom was no match for the Yggdrasil X-20 that the opposing seeker used.

 

Sib looked up when they reached the stadium and realized that the team had stopped.  All of them were looking at Willow as if waiting for something from their team captain.  Inspiration? A pep talk?  Sib didn't think any of those things would help.  We just want this to be over.

 

“Look, we all know how this is going to end,” she said to them.  “Hammersmith is already playing their victory song, for pete’s sake.”  She stopped and they could hear the band blaring away in the stands.

 

“I kind of like it,” said Incheon, nodding his head to the beat.  “You can really get a groove on to it.” Incheon dropped his broom and started to gyrate his arms and legs in the worst dance that Sib had ever seen.  After a moment, Sib followed his lead, dropped his broom next to Incheon’s and started dancing like a fool.  Lef and Beene dropped theirs next and soon six of them were dancing like a group of exotic birds in a mating ritual. Willow broke into a smile. She dropped her broom and joined them.  For a short moment in time, not one of them cared that they were about to be destroyed on the Quidditch field.

 

When the Pathfinders finally reached midfield to shake hands with the other team, the Hammersmiths were already shaking their fists and brooms in the air, soaking in the victory cheers from the stands.  The Pathfinder side of the field was empty. That’s not true.  A few of their parents were there and he spotted Lily in the front row.  She was standing in front of the lone banner which read ‘Believe in Miracles’.  “We need one,” Sib muttered to himself.  

 

Mrs. Broombreaker called them to the center of the field where the box that held the Quidditch balls was resting.  “Let’s have a good, clean game. Are both sides ready?” Willow nodded at her and when Mrs. Broombreaker got the okay from the Hammersmith seeker, she released the box latch.  Two bludgers, a quaffle and the golden snitch burst from the box and the game was on.  Sib ducked quickly, remembering how a bludger nearly took off his head in the first game.  He felt it brush the hair on the back of his head as it rushed by.  He pushed off the ground and followed in its path.  The Hammersmith bludger reached it first and hammered it towards Willow, who was in hot pursuit of something.  Ducking, she appeared to have lost sight of the snitch and she flew off to try to find it again.  

The first Hammersmith goal was scored before Sib had even had a chance to hit the bludger, let alone make a difference in the game. 

 

The red and gold-decked crowd cheered and Sib could see Lef hang her head as she flew around the goals.  Maybe we could still win this thing. Sib's hopeful thoughts peaked for a moment as the quaffle was released again into play.  He chased after the nearest bludger but was blocked by one of the Hammersmith beaters, a giant hulk of a student named Whimpey.  Whimpey simply flew right into the side of Sib like he wasn't there; and he might as well not have been.  Knocked sideways, he was barely able to hang on his broom.  When he glanced down he saw the Hammersmith  chaser was just below, grabbing the quaffle that had been dropped from above.  The chaser made two moves to get by Beene and Incheon and then scored the second goal past Lef's outstretched arms.  Sib heaved a sigh. Oh, who am I kidding?  This is over.

 

Sib didn’t even bother to look around for a bludger when the quaffle was put back into play, accepting the inevitable end of the match.  The Hammersmiths had regained the quaffle and were driving toward the goal.  Sib looked up and saw Willow, floating high above, not even looking for the snitch.  I guess she sees the end too.  Still looking at her, he saw her absentmindedly swat at a bug that was buzzing in her ear. 

 

Only it wasn't a bug.  She caught the snitch!  Oh my god, she caught the snitch and she wasn't even trying!

 

Sib heard the cheering from the Hammersmith side that could only mean that they had scored their third goal.  Then the distant roar of the crowd faded as the announcer called out.  “No goal!  No goal!  Willow Carter has captured the snitch!  Pathfinder wins!  What a miraculous turn of events! Pathfinder wins!”  

 

Everything and everyone was silent.  The players, the fans, and even Mrs. Broombreaker were mute.  Sib could hear the wind rustle through the dry brown grass just below his feet.  Suddenly, he heard a lone voice screaming with joy. Looking over to the Pathfinder side, he saw Lily yelling her head off and jumping up and down.  

 

Willow slowly descended to the field while Sib and the other five teammates circled around her, finally celebrating.  Sib flew over to her and took her hand, holding it up in the air in victory.  I could kiss her right now.  His thoughts were interrupted as Incheon flew up and handed her his noisemaker. “Here, I was saving this for when we set a record for the worst team ever, but I think you might want to celebrate something different.” Willow smiled and when she cracked open the box, the sounds of the eight people cheering swelled to twenty thousand screaming fans.

 

Willow left the noise box open until they made it back to the locker room.  Lily was waiting for them when they came through the door.  “We won!, we won!  Can you believe it?”

 

“Yeah,” replied Sib.  “I guess Hammersmith only scorin’ twenty points means that Featherpenny wins the Championship.”  

 

Lily looked at him quizzically for a moment.  “Oh yeah,” she said flatly.  “I guess they did.”



Chapter 11: When A Plan Comes Together
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

The following afternoon, Sib and Willow were standing in the lobby of the National Magical Medical Center, staring at the bank of lifts. 

 

“So are you gonna tell me the plan?” Sib asked. 

 

“Don’t worry about it,” Willow replied.  “We’ve got it covered.”

 

“Does any of it rely on Incheon?” Sib had been worried about that.  

 

“It will be fine.  We need to talk to her, right?”  Sib nodded.  “Now, are you ready?” Willow asked him.

“I guess,” Sib replied.  “Are you sure it will work?”

 

“Positive,” she said.  “Now stop freaking out and let’s go.”

 

I’m glad one of us is confident.  They walked to the lifts and shot up to his grandmother’s floor.  They saw the same hulking guard in the hallway as they walked toward her room.

 

“Family only,” he growled and put his arm out to bar Willow from entering the room.

 

“This is my cousin,” Sib said.  The guard hesitated for a second and then lifted his arm.  Sib and Willow proceeded into the room.  “Hi Gramma, I love you.” 

 

‘I love you.’

 

“Hi Gramma, I love you,” Willow said.  Sib looked at her in alarm.  “What?” she whispered.  “She’s my gramma too, cousin.”  She turned back to Sib’s grandmother.  “That thing you talked to Sib about last time?  We’ll take care of that, don’t you worry.”  

 

‘Yes.’

 

Willow turned to Sib.  “Why don’t you tell her about our last two Quidditch games?”

 

“Uh, sure.”  Sib hesitatingly started telling his grandmother about the ‘Ice Bowl-over’ as they now called it.  He made it to the point where Willow took the penalty shot and he noticed his grandma look at Willow and started blinking in her code.  Willow was ready, busy writing away; capturing each long and short blink.

 

“And..?” Willow prodded.  Sib hadn’t realized that he had stopped.

 

“Oh, and well, she missed it, but by that point we had a whole new game plan.”  He realized now that his grandma wasn’t listening to him anymore, but that he should continue talking to cover up the real conversation.  He made sure to shift himself so that he was standing directly between the guard and his grandma’s face.  He continued rattling off the story and had reached the point where he had practically dragged a feverish and shivering Hye-lin into the locker room when they were distracted by Incheon’s voice from the hallway.

 

“Don’t you want something to drink?,” Incheon was asking the guard, holding out a bottle of butterbeer.   “Or maybe a sweet?”  His other hand held assorted Three Dubs candies.  Hye-lin was standing right next to him and was shaking her head. Sib was incredulous.  Incheon wasn’t even trying to sound natural.  He sounds like he's in a school play - and he's screwin' up his lines!

 

“I don’t eat or drink on the job, now get lost,” the guard said to them.

 

“I told you it wouldn’t work,” Hye-lin muttered, but loud enough for Sib to hear.

 

“Quiet,” hushed Incheon.  “They’re yummy!” he said to the guard, holding the candies out again practically under the guard’s nose.

 

The guard knocked Incheon’s left hand away, the candy scattering onto the floor.  He reached over and grabbed both of them by the front of their shirts.  “I don’t know what you two are trying to pull,” he said.  “But it won’t work.  Now don’t come back or I’ll have you thrown into the Pediatric Dragon Pox ward.”  Hye-lin burst into tears at the threat.  The guard glanced at her and let them go.  Incheon and Hye-lin stumbled backwards and quickly started walking away.

 

“What do we do now, you idiot?” Hye-lin fumed as they walked away.

 

“Beats me.  I’m on the execution side.  Planning was a different department.”

 

“You’re pathetic,” Hye-lin said, wiping her cheeks as she and Incheon walked toward the lifts.

 

Sib found himself staring through the door as the guard turned toward him.  “You know them?” he said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder.

 

“No,” said Willow from the other side of the bed.  “Thanks for getting rid of them.”  She looked back to Sib, who didn’t know what was going on.  “Now tell Grandma about the game yesterday.”

 

Sib turned back to her.  The plan's ruined and all you're doin' is just sittin' there as if everything was fine!  “I… uh…” 

 

“Do you need me to tell the story?” Willow asked, clearly prodding him to continue.

 

Sib, with a sigh of resignation, continued by telling his grandma about the game from the day before.  Right before he got to the climax where Willow grabbed the snitch out of thin air, an announcement sounded through the hospital hallway.  “Would the owner of a nine inch black locust wand please come to the information desk?  Your wand has been found.”  Sib turned toward the hallway where the announcement was coming from and saw the guard checking his pockets. 

“Son of a…” he said, patting his pockets and robe and then he stared into the room pointing a finger at them.  “I’ll be right back.”  He quickly moved off toward the lifts.  

 

“Not yet,” Willow said to him without looking away from his grandma’s face.

 

“Not yet what?” Sib said.

 

“Just keep talking and don’t pay attention to the guard.” 

 

“But he’s gone!,” Sib cried as the man disappeared down the lift.  “Now’s our chance.”

 

“Oh, he’ll be back in a minute,” said Willow, not even looking at him, but still concentrating on what his grandma was blinking to her.  “And you need to look like you weren’t doing anything different when he returns.”

 

Sib, still staring toward the lifts saw Lily pass by the doorway and she waved to them before moving away.  “I don’t understand,” he said.  “What’s Lily doin’?  What’s goin’ on?”

 

“What’s going on is that you were telling your grandmother about the Quidditch game and you were just about to get to the best part.”

 

Sib just stood there.  What the heck is goin’ on?  Why’s she just sittin’ there when we got this chance?  He looked up and saw his Grandma staring at him.  She had a look in her eyes that said ‘Sib, just shut up and do what you’re told’.  He sighed and then continued with his story as she shifted her eyes back to Willow. As he finished telling his grandmother about the celebration and Incheon’s cheering box, she finished blinking at Willow and her eyes shifted to smile at him.  Sib turned around and saw that the guard had returned, perspiration on his forehead from running to and from the information desk to get his wand.  He glanced inside the room and then resumed his normal spot outside the door, mopping his brow with a handkerchief.

 

Willow was now sitting in her chair, calmly working away at the decoding.  I give up.  He turned back to his Grandma, who was still looking at him.  “Do you want me to keep talkin’ Gramma?”

 

‘Yes, I love you.’

 

“I love you too.  I’m havin’ visions.”  He didn’t know why he chose this moment to confess, but he couldn’t think of anything else to say.

 

'Yes.'

 

“You mean you knew?”

 

'Yes.'

 

“How long?  More than a month?”

 

'Yes.'

 

“More than five months?”

 

‘Yes.’

 

“How?,” he started.  “I didn’t even know until August.”  She just looked at him and smiled with her eyes.  He felt like an idiot.  “You saw it in a vision.”

 

‘Yes.’

 

“It’s as bad as talkin’ to Miss Pyx.  Y’all seem to know things about me before I do.”

 

They were interrupted by a screech from the hallway behind them.  “DRAGON POX!” an older black woman screamed and ran toward the lifts, dragging Lef along with her.  The guard, who had his wand raised to his mouth as if to cast ‘aguamenti’ froze in place.  Sib noticed that he had green and purple spots all over his face.  The lady, who Sib realized must be Lef’s grandmother, pushed a red ‘emergency’ button on the wall and claxons immediately blared all through the hallways.  The door of the room automatically slammed shut, and the blinds closed, shutting off any way in or out of the room.

 

“Now,” Willow said to Sib, standing up.  “Now you can talk to your grandma.  I figure we have at least fifteen minutes before they decontaminate the hallway.”

 

“Wha?...” said Sib.  “What just happened?”

 

“A rather brilliant plan,” she smiled.  “But we don’t have a lot of time, so ask your questions later.”  She set the clipboard that she had been using on the side of the bed. “Your grandmother wants you to put your amulet on the side of her head and put the thing that comes out into a container.”

 

“What?”

 

“Here,” she said, handing him the clipboard.

 

There were a series of dashes and dots and underneath, Willow’s decoding spelling out five directions: 

 

PUTWNDTOMYTEMPL

PUTMEMRYINBOTL

3TIMS

GETPNSVE

FNDWNDGO

 

“What does 3 tims mean?”

“Three times, you dolt.  She has three memories to give you.”

 

“Then what do I do with them?”

 

“Later,” urged Willow.  “Let’s get those memories first.”  She glanced toward the door. “I already hear people outside and we might not have as much time as I thought.”

 

Sib pulled his amulet out of his shirt and held it out toward his grandmother’s face.  “Here?” he said, touching her face between her left eye and left ear.

 

‘Yes’.

 

“Now what do I do?”  Nothing appeared to be happening.  “Do I have to say a spell or something?”

 

‘No’.

 

“I don’t get it,” he said and let the amulet fall away from the side of her face, pulling with it a wispy white strand like solid smoke.  “Whoa,” he said, holding it up.

 

“I don’t have an empty bottle,” said Willow.  “What do we put it in?”  

 

“I should have something in my bag.  Hand it over.”  Willow set it on the bed and Sib reached inside with his free hand, his right holding the amulet with the memory dangling off of the side like caramel dripping from a small plate.  He fished around, unsure of what he could use.  Then he felt the cold glass of the vial that he had pulled from the niffler’s den touching the back of his hand.  He grabbed it and pulled it out.  “Got it.”  He handed it to Willow who unscrewed the lid and then Sib carefully slid the memory into the glass container.  

 

He repeated this two more times and then handed the vial back to Willow to screw the lid back on.  As he put his wand back in his shirt, the door burst open and in strode a mage with a shiny MACUSA badge on his robe.  “What’s going on here?  What are you doing?”

 

“We’re talking to our Grandmother,” Willow responded.

 

“You aren’t,” he responded, looking at Willow.  “Mrs. Hooplander has three grandsons and you aren’t one of them.  Who are you?”  Willow looked speechless.

 

“She’s my friend,” said Sib.  “The guard wouldn’t let her in, so I told him she was my cousin.”

 

The man stared at him for a moment.  “Friend, huh?  Then you won’t mind if I search your friend’s bag?”  Sib swallowed.

 

“Here,” Willow said, holding out her bag for him to look through.  “It’s a Stor-All, so I don’t know if you can.”

 

“With the proper authorizations, I can,” he said and took the bag from her.  He reached inside and started shuffling through her belongings.  “What’s this?” He pulled out an aluminum can that Sib recognized as a nomaj soda can.

 

“It’s a Coke,” Willow said.

 

“What does it do?” the man asked.  Willow was perplexed with the question.

 

“There’s no Coke for mages,” Sib explained to her.

 

“Oh,” she said and then looked back at the man.  “It’s a sweet fizzy drink.  Like butterbeer.”

 

“Drink it.”

 

“What, now?”

 

“Yes, right now.”

 

Willow popped open the can and took a drink.  “See,” she said.  “It’s just soda.”  The man went back to digging through her Stor-All.

 

“What’s in this one?”  He pulled out a pink bottle with a cloudy liquid inside.  Willow blushed.

 

“It’s perfume,” she said.

 

“Spray it,” the guard said.

 

“What are you lookin’ for anyway?” Sib asked the man.

 

“Anything you’re not supposed to have,” he said.  “Your grandmother is under MACUSA protection and we have strict rules to keep her safe.”  

 

Willow sprayed the perfume in the air.  Sib caught a whiff of honeysuckle and immediately had a flashback of her hugging him after the game against the Murgatroyds.  Why are you thinkin’ about that right now?

 

The man took another look inside and then pulled out his wand and pointed it into the bag.  “Accio bottle!”  Nothing came out of her bag, but the bottle in Willow’s hand leapt toward him and hovered in midair.  He took it and dropped it back in her bag.  He handed it back to her and turned to Sib.  “You’ve been flaunting the rules.  Your bag next.”

 

Sib handed it to him, silently breathing a sigh of relief that he hadn’t found the memory vial.  

 

He reached inside.  “A ball of twine, some wire, books, and what…”  He pulled out his hand, his fingers gripping a slimy dead creature.  “What’s a rotting frog doing in your bag?”

 

“Oh,” said Sib.  “I guess that’s why my stuff smells so bad.  My brother probably dropped it in there.”

The man dropped the frog carcass back into Sib’s bag and passed it back to him.  He took out his wand and vanished the slime from his hand with a look of disgust on his face.  As his eyes looked to the bed, they lit up and that’s when Sib remembered that they had left the clipboard with the code on it.  Oh crap.

 

“And what’s this?” he said as he reached over and snatched it from his grandmother’s bed.  

 

“Give that back!” shouted Sib, unable to control himself any longer.  He reached out, but the man just held him away with his free hand.

 

“Must be important, this paper,” he said with a smile and then looked at it.  He lifted the page and turned it over.  “I don’t…”

 

“It’s a love letter,” said Willow.  Sib stopped struggling and looked at her with confusion.  

 

The man’s smile faded from his face. “It’s a what?” he said.

 

“It’s a love letter.  From me.  To Sib,” she said and then started crying.  “He wasn’t supposed to know!” she blubbered through her hands.  “I wrote it in invisible ink so he wouldn’t see it, but…”   

 

The man looked confused and awkwardly looked down at the clipboard.  “I… uh,” he fumbled.

 

“Now you’ve ruined everything!” she yelled and grabbed the clipboard out of his hands, stuffed it into her bag and rushed out of the room, heading straight for the lifts.  Both Sib and the man watched her go.  What the heck just happened?

 

“Can I...uh, go?” Sib said to the official.  The man paused for a moment and then looked back at Sib.

 

“No more friends, got it?”

 

“Yeah, sure,” Sib said.  He picked up his bag, the smell of rotten frog still hovering in the air near it.  He leaned over and kissed his grandmother.  “Bye Gramma, I love you.” 

 

‘I love you.’

 

He left and followed Willow’s path to the lifts.  Why didn’t he just read the code?  But he couldn't ask Willow as she was gone by the time he got back to the lobby.  

 

********

 

They had gathered in the Pathfinder lounge the following afternoon.  Nobody was working; the last few days before the Christmas break were filled with free time.  Sib was recounting to the others what had happened in his grandmother’s hospital room.  He had just reached the point where the man had grabbed the dead frog in his bag.

 

“My god,” interrupted Incheon.  “I put that in there over two weeks ago.  How did you not smell it?”

 

“That was you?  I thought maybe it was one of those skunk butt pods,” Sib said.  “I figured it would just go away over time.” 

 

“Dude…,” said Incheon shaking his head.  He gestured to suggest that Sib should continue.

 

“Well then he seen the code Willow had written was just lyin’ on the bed next to my Gramma’s legs.  He reached over and grabbed it quick before I could get my hands on it.  Then Willow pulled off a story about how it was a love letter and the man ruined everything and then she started cryin’ her eyes out.  I thought it was real for a minute.  So must’a the guy, because he didn’t do nothing when she grabbed the paper out of his hands and stormed out of the room.”  He paused and looked over at Willow.  “Why didn’t he just read the code?”

 

“I love Three Dubs,” said Incheon, reaching into his own bag and setting a box on the table.  Sib read the front: ‘The New Disappearing Ink Quill.  Watch As Your Friend’s Ten Page Essay Disappears With a Flick!’

 

“Incheon insisted I decode the message in disappearing ink,” Willow said.  “So there’d be no evidence.”

 

“But what about the rest of the message?” Sib asked her.

 

“I have it,” she said.  “It reappears with a flick too.   That's why I took the clipboard back from the MACUSA guy.”

 

“And the memories?”

 

“Safe in my secret pocket.”  Sib recalled how handy that pocket was the previous year.  It was good to know that it was protected - even from people with the power to search a Stor-All.

 

“Willow,” Sib asked.  “How did you do it all?”

 

“It was all Incheon and Lef’s idea.”

 

Sib turned to Incheon.  “Really?” he said incredulously.  “I mean, Lef, sure, but the kid who never takes anythin’ seriously?”  Incheon nodded.  “Okay, beefcake,” Sib continued.  “Your turn.  How’d you and Lef manage to get rid of the guard?”

 

“Well,” Incheon started.  “After you had gone in and were talking for a while, Hye-Lin and I had the brilliant plan to get him to eat a Sweet Stunning Sweet from Three Dubs.”

 

“But he didn’t,” said Sib.  “He just knocked them on the floor and then told you two to scram.”

 

“But first he grabbed us and pulled us close to him.  Close enough for me to swipe his wand right out of his pocket.  It was actually pretty easy.  He swatted my hand with his right, so I knew it was in his left breast pocket and then once Hye-Lin burst into tears, he was distracted and I was able to just reach over and grab it.”

 

“Wait,” Sib said.  “Hye-lin was actin’ like the plan was all busted up.” 

 

“Yeah,” Hye-lin said, a huge smile on her face.  “Incheon told me to say that loud enough so you’d think everything was going wrong.”

 

“You set me up,” Sib said incredulously.

 

“Yep,” Incheon continued.  “That was half the fun.  Anyway, I took his wand down to the main reception desk and had them announce through the hospital that it had been found.  That was when he left his post for a minute.”

 

“But he came right back,” Sib said.  “Gramma didn’t have more than two minutes to really talk to us.”

 

“That’s where Lily came in,” Lef said.  “She cast that environmental charm of hers on the candies that the guard had knocked on the floor.”

 

“On the candy?” Sib asked.

 

“I have to cast it on something,” Lily explained.  “And we needed to make it disappear afterwards.”

 

“So that made the whole hallway really hot,” Incheon continued.  “And he used his wand either to conjure some water or to make it cooler.”

 

“Aguamenti,” chipped in Lef.

 

“Nice,” Incheon said. “Right in the face.  He used his wand a few seconds before Lef and her grandmother walked onto the floor.”

 

Lef piped up.  “As soon as Nana saw the green and purple spots on the guard, she screamed and pushed the emergency alert button, which automatically puts everything into lockdown on the whole wing.  A couple of bubble-covered orderlies dragged him away within seconds.  It was really pretty impressive.”

 

“But how did you give him Dragon Pox?”

 

“Oh, we didn’t.”  Incheon reached in his Stor-All and pulled out another box.  “Did I tell you that I love Three Dubs?” 

 

Sib read the front cover: ‘Try the New Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes Poxwand!  Scare the Bejesus Out of Friends and Family!’  “But you said you turned in his wand to lost and found.”

 

“Did I?” Incheon smiled.  “I meant to say, I turned in a wand that looked exactly like his to lost and found and slipped the real one to Lef as she walked by with her grandmother.  I guess Illusions Club finally came in handy.”

 

“He dropped the fake wand when they dragged him away,” Lef explained.  “So Nana switched them out before everything was decontaminated. The decon crew vanished the candies, so there was no evidence left.”

 

“Why would your grandma help like that?”  Sib asked Lef.  “Couldn’t she get in trouble?”

 

“She and your grandma are friends,” Lef said.  “Nana hasn’t been able to visit her since they posted that guard, but when I told her what we were doing, she said she’d go to the moon to help.  Besides,” Lef added.  “That guard was really disrespectful to her.”

 

“I didn’t know your gramma and mine were friends.”

 

“Yes.  They marched on MACUSA together back in the 1960’s.”

 

“They were in the army?”

 

“Not in the army, silly.” Lef said.  “She marched with Nana for civil rights back in the 60s.  There was a huge rally on the doorstep of MACUSA.”

 

“Mages marched for civil rights?”

 

“Of course,” Lef said wryly.  “You think racism is limited to the nomaj world?”  There was an uncomfortable moment of silence.  Sib looked at Lef in a new light.  I guess I never thought about that.  Lef changed the subject.  “So what does the message say and what do we do with the memories?”

 

Willow took a note from her bag and unfolded it.  “Sib’s Grandma gave me five messages.  The first three were about how to get the memories.  The fourth one was ‘get pinsave’ and the fifth was ‘find wand go’.” 

 

The others all spoke at once.  Is Pinsave a person?” “What does ‘find wand go’ mean?” 

 

“Here,” Willow said and laid out the paper in front of them.  Sib read the words:

GETPNSVE

FNDWNDGO

 

“I don’t get it,” Sib said.  “What do these mean?”

 

“You mean you don’t know?” Willow asked him.

 

“Uh-uh,” he responded.  “I mean, I already have her wand.”  He held out the amulet.  “She gave it to me.  But where am I supposed to go with it?  Are you sure you got the whole message?"

 

Willow frowned.  “I'm sure.  I thought you might know this Pinsave person.”  Sib shook his head.

 

“When are you going to see her next?” Lef asked.  “Maybe you can find out from her then.”

 

“I dunno,” said Sib.  “I guess ma and I will go back on Christmas Day.”

“Well, just ask her then,” Willow suggested.  “Bring back the dashes and dots, send them to me in the instant message book and I’ll decode our answer
.”  Sib nodded.  "Until then," Willow continued.  "Nobody says anything to anybody.  Somebody at MACUSA wants these memories and we need to find out why."


"How do you know?" asked Lily.  

 

"When the MACUSA guy searched our bags, he was looking for containers - and only that.  They knew exactly what to search for."

 

 



Chapter 12: A Pile of Dirt
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Sib awoke on Christmas morning to the smell of frying bacon and cinnamon.  After he dressed, he stepped into the kitchen and sat down; his brother was halfway through a cinnamon sticky bun.  Sib’s Mom was at the stove flipping strips of bacon.  She used the tongs to point toward the sticky buns, inadvertently flicking some grease onto the floor.

 

“Help yourself, Sib.  Merry Christmas.”

 

“Thanks ma,” he responded. "Merry Christmas to you."  He put a couple of the rolls on his plate and set his gift to his mom next to his brother’s.  He and his brother had agreed long ago not to get each other anything.

 

“I got you boys a little somethin’,” she said, putting the bacon on a platter and setting it on the table.

 

“You mean besides the breakfast?” Arc asked.  Sib smiled.  Bacon and sticky buns were a rare treat in his household.  She nodded and stepped into her bedroom, emerging a moment later with two small presents wrapped in plain brown paper.  She set them in front of Sib and his brother.

 

“You didn’t have to do that, ma,” Sib said.  He thought his school things were his birthday and Christmas present rolled into one on account of the expense.  

 

“Never you mind.  Go on, then, open ‘em.”

 

Sib watched as Arc tore into his present.  He pulled out a small box with a plug on the end.  “You got me a recharger?” Arc asked. 

 

“It’s a magi-charger with a universal adapter,” she said.  “You know how you have to recharge your music player at school ‘cause there ain’t no electricity here?  Well, this will recharge it at home.  I got it from Mrs. Watkins.  You know her husband was a nomaj and she didn’t have no use for it after he passed.”  

 

Arc looked impressed.  “Wow. Thanks, ma. It looks like new.” 

 

“You’re welcome.  Now how about you, Sib?”  Sib tore open the paper wrapper on his package and stared down at the knife that lay in its sheath on top of a pair of new leather gloves.  “It’s your grandpa’s whittlin’ knife,” she said.  “I had it sharpened so you don’t have to use that dull pocketknife you been usin’.”  He held it up.  His mom’s dad had taught him how to whittle using this knife.  Sib was sure he had been buried with it.

 

“It’s beautiful, ma.” 

 

“Be sure to use them gloves too, will ya?  Your granddad cut his own thumb off at least twice a week.  I ain’t as good at re-attachin’ it as your grandma was.”  Sib remembered that sometimes his grandmother had re-attached his grandfather’s thumb backwards in an attempt to get him to be more careful.

 

“Well, ma,” Arc said.  “What you ain’t got in medical skill, you make up for in heart.”

 

“And bacon,” added Sib.  She reached over to swat him with a wooden spoon, but slipped in a spot of bacon grease on the floor, missed Sib entirely and fell hard on her bottom.  Sib was concerned because she wasn’t moving at all.  “Are you okay, ma?” After a second, her whole body started shaking and she broke out into a deep belly laugh.

 

Arc joined her in laughing.  “Graceful like a swan, ma.  I’ll give you a ten out of ten for style.”  Sib joined them, laughing as he hadn’t done in months.  

 

They were distracted out of their mirth by a tapping noise at their window.  An owl was rapping at the pane to deliver a message.  “Must be a Christmas Card,” Sib’s mom said as she opened the window and took the message.  The owl flew off with a farewell hoot.

As she read the message, Sib saw the smile melt from his mom’s face like an ice cube on a hot griddle.  She sat down hard on the kitchen bench. 

 

“What is it ma?” Sib asked.  She dropped the note on the table.  Arc snatched it up and read it.  His face dissolved into anger.  He crumpled up the note and threw it as hard as he could against the wall.  Sib scrambled up to grab it as his brother disappeared into their bedroom and slammed the door.  Sib uncrumpled it and read: ‘It is with our deepest sympathies that we tell you about the passing of Mrs. Teresa Hooplander.  She left this world peacefully in her sleep early this morning.  With deepest regrets, Dave Swanderski, NMMC Social Worker.’

 

That can’t be.  There must be some mistake.  I just saw her on Sunday and she was fine.  “Ma, this can’t be right,” he said.  She nodded, but didn’t say anything.  We were going to see her today.

 

“What do I tell your pa?” she asked, not looking up.  

 

“Ma, I just saw her on Sunday,” Sib said.  “She was fine.  We….we need to go over and clear this all up.”

 

She nodded again, but it was obvious that she wasn’t listening.  “He didn’t even get to see her…”

 

“It’s a mistake,” said Sib walking over toward the fireplace.  “I’m goin’ over there right now and I’m gonna fix it.  He grabbed a handful of floo powder, tossed it into the grate and jumped to the hospital.

 

When he reached his grandmother’s room, he first noticed that the bed was empty.  There was an old woman sitting in a chair in the room.  Sib recognized her as Lef’s grandmother.

 

“Oh, hello, Sib,” she said.  Sib was surprised that she knew his name.

 

“Uh, hello, ma’am.”

 

“Maleficent has told me all about you, but then again, so has your grandmother”.  It took Sib a second to realize she was talking about Lef.  Maleficent was her full name, but she never used it.

 

“So she’s…” he asked hoping that the answer was anything other than what he feared.  

 

“She’s gone, Sib.  I’m so sorry.”

 

Sib didn’t know what he thought he would find here.  Lef’s grandmother moved her purse and patted the seat next to her.  Sib sat down and stared at the empty bed.  Without his grandmother’s eyes to warm it up, it felt as stark and cold as if the window had been thrown wide open to the late December air.

 

“It’s amazing what a person can convey through four responses,” she remarked. “For the past fourteen years, all she’s said to me was ‘yes’; ‘no’; ‘i don’t know’; and ‘i love you’ and yet my conversations with her were as deep as any we’ve ever had.” Sib just nodded.  The tears welled up in his eyes.  “Why did you come here today?” she asked kindly.

 

“I didn’t believe it,” he said.  “I thought it was a mistake.  We just saw her on Sunday and she was fine.”

 

“I understand.  Maleficent’s grandfather went the same way.  Fine one day and gone the next.”  

 

A cart rolled by and Sib turned his head to watch as a patient was wheeled down the hallway.  He willed away the tears and sniffled. “Lef said that my Gramma marched with you for civil rights.”

 

“Your grandmother fought for what she believed in - even when her life was threatened.  You should be proud of her.”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied.  I don’t want to be proud of her.  I want her here.  He stared at his shoes.  He thought of something and turned to her.  “Do you know anything about ghosts?”

 

“Enough to know that your grandmother isn’t one.  People who become ghosts leave unfinished business behind.  Your grandmother passed on her mission to others.”

 

And now I’m gonna fail her mission to me.

 

She stood up and put her hand on Sib’s shoulder.  “Don’t forget about your friends, Sib.  They can help you through.  Just like you helped Lef.”  She used her granddaughter’s nickname this time.

 

“Helped Lef?” questioned Sib.  He couldn’t recall what he had done for her.

 

“The Wendigo,” she said.  “You picked her up and carried her to safety.  Don’t you remember?”  Sib recalled the incident from the year before.  The four Pathfinders had been chased by something in the woods.  In a panic, they had separated and each sprinted back toward the school as quickly as they could.  Lef, clumsy as always, had twisted her ankle and had fallen on the ground.  Sib had quickly picked her up and ran with her on his shoulders to safety.

 

“That weren’t nothing,” he said.  “I would’a done that for anybody.”

 

“Thank you for being that person, and thank you for treating her like anybody.”  

 

Sib wasn’t sure he understood, but he just nodded his head. “You’re welcome ma’am.”

 

“Your grandmother was always so proud of you,” she said in parting.  “I know you won’t let her down.”  After she left, Sib just sat and stared at the empty bed. 

 

Time passed; it could have been minutes or hours.  He wiped his cheeks and found that he had been crying.  What am I waitin’ for?  She ain’t here...and she ain’t never gonna be.  I’m on my own.  He got up and went home, not looking back.

 

********

 

“I’m so sorry Turus,” Sib’s mom said to his dad.  Sib, Arc and their mom had left for Spellhold shortly after Sib returned and they now sat across from him in the visitation room.  

 

“I ain’t seen her in more than half a year,” Sib’s dad replied, his eyes puffy and red from crying.  “I’m so tired of bein’ behind these walls.  It just ain’t right.”

 

“You thought any more about leavin’?” Arc asked.  Sib knew he was referring to exile.

 

“Ain’t an offer no more,” he said.  “Got this from my lawyer this mornin’.”  He unfolded a piece of paper that he had taken from his pocket and pressed it against the invisible barrier like a note against a window.  Arc leaned over and read it out loud.  

 

“The offer of exile has been officially withdrawn.  A trial date has been set for March 4.”

 

“What’s that mean, pa?” Sib asked.

 

“I reckon they mean to make an example of me.”

 

“Oh dear lord,” his mom said.  “Turus!  What are we gonna do?”

 

“Ain’t much we can do,” he replied.  “Unless you got some magic up your sleeve that can get me out of here.”

 

“Even if we did, you’d be an outlaw, pa,” Arc said.

 

“Better than the alternative.”  He didn’t have to mention what the alternative was.

 

********

 

Sib was staring at the ceiling from his top bunk.  He knew it was past midnight.  This had to be the worst day of my life...and Christmas at that.  He heard the soft buzzing of the instant message book from his bag.  Somebody’s up late.  He knew what the message would be.  It’s either Willow or Lef buggin’ me on what happened today; askin’ me to send the code over that would answer all their questions.  Questions that ain’t never gonna be answered now.  Would Gramma still be proud of me if she knew that I’m a damn fool and can’t figure out what she was tellin’ me?  

 

Maybe I missed somethin’.  Maybe the answer is starin’ me in the face.  He reached into his bag, grabbed his amulet and found the small folded piece of paper that he had copied from Willow.  After casting lumos, he read the paper again.

 

‘GETPNSVE’ he read.  Get pan save? Getup n’ save? Get pins vee?  Nuthin’ makes sense.  He looked to the next.

 

‘FINDWNDGO’ Find wind go.  Fine down digo; Find wendigo.  He smiled ruefully.   Yeah, like gramma wanted us to find a monster in the woods.  He gave up and laid back on his pillow.

 

“Can’t sleep neither?” his brother asked from the lower bunk.

 

“Nope.  It’s been a crappy day.”

 

“At least you got to see her.  I ain’t even got a chance to say goodbye.” Sib didn’t realize his brother had cared that much.

 

“She loved you just the same”, Sib said.  It was true.  Despite Sib badmouthing his brother to his grandmother occasionally, she had always sent her love home to Arc.

 

“I was always a disappointment to her too.  The black sheep of the family.”

 

“That ain’t true, Arc.  You forgot about Uncle Andy.”  His brother snorted with a quick laugh.  Their Uncle Andy was a wreck and was constantly involved in some failed scheme or horrible idea.  They hadn’t seen him in years.

 

“I guess you’re right,” Arc replied.  “I ain’t that bad.”  As Sib rolled over and tried to clear his mind, it occurred to him that today was the first day that he and his brother had gotten along for as long as he could remember.

 

*******

 

His book had been buzzing pretty regularly during the days between his grandmother’s death and her funeral on New Year’s Eve.  Sib hadn’t looked at any of the messages, let alone respond to them.  He didn’t know what to say, so he hadn’t said anything.  On the day of the funeral, he dressed in the clothes that his mother had charmed black, ignored the toast that had been laid out on the table and jumped with his mom and brother to the church where his grandmother was going to be buried.

 

Sib had shuffled his feet over the frozen brown grass as he made his way from the church fireplace to the cemetery located just beyond, staring at the ground the whole time.  He stopped when his brother came to a halt ahead of him.  He looked up and his empty stomach turned over at the sense of deja vu that hit him.    The cold wind bit his face and made his eyes water.  “It’s okay, Sib,” his mom said, deep into her own fit of sadness.  She thought he was crying, but he felt nothing but anger.  This was his vision.

 

It was a pile of dirt.  A mound of freshly turned earth covered by just a wisp of snow.  He had been seeing it for months.  He now knew that on the other side, beyond his sight, was the six foot by three foot hole where they had laid his grandmother’s body.  He knew why he saw this in his vision.  This ain’t fair.  There’s no way I could’a figured out what this was.  How the heck was I supposed to interpret a pile of dirt?  

 

He wanted to curse the Orenda for sending him this vision. What a cheap trick to play at my expense. If only I had known, I could have done something.  Talked to her more.  I could have just…

 

“Sib,” a voice called from behind him.  He turned around and saw Willow standing there.  He didn’t know what to say to her, so he just shook his head.  “Oh, Sib, I’m so sorry,” she said and hugged him.  He caught a faint whiff of her flower perfume and a fresh wave of sadness overtook him as he thought of happier times.  “Are you going to be okay?” she asked as she let him go.  Again, he couldn’t talk, but nodded at her.  She left and he saw her go to stand next to her mother.  Next to them were Lef and her grandmother and two people who he assumed were Lef’s parents.  Next to them were Lily and Hye-lin.  Incheon was there as well, standing with his parents.  Of course.  Those messages weren’t his friends buggin’ him about the clues.  They were just tryin’ to offer condolences.  Now Sib was angry at himself for ignoring them.  

 

After the service, Sib was still staring at the mound of dirt, unable to forgive the Orenda.  He was interrupted by his friend.  “Can you come over for a while?” Incheon asked.  “My mom cooked up patjuk and yakgwa and we wanted to send some home with you.”  Sib nodded without turning around.  He had been talking up Mrs. Ryong’s honey cookies to his mom for a year now and had never gotten a chance to give her any. 

 

“What good are visions when you don’t know what they mean until after they happen?”  Still furious, Sib practically spit his question.  His eyes were still boring into the mound as if he could will it out of existence with thought alone.

 

“Did you see this?” Incheon asked. 

 

“It was just a pile of dirt, you know?  How was I supposed to know it was her grave?”

 

“I guess that’s why you’re going to Miss Pyx,” he responded.  “Isn’t she helping you figure them out?”

 

“I told her about this one months ago.  She swore it had some deeper meaning, like I was going to uncover some big secret.  What the hell does she know?  I ain’t goin’ back to her.”

 

“Come on, buddy.”  Incheon reached over and grabbed Sib’s elbow, lightly pulling him away from the grave. “I already told your mom you were coming over.”  Sib nodded, took one last look at the grave and turned away.  I’m done with Mysticism and the stinkin’ Orenda.

 

*******

 

Sib was staring into his patjuk.  He hadn’t eaten much, not because Mrs. Ryong’s dish of red beans and rice wasn’t good, but because everything seemed to taste like ashes.  He appreciated being here.  Incheon's older brother was out of the house and Mr. and Mrs. Ryong and Incheon were leaving him alone.  He wanted to be left alone and the fact that they were busy chatting away in korean made Sib feel better for not paying attention.  He was busy stewing on what he was going to do next.  He felt at a complete loss for what to do with his grandmother’s memories.  He was startled out of his self-pity by Mr. Ryong switching to english.

 

“Mabeobsa, you need to improve your korean,” he scolded Incheon.

 

“Sorry, dad, but I don’t understand.” 

 

“The source of magic. I think I’ve found it.”

 

“Oh,” Incheon responded.  “I guess I did understand.  What does that mean?”

 

“Our power,” his dad explained.  “We draw it from an external source, it’s not innate.”

 

“Okay, you lost me again.  Maybe in korean?”  Mr. Ryong shook his head and switched back, but it didn’t look like Incheon was getting any clarity about what his father was saying.  After a few more minutes, Mrs. Ryong came over and collected Sib’s half-eaten bowl of patjuk.  

 

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Ryong,” Sib said to her.  “I just don’t have an appetite.”  

 

She patted his shoulder. “It’s alright.  Would you like some yakgwa?”  

 

“Of course he would,” said Incheon, sitting down across from him.  “Thanks mom.”  His mom frowned for a moment, but then headed to the kitchen.

 

“What was that all about?” Sib asked him, nodding toward where Incheon had been having the conversation with his dad.  

 

Incheon checked to make sure his parents couldn’t hear him before responding.  “My dad is convinced he’s solved the mysteries of the universe.  He’s always working on some theoretical something-or-other and this is his latest.”

 

“He seemed pretty excited about it.”

 

“Sure, but my dad gets excited over silly things.”  His eyes lit up as his mom came back into the dining room.  “Oooh!  Yakgwa.”

 

“These are not for you,” warned his mother and set the plate in front of Sib before she walked away.  Sib stared down at the honey cookies.

 

“What do you think we should do?” Sib asked him.

 

“I think we should eat them.”

 

“No, I mean about the memories,” Sib responded, looking up at his grinning friend.  “What do we do with them?  Gramma wanted to keep them away from the MACUSA guard.  I think we should be careful about who we tell.”

 

“So what about going to someone who doesn’t care about MACUSA?  Are you going to eat those?”

 

“Like who?”

 

“How about Miss Mercana?  Are you going to eat those?”

 

Sib looked back down at the plate of honey cookies.  As good as they were, he just couldn’t bring himself to try them.  He pushed the plate across to Incheon, who dug in immediately.  “She told us not to contact her and I don’t want to be the one who gets her caught.  Anybody else?”

 

“Zowock?,” said Incheon through a full mouth.  Bits of honey cookie sprayed on the table.  “Sowwy,” Incheon apologized, spraying a new batch of crumbs.

 

Sib thought of the ghost.  Mr. Zolock had helped them immensely last year before he died from a heart attack on the last day of school.  Now that he was no longer alive, he really didn’t have anything to fear from anyone - especially MACUSA.  He nodded at Incheon.  “Let’s go see him when we get back.”

 

Mrs. Ryong came back into the dining room and handed Sib a package with extra patjuk and yakgwa to take home, scolding Incheon again for eating Sib’s portion.  She was still at him in korean when Sib stepped into the fireplace and emerged at his home.  He put the food in the icebox, said goodnight to his mom and headed off to bed without another word.

 

*******

 

A week later he returned to school, no happier but with another idea on where to go for help with his grandmother’s memories.  He got there early before any of the other students had arrived.  He didn’t pause in the lounge, but went straight through to the door on the far side that led to the wooded path and the circle of stones.  

 

“Orenda,” he called out when he got there.  “I need a vision from my grandmother.  I need to find out what she wanted me to do with the memories.”  He waited, but there was nothing to suggest that he had been heard.

 

“Orenda!” he yelled.  “I need a vision from someone who’s gone.  Just let me see her again!”  Again, the only sounds were the distant roar of the river rapids and the slight fluttering of the remaining oak leaves in the mostly barren branches overhead.

 

“Why won’t you answer me?” he called.

 

A sudden voice startled him.  “They do not work that way.” Sib spun around to see the ghostly form of the Hunter standing near him.  “You must listen to the Orenda, not the other way around.”  That made Sib angry again.

 

“Why did they choose a vision that I couldn’t figure out?” he asked the ghost.  “Why would they do that to me?” 

 

“You must see what the Orenda choose to show.  You must learn what the Orenda choose to teach.  That is the way.”

 

“Then to hell with the way!” he shouted as he ran and jumped in the center of the pool, spattering and kicking the strangely warm contents out onto the frozen ground.  He kept jumping and splashing until the pool was empty and his shoes were covered with the soft brown mud at the bottom of the pool.  He ran over and kicked a glancing blow at one of the stones and collapsed on the ground.  His feet were numb from the cold and his pant legs were soaked to the knees.  He lay on the ground, panting and cursing the Orenda.  “What the hell good are you anyway?”

 

As he lay on the ground, he noticed that the slight breeze had stopped and the sun emerged from behind a cloud, cutting through the mist and warming him.   It felt good on his dark jeans as the water started to freeze on his pant legs.  But he didn’t want to feel good.  If this was a gift, he didn’t want to accept it.  He didn’t want to be happy.  

 

He got up and slowly walked back to the Pathfinder lounge, not saying another word to the Hunter or the Orenda.  I’m done with both of you.  The others were gone by the time he got back and he knew he’d be late to his first class.  And I don’t care anymore.



Chapter 13: Get Pinsave
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Sib’s darkness deepened over the next several weeks.  He wasn’t paying attention in class and he didn’t care.  He wasn’t doing his homework and he didn’t care.  The five of them had even failed to find an opportunity to talk to Mr. Zolock since Miss Knox seemed to be hovering every time they wanted to try to have a conversation and Sib still didn’t care.  He had been avoiding Miss Pyx, but she finally managed to pull him aside several weeks into the new year.

 

“You haven’t been coming to see me,” she said after the other students had left the classroom.  “Is it because of your grandmother?”  Sib nodded.  He still felt angry with her.  She was supposed to tell him what the visions meant and she had failed him.  “She was a gifted Mystic, Sib.  She would want you to follow in her footsteps.”

 

“It ain’t that,” he said, feeling his emotions surging like bile in his throat.

 

“What is it then?”

 

Sib tried to hold back the anger and tears.  “It was just a pile of dirt,” he said through clenched teeth.

 

“Oh, god.  It was her grave.”  Sib didn’t acknowledge her and stormed out without looking back, stewing in his discontent as he wandered the hallways.

 

“Are you at least going to take the fart machine out of your pocket?” Lily asked him, startling him out of his self-pity.

 

“What?” He looked up and found that he was in the Pathfinder lounge.  Lily and Lef were standing nearby.  I don’t even remember getting here.

 

“You’ve been making fart noises all day and I’m pretty sure it’s from Incheon’s stupid toy,” she said.  Sib reached in his pocket and pulled out the small device which let out a loud ‘toot’ as if to say hello.  He had no idea that Incheon had put it in there.  He knew that it was meant to cheer him up, but he just set it down without smiling.

 

“Yeah, I reckon so,” he responded and then stopped.  “Lily, why are you puttin’ your stuff in that locker?”

 

“Because it’s my locker,” she said and then she stepped aside so that Sib could see the name on the top: ‘Lily Smith’.

 

“You got a locker in our lounge too?  How’d you manage to swing that?”

 

“Sib,” she said.  “I’m in Pathfinder now.  Haven’t you wondered why I’ve been in all of your classes for the last two weeks?”  He hadn’t wondered.  In fact, he didn’t even realize until now that she had been in all of his classes.  

 

“What?” he asked.  “You can switch houses?” 

 

“Not really.  See, I’ve always been in Pathfinder.” Sib was baffled; she had never been in Pathfinder.

 

“But you’re in Featherpenny,” he said, totally confused.

 

“Well, I was supposed to be in Pathfinder, but I only stayed in Featherpenny because they had a Quidditch team.  Well, that and the fact that my family has all been Featherpennies back to the Librarian.”  Sib remembered that Lily’s great-great grandmother was the Featherpenny house ghost - known to the students as The Librarian.  “Then, they threw me off of the school Quidditch team in favor of the Hammersmith seeker, even though I trounced him one-on-one.  It was the last straw.”  

 

Willow, who had just stepped through the portal, joined them.  “Willow,” said Sib.  “Lily’s in Pathfinder.” 

 

“Sure she is, but I actually knew that since before finals last year.  Didn’t you ever wonder why we had a fifth locker with no name on it?”

 

He hadn’t.  “And you never told me?” he asked her.

 

“It wasn’t for me to tell.”

 

Incheon stepped into the lounge and Sib pointed him toward Lily.  “Incheon, Lily’s in Pathfinder now.” 

 

“Uh huh.  She’s always been in Pathfinder.”

 

“What do you mean always?”

 

“She was sorted here by the hat.”

 

“No she wasn’t, she went to Featherpenny.”

 

“Actually, Amrose called out ‘Pathfinder’ and then the Chancellor cut him off and sent her to Featherpenny.”

 

“You mean you’ve known for a year and a half?  Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

“You didn’t ask.”

 

“You mean, why didn’t I ask you if Lily was really in Pathfinder even though she and everyone else always acted like she was in Featherpenny?”

 

“Yes, that’s exactly what you didn’t ask.”

 

“What else ain’t you tellin’ me?”

 

“Lots.”

 

“Am I the only one that don’t know?”  He glared around at the four of them.  

 

“Sib,” explained Lef.  “She’s been in the lounge every morning and every afternoon for the last two weeks and in every one of our classes.  Where have you been?”

 

“I...uh…”  Sib felt embarrassed.  He hadn’t been paying the simplest attention to anything around him.  “I don’t know,” he finally said.  He felt like crawling in a hole or being swallowed up like Lily was in his vision.

 

Lily!  The realization hit him like a bludger to the face.  The vision didn’t make sense before ‘cause Lily couldn’t come into the grove.  Now she’s in Pathfinder, she can come to the pool anytime she wants.  

 

“Don’t go near the pool,” he said to Lily. 

 

“What?” 

 

“The pool, in the middle of the stones.  Don’t go near it.” 

 

“I’ve already been there,” she said.  “There’s no water.”

 

Willow explained.  “We haven’t been able to change her wand into an amulet because the pool is empty.  It’s just a frozen patch of mud.  When we cast ‘aguamenti’ to try to fill it the water just drains into the ground. Why shouldn’t she go near it?”

 

Sib recounted his vision to them, trying to recall exactly what happened.  “... and then she leaned down to look inside and as soon as her face touched the surface, she got sucked in.”

“What do you mean ‘sucked in’?” Willow asked.  “The water is only six inches deep.”

 

“I know, but she went in; head over heels.  I chased after her, but as soon as my hand hit the water, my vision ended.”

 

“Was it the same pool?”

 

“Yes!  I’m tellin’ you, it was the pool in the circle of stones.”

 

“Well there’s no water in the pool now,” Lef said.  “Are you sure that the vision is literal?  Could it be like the neon leaves or something?”

 

“I don’t know...maybe, but all of my visions so far have happened just like I remember them.”

 

“Do you think something happened to drain the pool?” Lily asked.  “What if it never fills back up?”

 

“It has to,” said Sib, not wanting to tell them about his temper tantrum.  “I’m sure it’ll fill back up in spring.  Which reminds me.  That vision don’t come true until the beginning of March.  I saw the liverwort bloomin’.”

 

“Well, at least that gives us some time to figure out the vision,” Willow said.  “Make sure you bring it up with Miss Pyx when you talk to her next.”  Sib didn’t have the nerve to tell her that he was done with Mysticism and done with Miss Pyx.

 

*******

 

A week later and with Lily’s help, they finally figured out how to get Mr. Zolock alone.  She told Incheon to ask Miss Knox to help him with his illusion charms and while they were busy on one side of the room, the others approached the ghost.  “Mr. Zolock,” Sib asked him. “When people give each other memories, what are you supposed to do with ‘em?”

 

“People don’t give each other memories,” he responded.  “Memories are very personal things.  It would be like someone giving someone else their diary to read.”

 

“But if I wanted to show someone else a memory I had, how would I do that?”

 

“Well, you could use a penseive.”  There was a collective ‘a-ha’ from the group.  “But it would be much easier just to explain it to them.”

 

“What, exactly, is a penseive?” asked Lily.  

 

“Well, it’s a small basin, about the size of a birdbath, that helps some people sort through their jumbled thoughts. I never had a use for one, myself.”

 

“Where could I borrow one?” asked Sib.

 

The ghost looked affronted.  “Well, they are rather personal.  You wouldn’t go borrowing someone else’s underwear drawer, would you?”  Sib didn’t know what to say.  He and his brother shared an underwear drawer.

 

“So where could you get a penseive of your own?” Lef asked him.  

 

“Why, I’m sure they would carry something like that at Clair Voyance.”  Sib looked at the others and they were as confused as he was.  Seeing this, Mr. Zolock continued.  “A store in Narrowway called Clair Voyance.  I used to be quite fond of Mrs. Clair.  That is, when she was still Miss Armstrong.”  Sib thought he was blushing, but didn’t realize a ghost could do that.  They thanked him and left for their next class, Incheon catching up with them as they hurried out.

 

“Get Penseive,” said Willow as they walked, explaining what they now knew to Incheon.  “I figure we’ll go to the store and just test it out like we would with a new broom.  Next we just need to figure out what ‘find wand go’ means.  Do you think seeing the visions will help?”

 

“I hope so,” replied Sib.  “‘Cause I ain’t got any other ideas.”  He stared down at his feet.  We may have figured out one of the clues, but I still feel like I’m failin’ you Gramma.

 

*******

 

Sib had forgotten all about the Hammersmiths, but now he realized that they had not forgotten about him and Incheon.  The two of them were currently dangling upside down with their pants around their ankles baring their legs and underwear for all to see.  A seventh-year Hammersmith was sitting on a nearby easy chair, holding them both up in the air with his wand.

 

“Hey, Sib,” said Incheon.  “I’m going to tell on this bully.  After all, snitches get 150 points.”  He paused.  “Hey, why aren’t you laughing?”

 

“I’ve heard that one before,” said Sib tugging his shirt down as far as it would go.  This was the last of the four visions from the summer.  Why did the Orenda want me to remember this moment?  

 

“Jeez, I thought I just came up with it.  Oh, hey Quinta,” said Incheon as she walked by.  “Good thing I changed my underwear this week, huh?”


“Why don’t you morons fight back?” she asked.

 

“Uh…’cause we’re kinda outclassed here,” said Sib.  “Why, do you know somethin’ we don’t?”

 

“What are you looking at noobie?” The Hammersmith boy said to Quinta as he slowly spun Sib and Incheon in the air with his wand.  “Why don’t you mind your own business.”

 

“Why don’t you cram it, jackwagon.”

 

“Listen you little turd…” Quinta raised her hand and pointed at him.

 

‘BANG!’  The Hammersmith boy was blasted out of his seat and the cushion and chair flew in opposite directions.  

 

Sib and Incheon dropped to the ground as the spell holding them was released.  Sib landed on the cushion that had ended up just beneath him.  Incheon landed with a thud.  “Ow,” he muttered as they both sat up.  They stared at Quinta, then at the senseless shape of the Hammersmith boy who had been blown across the room and lay crumpled up against the wall, and then back at Quinta.

 

“Holy…” said Sib.

 

“Did you kill him?” asked Incheon.

 

“No, he’s just stunned.  He can still hear everything I’m saying.” She walked over to the Hammersmith boy lying in a heap and leaned down to him, speaking softly.  “You be disrespectful to me,” she told the boy.  “Then I’ll be disrespectful to you.  So watch what you say or I’ll knock your ass six ways from Sunday.”

 

“What are the six ways from Sunday?” Inchon whispered to Sib.

 

“Shut up.  I don’t wanna know.”

 

“You didn’t even take out your wand,” said Incheon to Quinta as she walked back toward them.

 

“Dumbasses, didn’t you know you don’t need to?  As long as your amulet is touching your skin, you can just cast magic with your hands.”  Sib and Incheon looked at each other in amazement. “Mouthbreathers, ” she muttered as she walked away.

 

“Did you know?” Incheon asked Sib when Quinta was out of sight. 

 

“Heck no, but give it a shot.”

 

Incheon took his amulet and stuffed it inside his shirt so it rested against his chest.  He held out his hand with the palm up and cast a spell.  “Lumos!”  A dim glowing point of light appeared in his hand.

 

“Holy…” said Sib.

 

“Not as powerful as with the amulet,” said Incheon.  “But I wonder if it gets better with practice.”

 

“Think we should ask Quinta?”

 

“Heck no,” he replied.  “After seeing what happens to jackwagons, I don’t even want to know the first way from Sunday.”  Sib laughed.  It was the first time he felt happy since Christmas morning and he understood why the Orenda picked this moment.  For no reason at all, and for the first time in a long time, he had hope.  Maybe my visions are worth havin’.  Maybe they are gonna help me figure things out.  

 

*******

 

Several of them had agreed to meet in Narrowway that following Saturday afternoon.  Sib had suggested they meet at Quod (De)Pot, not because he knew where Clair Voyance was, but because he wanted to see the Firebird again.  When he arrived, he was surprised to see the blue-haired lady removing the broom from the window.  Since the others hadn’t arrived yet, he went inside.

 

“Pardon me ma’am,” he asked.  “What are you changin’ the display to?”

 

“We just received a brand new Yggdrasil model and we wanted to show it off,” she told him.  She held up the false Firebird.  “This was just for show anyway,” she dropped it onto a pile of trash next to the window display.  Sib looked at it longingly.  Why do you want a broom that don’t even work?  ...I suppose it’s like the ring - so you can say you own somethin’ nice for a change.

 

“Ma’am,” he started.  “If you ain’t usin’ it...do you think I could, um… have the broom?”  She looked at him and he could tell she was thinking about it.

 

“Typically, we keep all our old displays just in case we want to recycle them later.”  She paused for a moment.  She looked around and then lowered her voice.  “But since we aren’t ever going to sell a Firebird, I don’t see the harm in letting it go. Tell you what - come by at closing time after my boss leaves and it’ll be waiting for you out back by the trash disapparator.” 

 

“Thank you ma’am! Thank you very much!” He couldn’t wait to tell the others.  He looked outside and saw Lef and Willow waiting and hurried out to meet them.  He told them that he was going to stick around after closing time to get the Firebird.

 

“My dad has one of those,” Lef said matter-of-factly. 

 

“You mean he has a model of a Firebird?” asked Sib.

 

“No, it’s a real one.  He keeps it sealed in a case and every once in a while he polishes the glass with a diaper.”

 

“So he’s never flown on it?”

 

“Oh no.  He doesn’t even know how to fly a broom.”

 

“So why does he keep it?”  Sib was incredulous.  “He could sell it for a million dragots.”

 

“We already have millions of dragots...we don’t need any more.”

 

Millions?...must be nice, thought Sib as Incheon joined them.  I’d be okay with ‘tens’.

 

*******

 

“Well, I’d classify that as an ‘epic fail’,” Incheon said as they sat on a bench in the middle of Narrowway, the sky fading into the soft light of dusk.  Not only didn’t they find a Penseive, but the owner of Clair Voyance, Mr. Clair, had thrown them out and told them to not come back.  Incheon shook his head at Willow.  “You had to bring up Mr. Zolock, didn’t you?”

 

“How was I supposed to know that he had been trying to steal Mr. Clair’s wife away for the last forty years?” Willow said, exasperated.  “The way Mr. Zolock said it, it sounded like it was long ago.”

 

“Why did MACUSA come and take all of his penseives?” Lef asked, changing the subject.  “Do you think they know we’re looking for one?”

 

“Well if they didn’t before, they probably will soon,” Sib said.  “We ain’t been coverin’ our tracks that well.”

 

“So what do we do now?” asked Lef.  Nobody answered.  Sib just shook his head.  Ain’t much we can do without a penseive.

 

The street was rapidly clearing as the last few shop owners and last-minute shoppers left for the day.  Willow and Lef left soon after as the last light of the sunset disappeared from the rooftops.  Sib and Incheon started walking back toward Quod (De)Pot to pick up the Firebird.  Without getting to use the penseive, he found he was less excited about the broom than before.

 

"Did you know that Lef had more money than Gringotts?" he asked Incheon as they were walking.

 

"I guess," he responded.  "Her mom owns MOTHR and they get all of the government contracts."  Sib knew that Incheon's dad worked for the Magical Organization for Theoretical Research and Incheon pronounced the acronym as 'mother' but he never realized that Lef's mom owned it.

 

"Must be nice to own a million-dragot broom that nobody can use."

 

"I got no complaints with Mrs. Murgatroyd," Incheon said.  "She sponsored my parents coming to the U.S.  If not for her, I'd be in Korea now."  Sib thought about that in silence as they made their way to Quod (De)Pot.

  

When they reached the store, everything around them was closed and dark had fully set in.  The street lights lit up Narrowway, but the alley next to the store was as black as pitch.  They edged their way to the back of the store and they could see a flickering light like the reflection of a campfire off of the walls bordering the alley.  When Sib turned the corner, he saw the source of the light was the broom.  He picked it up from where it was propped against the trash disapparator and held it in his hands.

 

“Looks real enough,” Incheon said.  “Maybe you could get Mr. Hendershot to charm it to fly.”

 

“I guess,” Sib said.  “But it probably wouldn’t be enough to use it in a game.” He sighed and slid the broom into his bag tail-first.  As he closed his bag, the light left the alley and they were plunged back into darkness.    

 

Sib stood up and was ready to go when he heard a faint ‘pop’.  Incheon had turned to look and was staring down the alleyway.   “What are you looking at?” Sib asked him.

 

“That dog,” Incheon whispered, pointing.  “It’s just staring at the back door of the wand store.”

Sib looked around the corner of the trash disapparator.  “That ain’t a dog, it’s a fox.” Sib whispered back.  “What’s it doin’?”

 

“What the...what is that thing?” Incheon hissed as the fox disappeared and a small flaming lizard appeared where it had been.

 

“A salamander,” answered Sib.  The salamander crawled up the side of the brick wall and stopped on the glass window and perched there, its flame glowing white-hot.  Soon the glass started to glow and melt around it.

 

“Should we call someone?” asked Incheon.

 

“How?” asked Sib.  “Unless you have the police in your pocket.”  They remained crouched behind the trash disapparator and continued to stare.  The glass had completely melted from one of the panes and the salamander dropped onto the ground and disappeared.  It took a few seconds for Sib’s eyes to adjust to the darkness.

 

“Can you see anythin’?” he asked Incheon.

 

“It’s… a black rope?” 

 

“Wait.  That ain’t no rope.  That’s a snake.  Look, it’s movin’.”  The snake, easily eight feet in length, slithered up the door and through the melted windowpane.  Sib turned to Incheon as it disappeared through the door.

 

“What is that thing?” 

 

“I don’t know, but I have a burning desire to not find out.  Can we leave now?”

 

“Didn’t Mr. Puterschmidt say somethin’ about animagi in Alteration class?” Sib asked, ignoring Incheon’s nervous shifting from foot to foot.

 

“An animagus is a mage who can transform him or herself into an animal at will,” Incheon recited, “so no.”

 

“What do you mean - no?”

 

“An animal.  Not multiple animals.  That’s no mage.  Can we go now?”

 

“Hear that?” Sib said.  “I think it’s comin’ back out.”  Incheon whimpered a little and huddled down, trying to make himself as small as possible.  As Sib watched, the snake slithered back out of the window, carrying several bundles of small sticks wrapped inside its curled-up tail.  Not sticks.  Wands.

 

As he watched, it transformed into a larger serpent with folded wings. He recognized the creature from COMC classes before they had been killed by the MACUSA people.  “It’s a wyvern now,” he whispered.  It resembled a dragon, but was only about six feet tall.  It stood up on its two hind legs, the bundles of wands held in each talon. It stretched out its wings, pumping the air and whipping up small tornadoes of paper and dirt as it lifted off of the ground.   “It’s comin’ this way,” hissed Sib, pulling himself behind the trash disapparator.  “Hide!”

 

“What do you think I’ve been doing,” Incheon hissed back.  “Churning butter?”  The flapping became louder as it drew close to them.  Sib could hear its talons click on the alley pavement as it touched down.  Its long serpentine neck snaked around the side of the trash disapparator and it stared right into Sib’s face.  Its glowing grey eyes bore into Sib’s own and it bared its fangs and hissed, preparing to strike.  Sib was frozen in fear.

 

They heard a series of faint popping sounds around them and the wyvern broke off from Sib.  With one motion it flew straight up into the air, disappearing into the darkness overhead.

 

“Petrificus Totalus!” A voice called near him and in an instant Sib was frozen solid.  Shapes appeared in the darkness around them wearing the uniform of MACUSA officers.  One of them fired off a ‘lumos solem’ spell that lit up the alleyway like it was daytime.  Sib’s field of vision was limited since he had been staring up into the air when he had been hit with the body bind spell.  But he could see several MACUSA officers spreading out and searching the alley.

 

“It’s a couple of kids,” the officer in front of them called to the others.  “Whaddaya got?” 

 

“Break-in at Chantrix’s,” another called.  “Looks like they went through the window with incendio.”

 

“Hm,” the officer in front of them responded.  “Clara, hand me their bags.”  Sib saw him point toward where his and Inchon’s bags were lying.

 

Sib heard a woman’s voice out of his sight.  “They don’t look old enough to use incendio, Chief,” 

 

“We’ll see.”  Sib saw him digging through Incheon’s bag through his peripheral vision.  “Jeez, kid,” he said after pulling out about two dozen Three Dubs boxes.  “Did you buy one of everything from Weasley’s?”  Sib would have smiled if he could move a muscle. 

 

“Find anything Chief?” the lady’s voice asked.

 

“No wands,” he responded.  “Gimme the other one.”  He was standing in front of Sib as he searched through his bag.  He started pulling out everything Sib owned in the world.  The flaming broom went into a pile with his school books, potion kit, instant messaging book, pocketknife, and assorted twine, rope, and debris that he had collected over the years.  Even the carved manticore that he had made for Willow and hadn't given to her yet went with the others.  “Not sure you should be carrying this around,” the mage said as he held Sib’s grandfather’s whittling knife in the air in front of his eyes.  It too went into the pile.  Sib wanted to explain, but he couldn’t even grunt.  “Oh, disgusting,” he remarked as he lifted a desiccated frog carcass from the bottom of the bag.  “Pet frog?” he asked, not expecting a response.

 

“Well?” his colleague asked.

 

“Nothing,” the officer said, dropping the frog carcass on the ground.  “You take that one for questioning.  I’ll see what frog boy says.  Finite incatatem,” he said as he pointed his wand at the two of them and Sib felt the spell release its hold on him.  The female officer led Incheon away for questioning.  The one in front of Sib opened a notebook and pulled out a quill.  “Alright kid.  Spill it.”

 

Sib told him everything about their trip to Narrowway - but left out the visit to Clair Voyance.  He had just gotten to the point where the fox was staring at the back window when the officer interrupted him.

 

“So it was a fox animagus?”

 

“Yeah, I guess, except then it turned into a salamander.  That’s how it burned through the window.  Then it changed to a snake and slithered through the opening and then when it came out it turned into a wyvern.  It flew off right before you hit us with that spell.”  Sib was pointing up in the air where the wyvern had flown, but the officer just stared at him and put his notebook away.

 

“The Wendigo stole them,” he said to Sib.

 

“What?”

 

“Your description.  You’re telling me a shapeshifting fairy tale creature appeared in the middle of Narrowway, used its fire powers to melt the back window, turned into a giant snake and stole the wands from the store and then disappeared into the sky on dragon wings?”


“Well...yeah.”

 

He shook his head slowly.  “First a freakin’ manticore loose on Gamp Island and now this.”  He pointed an accusing finger at Sib.  “Look, if you didn’t see anything, then just say so, but don’t waste my time.”  Before Sib could respond, he walked away to talk with the officer who was standing next to Incheon.  

 

Sib was still putting his things back in his bag when Incheon came over and picked up the frog carcass.  “Oh my god, you didn’t get rid of that?”

“It stopped stinkin’ and I guess I just forgot.” 

 

“Dude…”  Incheon just shook his head and started putting his own things back in his bag.  “They said we could go.  Or did you want to stick around until your friend the manticore comes to give you some hugs and kisses?”

 

“Did you see its eyes?” Sib asked him as Incheon finished packing his bag.

 

“No.  I try not to gaze lovingly into the eyes of manticores.  Bad for my self-esteem.”  They started walking toward the Narrowway exit.

 

“Not the manticore - the wyvern.  I seen those glowing grey eyes before.”

 

“You need to spend less time gazing into the eyes of monsters.”

 

“Last year,” Sib said, ignoring him.  “When we was chased through the woods.  It was the Wendigo.”

 



Chapter 14: Do Moths Sense Fear
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The room was filled with flashing light and a few seconds later, the rumble of thunder carried across the grounds of Gampton Hall.  Sib and Incheon had been called into Mrs. Black’s office and she had been talking to them about Quinta being transitioned into second year.  

 

“Mr. Hooplander, pay attention,” she said. The bizarre February thunderstorm kept pulling Sib’s focus, but he turned back to hear what she was saying.  “I’m going to solve two problems at once,” she continued.  “You both will walk with Miss Rodriguez to and from every class.  If she goes to eat, you go to eat.  If she goes to the bathroom, you wait outside.  Is that clear?”

 

“Yes ma’am,” said Sib.  “But she don’t need an escort.”

 

“I didn’t say she did.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“Wait,” said Incheon.  “If she doesn’t need an escort then why are we escorting her?”

 

“She ain’t the one bein’ escorted,” Sib explained.  

 

“So we have a bodyguard now? Awesome.”

 

“I’m sure Miss Rodriguez will feel differently,” Mrs. Black said.  “But this is for her benefit too.  You may go.”  

 

When they reached the Pathfinder lounge at the end of the day, they noticed that a sixth locker had appeared on the second-year side with Quinta’s name on it.  They found her in the back corner of the first year side with her head buried in a book.  They told her the news. “So now I have to babysit you two?” she grumbled.  “Great.  I’m just trading one pair of idiots for another.  Is this because I gave Mr. Woodhead a little extra body hair?”

 

“That was you?” Incheon asked.  Mr. Woodhead had been covered in so much body hair in the previous day’s COMC class that he looked like a werewolf.  It had apparently taken Mr. Hendershot hours to undo the charm.

 

“It was freezing and he said he wished he had a coat like a puffskein.  So what if I gave him one?” 

 

“Is that why they skipped you a grade?” Sib asked.

 

“Who cares,” she responded.  “You saw what I can do.  Nobody here can teach me anything that I can’t learn on my own.”

 

“So why are you here?”

 

“Because my grandfather says I need to be around people my age.  He says that I’m socially backward.”

 

“No,” said Incheon, his voice dripping with sarcasm.  

 

“You suck,” she responded.

 

“You’re just excited because now you have an entourage.”  She waved them away and they wandered back to the second-year side.  Hye-lin was sitting on one of their couches.

 

“Are you upset that it’s just you and the dimwits in first year now?” Sib asked her.

 

“No.  I don’t mind.  Lily is my best friend and now that she’s in Pathfinder, I really don’t care that I’m in a different year.  Besides, with Quinta in second-year, I’m now one person smarter in my class and you two are one person dumber.”  She turned to Incheon. “Although in your case, I don’t think that’s possible.”

 

“Yaghonja,” responded Incheon.

 

“Babo,” Hye-lin shot back.

 

Sib jumped in to cut them off.  “Speaking of babos, where is Lily?”

 

“Do you even know what that word means?” Hye-lin asked.

 

“No idea, but…”  His sentence was interrupted by Lily bursting through the door to the grove and slamming it like something was chasing her.  Sib grabbed at his amulet and got ready to cast a spell at whatever was bearing down on them.  

 

“Is it gone?” Lily said, curled up in a ball on the other side of the door.

 

“Is what gone?” Sib asked, quickly moving to her side.

 

“It flew right at me,” she said from the floor, practically in tears.  “I couldn’t get away.  It was horrible.” Sib looked through the window, but all he saw was Lef walking calmly back toward the lounge.  He opened the door and looked outside.  As soon as the door opened, Lily bolted for the center of the lounge. It was unseasonably warm and the ground was saturated with melted snow and ice. 

 

Sib called out to Lef as she approached.  “Something was chasing Lily,” he said.  “Did you see it?”   

 

Lef just shook her head as she reached the door and leaned around Sib looking toward where Lily was cowering.  “It was a moth!” 

 

“I know,” Lily responded in a muffled voice.  She was hidden behind one of the sofas.  “Do moths sense fear?”

 

“Yes,” responded Incheon, still standing where he had been.  “Moths definitely sense fear.”

 

“You shut up,” Hye-lin said to him, moving to Lily’s side.  “She’s not harassing you about your ridiculous fear of cucumbers.”

 

“But they’re all bumpy,” said Incheon shivering and sticking out his tongue.

 

Sib turned away from them and addressed Lef.  “What were you doin’ out there anyway?”

 

“We were checking out the pool in the grove.  You said it would probably fill back up when the snow melted.”

“And?”

 

“Still mud,” she replied.  “What do you think it means?” 

 

“Dunno,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.  “It can’t stay empty forever, can it?”  He held the door open for Lef and followed her back inside.  Can it?

 

********

 

“Mr. Zolock,” Sib asked near the end of their History of Magic Class the following day.  “What do you know about the Wendigo?”

 

“Nothing,” he responded.  Sib sighed in disappointment.  “But I do know the story,” the ghost continued.  He glanced at the clock on the wall.  “We have some time” and turning to Miss Knox, he got her attention.  “Anna, would you indulge me?”  She nodded and the room was suddenly plunged into darkness.  The pale glowing form of Mr. Zolock was the only light.  With a reverberating voice that echoed throughout the room, the ghost began.

 

“Forty years after the founding of the school, and a generation before the United States came to exist, a great mage came to Gampton Hall demonstrating incredible powers - powers unmatched by anyone before or since.  This mage went by no name, but all called her 'The Dark One' because she wore a black hooded cloak at all times and never revealed her face.”  

 

Out of the darkness, the image of a mage in a long black robe stepped forward, she carried a blood-colored staff carved with human skulls. 

 

“She came to Gampton Hall seeking to teach black magic: the darkest, most foul magic that could be imagined.  Some, like Damien Bones, were drawn to that power like a moth to flame.”  

 

Another figure appeared on the other side of Mr. Zolock.  Sib recognized him from the previous year.  Damien Bones had been the Murgatroyd house ghost.  

 

“He advocated for its inclusion in the school, but he was overruled by the Chancellor and other teachers at the school who demanded that the dark arts have no place at Gampton Hall.  Outraged by their rejection, the Dark One challenged the Chancellor to a duel, no doubt to demonstrate the great power she wielded and, as many believe, to usurp the Chancellor entirely.”  

 

The mage in the black robes flourished her staff and pointed it at Mr. Zolock.  

 

“Knowing the likely outcome should he duel the Dark One on her terms, the Chancellor asked for time to prepare.  The Dark One retreated to the surrounding woods preparing the curses and black magic that she would use to defeat him.  But, instead of preparing, the Chancellor and several of the other teachers used the time to cast a powerful protective spell around Gampton Hall and the grounds forbidding her entrance.”  

 

Both Damien Bones and the robed figure faded away and Gampton Hall appeared in the center of the room, a half-dome of glowing yellow protective magic draped over it. 

 

“The Dark One, returning at the appointed time but unable to penetrate this protective spell, lurked on the outskirts of the school grounds, cursing the mages who remained out of her reach for their trickery.”  

 

Lines of sparks, flames, and explosions burst on the surface of the protective barrier, but it held through the illusory assault.

 

“She remained for months outside of the grounds, constantly looking for a weakness in the protection, but the teachers of Gampton Hall were ever vigilant and the protective spells never waivered or failed.  Outwitted, and yearning to continue her black magic studies elsewhere, The Dark One gave up on her vigil, but before she left, she cleared a patch of ground just outside of the boundary of Gampton Hall and began to perform a summoning ceremony, calling creatures of evil and cruelty to her.”  

 

The school faded away and the robed mage appeared again, swinging her staff of death in a wide circle on the floor, burning the green grass to black.

 

“Manticores, harpies, wyverns, giant bats, imps and devils all began to appear in a circle, all willing to do her bidding.  Using the blackest of magic and the darkest and deepest evil incantations, she pulled these creatures together, molding and forming them into a beast of no form and all forms; a beast that combined the lethal attacks of every dark creature: razor sharp talons, fang-like teeth, venomous stingers, and breath of fire.”  

 

Images of these creatures faded in and out of sight, until an amorphous mass of stingers, pincers and claws formed, blurred and formed again.

 

“This creature was then released into the woods surrounding the school.  The Dark One then called to those at Gampton Hall and her voice was magnified and carried over all the grounds.  ‘Mages of Gampton Hall,’ she wailed.  ‘You claim to be true at heart, but your trickery is worthy even of my praise.  I shall leave and never return as you wish.  However, I shall leave you with a gift.  Gampton Hall shall be plagued by a beast and any that wander outside of the grounds of the school will be subject to its whim.  This beast will never die: you cannot catch it; you cannot drive it away; and you cannot defeat it.  Beware the Wendigo.’  

 

The mage and the shapeless form of the Wendigo faded away until all that was visible was the faint outline of the ghost.

 

“The Dark One disappeared after that and she was never seen again, but the burnt-black circle of ground remains...as does the Wendigo.”  As he finished Miss Knox brought the lights up, and Sib and the rest of the students applauded raucously.

 

“So there really is a Wendigo?” Willow asked when they had settled down.

 

“Of course not,” he replied.  “It’s just a story.  There’s absolutely no evidence of any of it in the written record.” 

 

How about the creature that broke into Miss Chantrix’s store?  What was that if not the Wendigo?  “Except the Wendigo Circle,” Sib responded.  “We seen that.” 

 

“Which you wouldn’t know about if you stayed out of the North woods,” Miss Knox scolded.  

 

Dang...busted.

 

“It’s alright Anna,” soothed the ghost.  “Yes, the Wendigo circle is there, but I believe it’s a case of misattribution.  Most likely the Wendigo was a story made up to explain the circle rather than the other way around.  I’m sure they have nothing to do with one another.”

 

“But last year, the Chancellor told us to stay out of the North woods because the Wendigo was seen there,” a Suncorn student remarked. 

 

“Yes,” the ghost responded. “I wasn’t really happy about him saying that.  It was merely a way to scare you from going where you shouldn’t.  Several of you know exactly how well that worked.”  He glanced at Willow when he said it.  He knew that the Pathfinders had disregarded that warning several times the previous year.

 

After class, Sib and Incheon were walking behind Quinta on their way to nomaj studies.  “A creature of all forms and no form,” Sib said.  “Ain’t that exactly what we saw?”

 

“Isn’t,” said Quinta.

 

“What?” Sib asked.

 

“All I saw was a fox and a fiery lizard…,” Incheon answered.

 

“Salamander.”

 

“Whatever.  And a snake.  After that, I was done.”

 

“Well I seen a wyvern after that.”

 

“Saw,” said Quinta.

 

“What?” asked Incheon.

 

“He said that the wyvern was one of the creatures that evil mage called,” Sib continued.

 

“He also said it was all made up,” Incheon responded.  “How can you be sure it wasn’t just an illusion?”

 

“Illusions don’t carry wands.”

 

“Unless the wands were also an illusion.”

 

Sib thought about that for a moment.  “Well then, I guess I aint’ sure.”

 

“You aren’t sure,” said Quinta.

 

“Right.”

 

“No, I mean you’re speaking incorrectly.”

 

“So?” Sib said defensively.  “It don’t mean I’m stupid just because I can’t talk right.”

 

“Doesn’t; correctly.  And if you don’t want people to treat you like a dumbass, stop talking like one.”

 

“And look at that Quinta,” Incheon remarked, shaking his head.  “Two days in and you’re making friends already.”  Incheon stopped and grabbed Sib’s arm.  “You go ahead,” he said to her.  “We’re taking the stairs.”  She looked at them for a moment and then walked on alone.

 

“What about escorting her?” said Sib when she was out of earshot.

 

“I’d rather be a puddle of goo right now,” he responded.  They started walking up the central stairway to the third floor.

 

“Thanks,” Sib said.  Does Willow think I sound like a dumbass?  Maybe I should start payin' attention to how I'm talkin' when I'm around her.

 

*******

 

The sleet made a tinkling noise as it bounced off of the greenhouse roof as if someone was simultaneously playing a xylophone and a snare drum haphazardly.  Normally, Mr. Diatomungi wouldn’t hesitate to take them out into the woods in terrible weather, but today they remained inside, essentially free to do as they liked.  The five of them were huddled up around one of the tables of aglauphotis and olieribos.  Quinta was in a corner ignoring everyone as usual.

 

“A perfect day for hunting ice bells,” their teacher muttered as he walked by.  “Stuck in here just because Woodhead lost his manticore…”  He wandered away, angrily plucking at the plants that lined the rows.  Several of them lashed out at him in retaliation.

 

“So that’s why we’re inside,” said Lef.

 

“Why’s everyone so bent out of shape that Corey’s been set free?” Willow asked.

 

“Oh I don’t know,” replied Incheon.  “Maybe they aren’t looking forward to being on the lunch menu.”

 

“You’re being dramatic.”

 

“Are any of you coming to the game against American?” Lef asked, changing the subject.  Sib had to think for a moment to remember the mascot for the American School of Magic which was a smaller school like Gampton Hall, but located on an island off the coast of California.

 

“Are they the hydras?” he asked.  

 

“No, that’s Petite Ile Marecageuse” Lily responded, referring to the French Canadian school.  “American are the krakens.”

 

“I’ll be here,” said Willow.  “If I’m going to be keeper next year, I need to start scouting.”

 

“Well, I’m protesting,” said Lily.  “If they don’t want me on the team then I’m not going to support them.”

 

“What about you, Sib,” Willow asked.  “Are you coming?”

 

Sib hadn’t thought about it.  “Sure, I guess.  I ain’t got nothing better to do.”  Maybe I can get a minute alone and give her that manticore.

 

“Have you had any more visions?" she asked.  "I haven’t heard you mention anything.”

 

“I haven’t seen anything since before New Years,” he responded.  Since September, he hadn’t gone more than a week without seeing a vision - even if it was the same one.  But the last vision he had was the one of Lily going into the pool before Christmas break two months before.  Probably because I quit tryin’.  But he knew there was something else going on.

 

********

 

“He should have used an Immelmann turn,” complained Lily.  “Immelmann turn!” she screamed as the Gampton Hall seeker shot past in search of the snitch.   “He’s losing too much momentum.” 

 

“I thought you were protesting,” said Willow.  She, Sib, and Lily were sitting in the stands basking in unseasonal seventy-degree heat as the Gampton Hall team was busy getting trounced by the team from American.  

 

“I am,” Lily replied, sitting down again.  “I’m just being vocal about it.”

 

“Was the weather this nice in Gampton?” asked Sib.  “It was freezin’ around my place this mornin’.”

 

“What?  Oh, no.  It was like in the forties before the game.  It warmed up right before you got here.”

 

“The weather has been really weird this spring,” Willow remarked, “but only here at school.” 

 

That’s an understatement.  The weather at Gampton Hall had been completely bizarre since the new year.  Hot weather in January, thunderstorms and hail in February and now another balmy day to start off March.  

 

Lily jumped up again to scream at the Gampton seeker as he flew by.  “Why didn’t you use the Herbst maneuver!”  She sat back down again.  “Any idiot would have used the Herbst maneuver there.”  Sib and Willow looked at each other and smiled.  Neither of them had ever heard of the aerial tricks Lily was rattling off.  

 

They were startled by a loud flash and ‘boom’ of nearby lightning.  They spun around and saw bruised blue and purple clouds bearing down on the stadium.  The wind picked up suddenly and the flags on the field which had been slack started cracking in the gusts.

 

“I think I seen enough of this game,” Sib said.  “How ‘bout we head inside?”

 

“Good idea,” said Willow, grabbing her coat.  “Are you coming, Lily?”

 

“In a minute,” she said, her eyes not leaving the game.  “Pugachev’s Cobra!” she screamed.  

 

“We’ll meet you in the lounge,” Willow said.

 

“Uh-huh,” Lily said without looking at them.  Sib and Willow hustled across the grounds and made it into the main entrance hall just as the first hailstones started bouncing off of the ground and plinking the windows.

 

“Think Lily will be okay?” Sib asked.  

 

“Oh, she’ll be fine,” Willow responded.  “She has a spell for everything.”  They stood in the entrance hall for a few moments watching as the hail piled up on the ground.  As more people fled the stands and came in the front doors of the school, they could tell the temperature was dropping rapidly.  Soon the hail became snow which pelted down with ferocity that contrasted with its beauty.  “Somebody ticked off the weather gods,” she remarked.  “Your shoe’s untied by the way.”

 

“Oh, thanks.”  Sib knelt down to tie his shoe and his amulet swung out of his shirt and got in the way.  He took it off and set it on the ground in front of him as he tied his laces. He reached out to grab his amulet again and noticed the shapes that made it.  What if I was the one who ticked off the weather gods?  Is that what the Orenda can do?  What was it the Hunter said?  “Dishonor the orenda…” Sib muttered.

 

“What?” asked Willow.

 

“I need to go to the grove,” Sib told her.

 

“It’s snowing,” Willow remarked.

 

“I know.  I think it might be my fault.”

 

“You mean you had a vision?”

 

“No, I mean I think I know why I haven’t had any visions.  I think I know why the pool ain’t full.  I think I’m the one who ticked off the weather spirits.”

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

“Come on,” he said.  “I’ll tell you on the way.”  They hustled over to the lifts and shot up to the third floor.  Sib relayed his temper tantrum to Willow as they headed down the third floor hallway that led to the Pathfinder lounge.  “...so I kinda cursed the Orenda and kicked all the water out of the pool,” he concluded.  “Now I gotta make things right.”  If I can.

 

“What’s an Orenda?” she asked.

 

“The source of our power,” Sib replied, entering the lounge.  “The stones stand for each one of the five spirits.” 

 

“I don’t follow you.” 

 

“I’ll explain when we get there.” He zipped up his coat and headed out into the storm.  A flash of lightning backlit the pelting snow and he hustled through the path that led to the circle of stones.  As he entered the circle, he saw that the pool in the center was still empty; a snow-covered dip in the ground.  

 

“I’m sorry!” he called out into the snowy afternoon sky.  The flakes continued to pelt down; the wind continued to chill him to the bone.  That ain’t good enough.  

 

He walked over to the spirit stone, marked with the large circle and placed his hand on the cold obelisk, his other hand on his own amulet.  He felt the heat bleeding away from his palm into the stone.  “She wouldn’t have wanted me to turn away from her gift.  I will see what you want me to see.  I will learn what you choose to teach.” And I mean it.

 

“Sib, look!” He turned and Willow was pointing to the pool which was now full of crystal-clear water.  The pelting snow and wind hadn’t let up, but Sib knew the Orenda had accepted his apology.  “How did you fix it?” she asked.

 

“By apologizin’,” Sib replied.  “There are five orenda.” He pointed to the stones around the circle.  “The sky, the water, the wind, the earth, and the spirit.” As he pointed to this last one, he was startled to see the Hunter standing next to the spirit stone where he hadn’t been just a moment before.  The heavy snowflakes fell right through his body.

 

“When the spirit is broken, the circle is incomplete,” the Hunter said to him. “The others are not contained.  You have honored the Orenda today.”

 

“Does that mean the crazy weather will stop?” he asked the ghost.  The Hunter nodded at him in return.  Sib turned to Willow.  “Come on, let’s go tell Lily she can change her wand after all.” 

 

They returned to the lounge and Sib was explaining to Willow the link between the stones and the shapes on their amulets.  As he talked to her, he thought this was finally the right time to give her the carving of the manticore and tell her how he felt, but he kept hesitating.  I need to quit stallin'.  I'm finally alone with her.  I should give her that manticore now.  He reached in his bag and grabbed it, but they were interrupted as Lily came through the portal.  

 

“He couldn’t even pull a kulbit,” Lily complained.  “I could have caught the snitch in my sleep.” 

 

“So I take it we didn’t win?” asked Willow. 

 

She shook her head.  “It was the Ice Bowl-over, over.”

 

Sib let go of the carving and closed his bag.  I lost my chance.  Next time, I ain't gonna hesitate.

 

 



Chapter 15: The Trial
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“Well lookee here,” the Hammersmith student said to three of his friends after they had cornered Sib and Incheon the following Monday.  “I guess you don’t have your little wonder kid to protect you this time.”  It was the same one who had dangled the two of them upside-down before he ended up on the wrong end of Quinta’s spell.  He pulled out his wand and brandished it at the two of them.  “What shall it be?”

 

“Look,” said Sib, his hands in the air in surrender.  “We ain’t charmin’ no badges off anymore.  Can’t we just call it quits and go to lunch?”

 

“Oh, I think we can,” the Hammersmith boy said.  “It’s just that my friends here need to get their retribution.”  He smiled as the other three pulled out their wands.  “Care to pick your poison?”

 

“Ice cream?” replied Incheon.  The four Hammersmiths laughed and then froze in mid-mirth.  Sib didn’t understand what was going on.  The four of them were completely immobilized.  He inched closer to see what had happened to them.

 

“What do you want me to do to them?” a familiar voice asked.  Sib turned to see Quinta, her hand pointed at the four Hammersmiths.

 

“Quinta!” Sib said.  “I thought you weren’t escortin’ us no…” Sib corrected himself. “...any more.”

 

“I’ve been a bit of a babo,” she replied.  Incheon laughed.  “I felt I should make it up to you,” she continued.

 

“I still don’t know what a babo is,” said Sib.  “But I’ll take this as an apology.” She nodded.

 

“So what do you want me to do to them?” she said, nodding toward the Hammersmiths.  “Make their teeth rot out?  Crush the bones in their hands?  Make their eyes…” 

 

“Stop!” interrupted Incheon.  “Dark, Quinta; just dark.  How about we put a nice Three Dubs sweet into each of their mouths?”  He reached into his bag and pulled out a handful of candies.  “I only have three random ones.” 

 

“Wait a minute,” Sib said and fished around in his bag for the Sweet Stunning Sweet Incheon had given him before the break.  He tossed it to Incheon, and he then unwrapped the four candies and put them inside the laughing mouths of the Hammersmiths.  Sib knew that as soon as they were unfrozen, the magical sweets would take effect instantaneously.

 

“You go ahead,” said Quinta.  “I’ll stick around to clear up any misunderstanding with these four.” 

 

“Are you comin’ for Lily’s wand transformation after classes?” Sib asked.

 

“I’ll be there.”

 

"Oh, and Quinta...Thanks."

 

*******

 

“So I can just dip my wand in?” Lily asked.

 

“Yes, you just submerge it and it will change into an amulet,” Willow explained.

 

“Do you have a good hold on that rope?” Lily asked Sib, who had tied a harness around her and was holding on to the other end.

 

“Yeah, I got you,” he said.  “Go on.”  Lily took a deep breath and plunged her wand into the pool. 

 

Nothing happened.  There was a collective exhale from everyone watching as Lily remained where she was, her hand wrist-deep in the pool.  “So...was something supposed to happen?” Quinta asked.

 

“I…I guess not,” said Sib.  “Did your wand change?”

 

“Yes,” said Lily, holding up her yew amulet from the pool.  “Tell me again exactly what you saw in your vision.”

 

“Well I saw you put your head in the water..” Sib explained.

 

“Where were you?”

 

“Uh, out there,” Sib pointed to the outside of the circle, along the path that led back to the lounge.

 

“Go there and tell me what you saw.” 

 

Sib dropped the rope and walked to the path, searching his memory for the details of the vision from two months before.  “Well, I was here, and I saw the liverwort bloomin over there’” he said.  He looked at the base of the tree and saw the green liverwort shoots, but no flowers yet.   “And then I looked over and saw you with your face right next to the water.  I called out your name just as your face touched the surface and then you got sucked into the pool.  I ran over here to pull you out and as I reached down and touched the water the vision ended.”

“What did the water look like?” she asked.  “Could you see me inside?”

 

“No,” Sib said, trying to remember.  “It was all cloudy.”

 

“You mean muddy?” 

 

“No, more misty-like.  Like our crystal balls get when we’re havin’ a vision.”

 

“Mine doesn’t get cloudy,” Willow remarked.

 

“Mine either,” said Lef.

 

“Whatever," said Sib.  “It was cloudy, not muddy.”

 

“How long before that liverwort blooms?” asked Willow.

 

“I say we got a week, tops,” Sib responded.  “What should we do?”  There was a collective shoulder shrug from the group.

 

“What did Miss Pyx say about it?” Willow asked.

 

Sib looked down and kicked his shoe.  “I never talked to her about it,” he mumbled.

 

“What?” she responded.  “What are you doing?  Your friend is going to get sucked to her watery death in a week and you’re kicking at the dirt?”

 

“I was mad at her for not helpin’ me figure out the vision about my grandmother’s grave, all right?” 

 

“No, it isn’t all right!" she yelled.  "Do you think your grandmother would still be alive if she had helped you figure it out?”  Sib shook his head.  She's right.  It wasnt' Miss Pyx’s fault.

 

“You’re going,” she continued.  “Right now if Incheon and I have to drag you there.” 

 

“Leave me out of this,” Incheon said.

 

“Then I’ll ask Quinta very nicely to escort you to Miss Pyx’ room.”  Sib looked at Quinta.  She raised her eyebrows in expectation of Sib’s response.  He knew Willow was right again and he knew that Quinta would have no trouble ‘escorting’ him to see her.

 

“I’m goin’,” he responded and turned to head back to the lounge.  It wasn’t Miss Pyx’s fault that I couldn’t figure it out.  And there was nothin’ that any of us could do about it anyway.  Maybe that was what the Orenda were tryin’ to get me to learn. I think it’s time I apologized and got back to learnin’.

 

Miss Pyx was behind her desk working when Sib knocked on her door.  She looked up to see who it was.

 

“Sib…” “Miss Pyx...” they said at the same time.  

 

“You first, ma’am.” 

 

She nodded.  “I’d like to apologize to you.” Sib started to protest and she put up her hands.  “Hear me out first…”  She took a deep breath.  “I failed you.  I was so intent on the idea that people have figurative visions because that’s all that I ever have.  I recognize now that all you ever have are literal ones.  I should have helped you figure out your grandmother’s grave and I understand if you don’t want to work with me anymore.”

 

“There ain’t nothin’ you need to apologize for, Miss Pyx,” he said.  “Whoever decided to show me that vision didn’t want me to figure it out.  No matter what I’m able to see about the future, there are just some things that I can’t be prepared for.  My Gramma’s death is one of ‘em.  I’m okay with that now.  I’ll see what they want me to see and learn what they want me to learn.  I’m back because I need your help.”

 

She welcomed him in and after they sat down he went through the vision again with Miss Pyx, working to remember every detail he could think of.  “...so we got less than a week before the liverwort is bloomin’," he concluded, "and we don’t know what to do.”

 

“Tell me about the pool,” she said.  “What does it do?”

 

“It transforms our wands to amulets,” he responded.  

 

“Does it do anything else?” 

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“Who would know?  That’s where we need to go next.”

 

“Mr. Zolock had all those books from last year.  He might have found somethin’.”

 

“Excellent,” she said.  “I have to head home now, but I’ll arrange to have Mr. Zolock meet us here for our session tomorrow afternoon.”  She paused.  “You are coming back tomorrow afternoon?”

 

“Yes ma’am,” he replied.  “But do I really need to tell my Mysticism teacher that?”  She laughed and Sib walked to the fireplaces with her to jump home.

 

When he reached his cabin, he was shocked to see the state of the place.  It had been completely ransacked.  There were boxes and bags scattered all over the floor.  Every container, cupboard, and canister had been opened and rifled through.  He pulled out his amulet and held it ready.  Not that he knew a single counterjinx, but it was better than nothing.  “Mom!” he yelled.

“In here, Sib.” His mom’s voice called from her bedroom.  He walked through the mess to find his mom’s room equally trashed.  She was slowly folding and putting clothes back in her dresser, a shell-shocked look on her face.

 

“Ma,” Sib said.  “What happened?” 

 

“MACUSA,” she replied.  “They had a search warrant and tore the place apart.”

 

“What were they lookin’ for?”

 

“Dunno, Sib,” she replied.  “But I guess they didn’t find it, ‘cause they left all in a huff.”

 

The memories.  He had to warn Willow.  He grabbed his bag and ran over to his room, climbed over the floor covered with his and his brother’s clothes and sat down on his brother’s stripped bed.  He searched through his Stor-All to get to the instant message book.  It flipped open to the latest message which was from Willow and had been sent just minutes before. 

 

‘MACUSA had a warrant and searched my house.  They didn’t find what they were looking for.  Remember what your grandmother said in her message.  It’s still true.’

 

He was about to write a response when he realized what Willow was saying.  His grandmother's message: 'they’re watchin’ me…'  The books must not be safe!  He slammed it shut and stuffed it back in his bag.  They must want those memories somethin’ fierce.  We gotta find a penseive soon.  He walked back to his mom’s room and started helping her clean up.

 

*******

 

Sib couldn’t sleep.  He sat up in his bed, listening to his brother breathing deep in a slumber.  Arc had returned home later than Sib and helped them set the rest of the house back in order and was now blissfully asleep.  MACUSA had nothing on him.  Sib’s mom on the other hand was deeply shaken.  Sib had to help her after he noticed her folding a sweater for the fourth time.  

 

He crawled out of bed as quietly as he could and went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. He noticed that his mom’s door was open, so he glanced inside and saw her empty bed.  Where’d she go?  He walked to the front door and found it cracked open as well.  He peeked through and saw his mom pacing up and down outside of the front of their cabin talking to herself.

 

“I can’t keep them here no more,” she said.  “How did they find out?  Maybe Heather said somethin’ to the wrong person.  God, I shouldn’t have trusted her.  Maybe I should cancel the whole thing.  But she’ll be furious…”

 

Sib’s attention was drawn to a white ghostly figure that was winding its way toward the cabin through the woods.  It was a glowing white creature made of mist.  As it came closer, Sib recognized it as a bobcat, gliding to a halt in front of his mom.  It spoke to her without moving its mouth.

 

“Tonight.  At the appointed time.  At the appointed place.  When you make a deal with these people, you keep it.”  The bobcat dissolved into mist and drifted away.  Sib opened the door and stepped out on the porch.  Hearing him, his mom turned toward him.

 

“Ma,” said Sib.  “What’ve you done?”

 

She sighed.  “I made a deal with the devil, it seems,” she said, her shoulders hunched.  “I been gettin’ wands for wandless mages.”

 

“Ma, why?”

 

“I lost my job, Sib.  As soon as they found out what your pa done, they let me go.  I didn’t know what else to do.”  Sib walked to her and gave her a hug.  She started crying.  "I went to the only person I knew would help...your Uncle Andy."

 

"Was that his patronus?"  She nodded.  Dear Lord, what have you gotten us into, Uncle Andy...  “It’s alright ma.  We’ll get through this.”  She held him out and nodded, wiping the tears from her cheeks.  Sib knew he had to go with her.  “Gimme a minute to get dressed and I’ll go with you where you need to go.”

 

“But Sib…” she started to protest, but he had already walked through the front door.  He quietly snuck some clothes from his dresser, got changed in the dining room and met her back outside, pulling on his coat.

 

“Let’s go, ma.”  She nodded, took his hand and then twisted. The world went black.  Sib felt intense pressure all over his body and he found it impossible to breathe.  He felt like he was deep underwater and he kicked his legs subconsciously as if to propel him back up to the surface.  An instant later, he landed and fell to the ground, gasping.  His mom leaned over and helped him up.

 

“Sorry, Sib.  I forgot what it feels like the first time you side-along apparate.  Are you alright?” 

 

Sib nodded and brushed off his clothes. “Where are we?” he asked. 

 

“The less you know, the better,” she replied.  “But suffice to say we’re meetin’ someone here, exchangin’ a little money for a wand and then I’ll exchange it again for a lot more...if MACUSA don’t search our cabin again before I can make the deal.”

 

“Is that what you think they were lookin’ for?”

 

“What do you and Arc have that’s worth tearin’ our cabin apart?”

 

“Ma, I think maybe I…” 

 

“Hush,” she said.  “She’s coming.”  Sib saw a figure moving through the woods.  She was small and bent like an old woman, but she moved with a grace and speed that suggested that there was much more to her.  She carried a staff and was draped from head to toe in a long black robe, the hood completely hiding her face in shadow.  Sib was struck by how much she looked like the illusion of the Dark One that Miss Knox had conjured the previous week, only much older.

 

“I have the dracots,” Sib’s mom said, holding out a small leather purse.

 

“And I have the wand,” she replied in a deep rasping voice.  His mom and the woman exchanged the wand for the bag. Sib was staring at her staff which was carved with creatures that kept moving over and around each other.  He recognized a crow, a viper, a scorpion and a wyvern all snaking their way up and down the shaft.  

 

“I can’t do this no more,” Sib’s mom told her, putting the wand in her jacket.  “MACUSA got a warrant and searched my place.”

 

“That’s not what they were looking for,” the woman replied.  

 

“How would you know…” Sib’s mom started, but the woman lifted her staff to cut her off.  

 

“Best not to speak of what we know to anyone.  You never know who’s listening.” Sib swore she was looking at him even though he couldn’t see her face under the hood.  “The time is coming to openly choose sides, Cassiopia.  Do not linger too long to make your choice.  It’s those in the middle who will be most in danger.”  She whirled and vanished with a ‘pop’ that marked the disapparition of a mage.

 

“What did she mean ‘choose sides’ ma?  What side is she on?”

 

“I feel like the world is about to explode, Sib.  Like a giant balloon filled with mud.  Ain’t nobody gonna come out clean.”

 

“So what are we gonna do?”

 

“Well, first things first,” she said, pulling herself upright and taking a deep breath.  “We’re goin’ home and then we need to be at your pa’s trial tomorrow."

 

The trial!  He couldn’t believe it had snuck up on him.  He nodded and hooked his arm around his mom’s.  He remembered to take a deep breath as she apparated back home.  The feeling of pressure was the same, but he didn’t have the need to kick to the surface and was able to land on his feet as they arrived.

 

********

 

Sib thought trials were supposed to last for days, but he had only been in the courtroom for an hour and a half when the judge called for closing arguments from the defense.  The prosecution has already spoken, but they had just fumbled through regulations and requirements and hadn’t made any sense to Sib anyway.  So far, Sib thought there was no way they could convict his dad.  He listened as his dad’s lawyer - a portly, balding young man - got up to make his statement.

 

“The life of this mage rests upon the idea of intent.” He gestured toward Sib’s dad, who was sitting at the defendant’s table looking forlorn.  “We have established that hunting for food is not a crime and my client is not accused of doing so.  Or is he?  I ask you to consider the following: is a sward evil?  A sward is a weapon whose only purpose is to kill and maim others, and yet it is not illegal to own one.  Therefore, the only thing that matters is the intent of the person who holds it in their hand.”  

 

“As it pertains to this case and the defendant, I ask a similar question: is a spell evil?  We have clearly established that the intent of the wielder was not.  Throughout this case, we have demonstrated that the spell in question was no more than a tool used for innocent purposes and does not therefore warrant punishment from the court.  We ask that the defendant be found not guilty on all counts.  Thank you, your honor.”

 

Sib wanted to clap, but his mom’s look told him to stay still.  The prosecuting attorney spoke next in rebuttal.  

 

“The defendant, by his own admission, used a curse that has been identified as a dark magic spell.  This spell, namely Avada Kedavra, is specifically forbidden by the Dark Magic Abolishment Act of 2008, section 2 (b), paragraph three.  In light of recent extraordinary circumstances, we ask that the defendant be found guilty and held without possibility of parole until sentencing.  Thank you, your honor.”

 

Without adjournment and without a moment of deliberation, the judge took up his gavel and announced his verdict.  “I find the defendant guilty. He is to be held without parole. Sentencing will be scheduled for the fourteenth of April pending appeal.  Court adjourned.”  'BANG!'  The gavel hammered down and Sib jumped at the finality of it.  

 

Sib looked at his dad as he was led away by the bailiff.  He appeared to Sib as if he had long given up hope.  He glanced at Sib and his brother and then nodded to his mom before he disappeared behind the door that led back to Spellhold.

 

“We’ll appeal of course,” the lawyer said to Sib’s mom.  She nodded but didn’t respond.  “I’m sure another judge will see things differently,” he said, but Sib didn’t think he sounded convinced of that himself.  Again, Sib’s mom just nodded and they made their way out of the courtroom and back to the fireplaces.

 

“Ma,” Sib said as he stood next to the fireplaces.  “I’m gonna jump to school and finish the day.” 

 

She looked at him and checked the time.  “You know you don’t have to go back.  You won’t even make it in time for your last class.”

 

“I know ma.  I have some after-school stuff to do.”  

 

She took his face in her hands and looked him in the eyes.  “We’re gonna be alright, Sib...and so is your pa.” 

 

“Sure ma,” he said, although he didn’t have the faintest idea how.  She kissed him on the forehead and then grabbed Arc by the hand to jump back to the cabin together.  Sib stepped in after them, tossed the powder at his feet and jumped to Gampton Hall.

 

He emerged at the worst possible time.  Apparently the bell ending the day had rung just moments before and there was a line at the fireplaces of students rushing to get home.

 

“Ow, watch out!” “Gerroff!” “Move it, kid, you’re blockin’ up the works!” Sib was momentarily stunned by the cacophony of insults and shoving students pushing him toward the back of the line.  After having his feet stepped on at least three times, he found himself near the windows that faced the front lawn.  He looked back at the crowd and saw that the fireplaces were popping and snapping as the students jumped back to their homes.  He turned and started heading to the lifts.  

 

He had a few minutes before he had to meet Miss Pyx and Mr. Zolock in her office, so he decided to go to the lounge to tell the others what had happened over the past day.  He felt hungry and thirsty from not eating anything all day and along the way, he tried to slake his thirst with ‘aguamenti’, but cast from his hand instead of his amulet.  Because it didn’t shoot out where he thought, he ended up missing his mouth entirely and soaked the side of his head, leaving a puddle of water on the floor outside of the third floor hallway.  When he finally got to the lounge, it was empty except for Hedges and Beene who were standing and slapping each other on the head for no apparent reason.

 

"No slapbacks," said Beene, hitting Hedges on the side of the head.

 

"Backsies," called Hedges, slapping Beene. "Double no slapbacks."

 

“Where is everybody?” Sib asked, still wiping off the side of his face with his sleeve.

 

“What do you mean?” asked Beene.

 

“Everyone else in Pathfinder house who isn’t you, where are they?”

 

“Hedges is right here.” 

 

“Thank you Beene.  And everyone else?”

 

“They went that way,” he said pointing at the door leading to the grove.  Sib left the lounge and started walking through the path in the woods.  He saw patches of pink and white blooms at the base of several trees.  Oh, look., the liverwort’s bloomin...  

 

The liverwort!  He broke into a run and as he reached the edge of the circle of stones he skidded to a halt.  The liverwort was in bloom at the base of the tree from his vision.  He looked and saw Lily kneeling over the pool.

 

“Lily?” he said.  She didn’t respond, but just leaned closer to the water.  “What are you…” he stopped as her face broke the surface of the water and she was dragged under; her whole body disappearing into the cloudy liquid.  Sib rushed to the edge and reached out his hand into the pool.  His fingers touched the surface and he felt himself being pulled in.



Chapter 16: Find Wand Go
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“Gramma?” Sib said.  She was sitting sideways in a chair right next to him but she didn’t seem to hear him.  He stood up from where he had fallen.  “Are we dead?” 

 

“Ouch!” said Inchon.  Sib whirled and behind him were the other Pathfinders.  Hye-lin had just pinched Incheon on the arm.  

 

“What did you do that for?” he cried.

 

“Just to make sure we’re not dead,” she replied.

 

“Where are we?” Sib asked them.  

 

“We’re in your grandmother’s memory,” Willow explained.  “Lily discovered that the pool is a penseive.”

 

Sib looked back at his grandmother.  She was sitting up on a chair - not paralyzed - and she looked twenty years younger than he remembered her.  She was looking right through Sib.  Her mouth was moving, but there was no sound.  He turned around.  “Who is she talking to?”  There was nobody in that corner of the room; just a bookcase.  

 

“I don’t know,” Willow replied.  “But she’s been talking for a couple of minutes now.  Let’s look around.”

 

The others spread out around the room.  Sib took in the space and assumed they were in a library.  The room was octagonal with bookshelves on every wall except the one that held tall double oak doors and faced the chair that his grandmother was sitting sideways in.  She was talking into the back left corner of the room.  Sib looked up and saw that the ceiling towered overhead; the skylights and high windows bathing the room in light.

 

“Why can’t we hear anything?” he asked.

 

“I don’t know,” said Lily.  “The Librarian didn’t say anything about that.”

 

“Is that how you knew?” Sib asked.  “What did she…” 

 

“Look,” said Hye-lin.  “Someone’s coming.”  The door to the room opened and a woman in a green cloak and hood entered the room.  Her long braided black hair hung down from her hood on one side.  Sib’s grandmother had turned in her chair and was now facing the woman.  They started carrying on a conversation.

 

“Can anyone read lips?” Lef asked.  The silence from the others answered her question.  Sib’s grandmother gestured to the chair on the opposite side of her and the woman in the green cloak sat down, but didn’t push back her hood.  Her face was still in shadow.  The two of them continued their conversation for a while and then Sib’s Grandmother closed her eyes and the conversation stopped.

 

“The Librarian told me what it looks like when someone falls into a penseive,” Lily said, answering Sib’s question from before.  “She described the misty liquid and how it looks like someone gets sucked inside when they touch the surface.  It freaked her out the first time she saw it.”

 

“I know how she feels,” said Sib.

 

“Right.  That lined up perfectly with what you saw in your vision, so when I told Willow, she got that look in her eyes and...well…”  She looked around to make sure Willow couldn’t overhear her.

 

“I understand,” said Sib.  He knew better than to argue with Willow when she was committed to something.  “So you were just the last one in?”

 

“Yeah.  I was waiting for you, but I was afraid I’d miss something, so I went.  You got there the second I broke the surface and fell.”  Sib’s grandmother was reciting something now.  She looked to Sib like she was in a trance.

 

“Do you think she’s reciting the prophecy?” Willow asked.

 

“I guess.  Fat lot of good it does us, though,” Sib said.  

 

“Some of it looks the same,” said Incheon, who had been nearby, watching Sib’s grandmother’s face.  “Her lips matched up with some of the words that were in the New York Ghost’s version of the prophecy.”

 

“But not all?”

 

“Nope,” he said.  “And I now know that I am no good at lip reading.”

 

Sib saw his grandmother finish reciting the prophecy and a moment later, the woman in the green cloak got up and left.  Sib’s grandmother turned in her chair and looked back toward the empty bookshelf in the back left corner.  The entire room started to fade, but Sib swore he saw something move behind the bookshelf.  He started walking toward it, but the vision was gone; the walls, ceiling and floor fading to white mist.  

 

The seven of them were standing in a completely white space with no features at all. After a moment, log walls faded back in around them.  This time, they were in a one-room cabin in the woods.  Sib recognized his grandmother - still the same age as the previous vision - but laying in a bed, unmoving.  

 

“Is that your grandfather?” Lef asked him pointing to an older man puttering about the kitchen of the cabin.  

 

Sib nodded.  “Yeah.”  This time the memory had sound.  Sib heard the clatter of pots and pans and the chirping of birds outside through the window.  He didn’t remember his grandfather, as he had passed away when Sib was very young, but he recognized his face from the pictures that were in his cabin at home.  

 

“Dang it, Teresa!” his grandfather called out.  “Where’d ya hide the fryin’ pan?”  He looked over at her and as Sib followed his glance, he saw his grandmother’s eyes move to a spot on the wall.  Sib looked up to see the frying pan hanging from a peg on the wall.

 

“Well, I’ll be,” his grandfather said.  “That’s a good spot for it.” He set the other pans back with a clatter and stood up, taking the frying pan off of the wall and setting it on an ancient stove.  He grabbed some vegetables from the icebox and was cutting them with a knife while he was talking to her.  

 

“Your friend said she was gonna stop by tomorrow,” he told her as he chopped.  Sib thought his grandfather sounded unhappy about it.  “I ain’t sayin’ she’s not welcome, but I’m not overly fond, if you hear what I’m sayin’.  What she can do...well, it ain't natural.”  He set the knife down and turned back to the icebox to grab something.  His hip brushed the knife handle and it tumbled to the floor at his feet, making a ringing sound as it stuck point-first.  His grandfather looked down.

 

“How about that.  Lookit, Teresa.”  He held his foot up in the air.  The knife was sticking out of the toebox of his shoe.  “That knife landed and cut through my shoe, goin’ right between my toes.  Just a smidgen either way would’a cut my toe right off.”  He yanked the knife back out of his dirty shoe and went right back to cutting the sausages he had pulled from the ice box.  "I suppose you want me to translate for her?"  He looked up at Sib's grandmother.

 

'Yes.'

 

"I figured.  I'm half tempted to teach her Morse code myself so I don't have to babysit you."  He was gesturing with the knife and he was flinging little bits of cut sausage around him.

 

'I love you.'

 

"I know it."

 

That must be the code that she had been using.  Sib glanced at Willow and she nodded back at him in confirmation. 

 

His grandfather finished chopping and put the vegetables and sausages into the frying pan.  The smell made Sib’s mouth water.  I guess I should've had lunch.

 

As the food cooked, Sib’s grandfather came around the counter where he had been working and sat down in a chair next to his wife.  He reached out and held her limp hand.  “Why would anyone attack you?” he said.

 

‘I don’t know.’

 

“It’s from hangin’ out with that shapeshifter, I’ll bet”

 

‘No.’

 

“No?  Don’t you ‘no’ me, woman!  She’s trouble, I tell ya.”

 

‘No.’

 

He sighed.  “Dang it, Teresa.  Alright, Wendy-go can come over.”  He got up from the chair and started pacing.  

 

“It ain’t fair.”  He held out his right hand with a plain silver ring on it.  “When you gave me this lucky ring, you told me that as long as I wore it, I wouldn’t suffer no harm. All this time, it’s kept me from gettin’ a scratch, but it seems that everyone around me takes the brunt.  I’m sick and tired of havin’ everyone else get hurt around me.”  He used his left hand to pull the ring off of his right, struggling to get it over his swollen knuckle.  "Good thing I got some sausage grease on my finger."

 

“There!” he said, holding the ring up in the air after he had removed it.  “This ring might’a been a ring of luck for me, but it was a ring of bad luck for everyone I cared about.”  He tossed it in the air and caught it again.  “You know I love you, but this ring can go to hell.”  He leaned back and pitched it out of the open window.  “You alright?” he asked her.

 

‘Yes.’

 

He sat down on the chair again. “You know, I’m feelin’ better already.”  He leaned back in the chair, tipped backwards and flailed his arms and legs out to regain his balance, but it was too late; the chair crashed down with him in it.  “Ow!” he called out from the floor.  “That hurt.”  The memory again faded to white.  

 

“Did he say ‘Wendy Go?” Lily asked.

 

“Maybe that’s what she meant,” Willow responded.  “Find Wendy Go.  Do you know her, Sib?” 

 

Sib shook his head.  He had never heard anyone in his family mention anyone named Wendy.  He was looking at the ring on his right hand.  Could this be grandpa’s ring?  His thoughts were interrupted as the mist coalesced into a new room.  This one he recognized.  It was his grandmother’s hospital room.  She was propped up in a hospital bed and she was as Sib remembered her from the last time he had seen her.  These memories were recent.  A man in a black MACUSA uniform was sitting next to her.

 

“I hope your grandchildren are well,” he said.  “I hear that young Sibelius is at Gampton Hall this year.”

 

‘Yes.’

 

“I also heard that he’s had a bit of trouble with the sorting hat.  It seems it wanted to sort him into a house that doesn’t exist.”  Sib’s grandmother just stared at him.  “Look, Teresa, don’t you see how important that memory is?  From what Hobilard says, it’s the fifth house...at Gampton Hall.”  Again, he was met with a stony stare.  “If this is about the accident, I’m truly sorry.  You know I am.  He was just trying to follow orders to retrieve that memory and he got a little carried away.  How were we supposed to know that the damage was permanent?”  His grandmother looked away.

 

“We can help protect the memory, Teresa.  All of the magic world is relying on us.  We have to ensure that the prophecy - your legacy - is properly protected from misuse.  What would happen if the true version of the prophecy were released to the world?”  Sib’s grandmother looked at him again.

 

‘Yes.’

 

“Yes, you’ll give me the memory?” He stood up in excitement.

 

‘No.’

 

“Wait, so you want it released?”  He was angry now.

 

‘Yes.’

 

“Well that will never happen, Teresa."  He turned and picked up his coat.  "I think we’re through here.  I tried to be nice about it, but I’m sure that my successor will be less pleasant.  In the end, MACUSA will have that memory.”  He turned and left, the memory fading to white.

 

Incheon looked at him.  “That guard at the hospital wasn’t protecting your grandmother at all was he?” 

 

“I reckon not,” said Sib as the hospital room faded back in.  This time there was a new MACUSA representative.  

 

Willow inhaled suddenly.  “It’s him!” she said.  It was the man who had confronted them after they had extracted his grandmother’s memories.  He was standing above Sib’s grandmother, his wand in his hand.

 

“Mrs. Hooplandlander, you’re going to give me that memory.  You know what happened to Maria when she refused to cooperate.   You’ve managed to withhold it from everyone else, but I know how to convince you.  Your son has an upcoming trial, did you hear?”  The man appeared spiteful as he told her.  “I have the power to grant him leniency.  Think of that, Mrs. Hooplander.  Your son could be free and all you have to do is give me that memory.”

 

‘No.’

 

“We need to control the message, Mrs. Hooplander.  You of all people should understand how easy visions are to misinterpret.”

 

‘No.’

 

“I see.  It seems you’re willing to sacrifice your own son to hang on to a damaged, useless relic.  Perhaps I should investigate your grandsons?”  Sib’s grandmother’s eyes grew wide with fear.  “Yes, I see we’re communicating better now.  Perhaps my ultimatum should be crystal clear so that there’s no misinterpretation.  Give me the memory or I will find a way to make your grandsons suffer.  I haven’t chosen which one yet...I’ll leave you with that to think about."  The vision faded to white and Sib felt himself getting lighter.

 

“Whoa!” called Lef.  “What’s happening?”

 

“It’s the end of the memories,” called Lily, floating upward somewhere to the left of Sib.  A second later, he was standing at the side of the pool, the six others surrounding it.  The pool still swirled slowly with mist.

 

“Okay,” said Willow.  “We need to find somebody named Wendy Go.”

 

“We need to go back in,” said Sib.

 

“Why?” asked Lily.  “Did we miss something?”

 

“The first vision.  I need to go back.” 

 

“But it was broken,” Willow complained.

 

“Just do whatever Lily told you to do with the memories,” Sib told her.  “I’m goin’ back.”  

 

Willow turned to Lily and made a look that said ‘what do I do now?’

 

“The most recent memories should be near the top,” Lily told her.  “So just pull them out until there’s only one left.  That should be the first one.”  Willow knelt down by the edge of the pool and used her amulet to scoop memories from the pool, starting with the ones that were swirling closest to the surface.  As she pulled the first one out, it dangled off of her amulet in two pieces and she poured them both into the crystal vial where she had been keeping them.  She did it again and a second memory went back into the vial.

 

“Okay,” she said, standing up.  “There’s only one left.  It should be the library.  Do you want us to stay here?” she asked.

 

“No,” said Sib.  “If what I think is true, I need y’all to see it too.” He reached down with his hand and touched the surface of the pool and felt the familiar pull as he was dragged back into the memory.

 

He stood looking at his grandmother.  She was still talking to the bookshelf behind him, but he saw her in a new light.  She was vibrant and alive in this memory.  And MACUSA took that from you. All because of the vision.  It ain’t right.  I’m gonna make sure that prophecy gets released...I promise you, Gramma.

 

“She’s talking to a bookshelf,” said Incheon.

 

“Look behind the books,” said Sib, not bothering to turn.  He knew what they would find.  The shapeshifter.

 

“Oh yeah,” said Lef.  “Look, it’s a black cat.” 

 

“Weird, though,” said Willow.  “I’ve never seen a cat with glowing grey eyes.”

 

Incheon looked at Sib.  “Yeah,” Sib said in answer to his unasked question.  “She didn’t say ‘find wand go’ or ‘find Wendy Go’.  She wants us to find the Wendigo."

 

"A shapeshifter that eats people?" asked Incheon, reciting the storybook definition of the creature.

 

"How do you know that's the Wendigo," asked Willow, pointing toward the bookshelf where the cat was hiding.


"I've met her twice before.  Once in the north woods when she had us running for our lives last year and again in the alley outside of Miss Chantrix's shop.  The glowing grey eyes are the same no matter what shape she takes."

 

"But a mage can't transfigure into more than one animal," protested Incheon.

 

"Unless she isn't an ordinary mage," said Lef. 

 

"Or it isn't a mage at all," muttered Incheon.

 

"Quinta, what are you doing?" Hye-lin asked.  Sib turned to see that Quinta was sitting on the same chair as Sib's grandmother, and was curently occupying the same space as her, making it look like she was a creature with four arms.  Quinta wasn't looking at the bookshelf and instead was staring intently at the woman in the green robe.

 

"Quinta, are you alright?" Lef asked.  

 

"I don't think so," she replied.  She pointed at the woman across from her.  "This is my mother.  Maria Rodriguez."

 

"Your mom?" 

 

"The MACUSA man," Quinta continued.  "What did he say about her?" 

 

"You know what happened to Maria when she refused to cooperate," recited Incheon.

 

"Quinta," said Sib.  "What happened to your mom?"

 

"She's gone," she said.  "She disappeared over a year ago."  They stood in silence as the green-robed woman rose and walked out of the room.  The Quinta-grandmother creature split as Sib's grandmother turned back to speak to the cat in the bookshelf and the room faded to white.

 



Chapter 17: The Woman in Black
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Lef was sitting with Quinta, who had sat down on the ground in shock as soon as they found themselves back in the circle of stones.

 

“Was this how you saw your vision?” Willow asked Sib.

 

“Oh, man!  Miss Pyx!” cried Sib.  “I gotta go...I was supposed to meet her!”  It felt like it had been an hour, but as he glanced at the clock as he ran through the Pathfinder lounge, he found that only fifteen minutes had passed.  He raced through the portal and down the hall to the Mysticism classroom.

 

He was met near the end of the third floor corridor by a sixth year Hammersmith, who glanced around herself before she leveled her wand at Sib.  He tried to stop, but his shoes slipped in a small puddle of water that was in the middle of the floor and he slid on the marble tile.  “Inpulsa!” she cried, but Sib had already barreled into her, sending her shocking spell flying off toward the ceiling.  He landed on the girl, cushioning his own fall, and she let out a loud ‘oof!’ as he knocked the wind out of her. 

 

Sib’s momentum kept him rolling right off the edge of the stairwell and he started plummeting toward the bottom eighty feet below. His momentum slowed and he touched down softly in the second basement without having to mutter a word.   It is grandpa’s ring.  She was tryin’ to shock me and the ring wouldn’t let her. Staring at the ring, he made his way to the lifts and shot back up to the third floor.  The Hammersmith girl was gone.  As he turned the corner to the Mysticism classroom, he saw that the door was still open and he heard muffled talking inside.  He knocked.

 

“There you are,” said Miss Pyx.  “I saw a stopped hourglass this morning, so I was guessing you might have been held up.”

Sib stepped inside and closed the door.

 

“I was just telling Mr. Zolock about your vision and how we wanted to see if he knew anything from his research.” 

 

“I haven't read anything about the pool in the circle of stones,” said the ghost.  “But I was just about to tell Penelope that it sounds like a penseive.” 

 

Sib nodded.  “It was.  The vision just came true.  That’s why I was late.”

“A penseive,” said Miss Pyx.  “Of course.  That makes sense.  I didn’t realize they could be anything other than a basin, but the image matches up. Well, do you want to tell me what memories you were looking at?”

 

Sib was thinking of the words from the old woman in the woods.   ‘Best not to speak of what we know to anyone.  You never know who’s listening…’  “They were just some private memories that my gramma left me,” said Sib.  

 

Miss Pyx looked at him with a penetrating glance, but didn’t press him. “Did talking through it help you figure that out?”

 

“Actually, no,” said Sib.  “Lily was the one who figured it out.  She said she talked to the Librarian.” 

 

“Mrs. Moore?” 

 

“No, ma’am.  The ghost...the Featherpenny ghost.” 

 

“Oh, yes,” said Mr. Zolock.  “Stella!  I haven’t spoken to her in years.” The ghost reached up and smoothed the few wispy combed-over white hairs.  “You know, she somewhat reminds me of Mrs. Clair.”  He excused himself and drifted through the wall.  

 

Miss Pyx smiled at his departure.  “Okay,” she said to Sib.  “You should have a new vision this time.  Do you want me to stay or go?”

 

Sib didn’t think it mattered.  “You can stay, ma’am.”  Like normal, he cracked open the window and got comfortable in a chair with his back to the fire so that he felt warm on one side and cool on the other.  He drifted.

 

The darkness didn’t brighten into daylight this time.  He saw vertical lines emerge in the dark and he could barely make out that they were trees.  He was in the woods and it was late into the night.  The scene suddenly brightened as the moon and stars emerged from behind a cloud.  The crescent moon shone through the barren tree branches from just above the horizon, casting long moon shadows across the leaf-strewn ground.  Willow was with him and they walked forward into a small glade in the woods.  He stopped suddenly as a shape moved just in front of him.  She unfolded herself as she rose to her feet and Sib recognized the old woman in the black robe from the midnight journey with his mother.  Her face was still hidden deep within the cowl.  

 

“How did you find me?”  She rasped as she held up her staff in front of her, the shaft writhing like it was alive.     

 

“Who are you?” asked Willow.

 

The woman in black pointed at Sib with an ancient hand.  “I know you.  You have your grandmother’s gift.”

 

“I need a memory,” said Sib.

 

“I know why you are here,” she replied.  “But I never trade anything for free.  This...for that.  I can get you a memory...for a simple task.”  She held up a small container about the size of a salt shaker.  “You shall deliver this for me.”  She held it out for him and he reached out to take it.  His finger touched the vial and the vision ended.

 

When she noticed that his vision was complete, Miss Pyx sat down across from him and he relayed what he had seen.  “I was in the woods.  It was late at night.  The moon was shining down.  There was…” he hesitated telling her that he had seen the woman in black before. “There was a woman in a long black robe.  She had her hood pulled down over her face and she was carrying a staff.  Willow was there with me.”

 

“Okay, and then?” 

 

“Then she told me to do something,” Sib relayed, leaving out his request for a memory.  “She wanted me to deliver something and as I reached out to take it, the vision ended.”

 

“Okay, so first I think we should try to figure out how much time we have to work on this.  What clues did you see that would help you figure out how distant this vision is?”

 

“It was real clear, so I know it’s happenin’ in the next few months.”

 

"Good.  What else?”

 

“There weren’t any leaves on the trees, so it had to be before mid-April.”

 

“There’s at least one more clue that would tell you when it is.”

 

Sib racked his brain.  “The moon!” he said.

 

“Excellent.  What quarter was it?”

 

“It was a waning moon - between half and quarter.”

 

“Well, that’s something.  It means we have about two weeks, and maybe a month and two weeks.  Anything else?  A landmark?  A constellation in the sky?”

 

Sib closed his eyes and tried to remember any other details.

 

“Above the moon was a reddish star.”

 

“You mean Mars?” 

 

“I...I don’t know.”

“You need to pay better attention in Astronomy,” she said playfully.  "What else?"

 

“There were four hills in the background, they lined up.  The moon rose right over ‘em.”

“Like the four brothers?” 

 

“Yeah...I guess.” 

 

“You’re not instilling a lot of confidence,” she said, but smiled.  “You have astronomy tomorrow afternoon, right?”  Sib nodded.  “Find out from Mr. Cosmuto when the next conjunction of Mars and the Moon are.” 

 

“Yes ma’am.” 

 

“While you’re at it, look north from the Astronomy tower and see if the hills in the distance match what you saw.”

 

*******

 

Sib was sitting at his kitchen table that night, thinking about the eventful day. He noticed his mom was daydreaming. “Ma,” he said.  “You’ve been staring at that same spot on the wall for the last five minutes.”

 

His mom blinked and turned to look at him.  “I’m sorry Sib.  I’m just preoccupied about your pa."   

 

“I’m sure we’ll figure it out,” Sib replied, tapping his ring on the table. He was preoccupied himself thinking about that shiny silver object.

 

“Hey, Ma,” he said.  “Honestly...did you cast a spell on my ring?”  He held it up to show her.  She looked confused.

 

“No, Sib. I didn’t. Do you think it’s magical?”

 

“Yeah.  It wouldn’t go through the sniffer when we went to visit pa.”

 

“Magic can be dangerous, Sib.  Do you know what it does?”

 

“I...I think it might be grandpa’s lucky ring,” he said.  

 

“You mean the one he kept sayin’ protected him from harm?” 

 

“Yeah, that’s the one,” he replied. “Strange things seem to happen whenever I’m about to get hurt.  Arc ain’t laid a finger on me in three months now.”

 

“He’s just mellowed since Gramma died,” she said.

 

“All the same.  I never gone more than two days without him wailin’ on me before.”

 

“I don’t know, Sib.  As I recall, your grandpa threw that ring away.”

 

“Yeah.  And a niffler picked it up and took it back to its nest...which is where I got it.”

 

“Seems like a stretch to me.”

 

“Ma, I want you to try to hit me.”

 

“What?”

 

“Not hard-like,” he clarified.  “Just swat me with the spoon.”

 

“What’s that gonna prove?”

 

“That you can’t do it.”

 

“Fine, Sib, but remember that you asked for it.”  She grabbed a wooden mixing spoon and leaned over to swat him on the backside.  The handle snapped as she hit him.

 

“See?” said Sib.

 

“The handle must have been rotten,” she said, walking back over and getting a spatula.  She pulled her arm back to swat him one.

 

“Crack!” “Thump!”  Sib’s mom was startled from the noise above their heads. 

“What was that?” she said. 

 

“Sounded like a tree branch breakin’ off a tree and hittin’ the roof,” said Sib.  “Some coincidence, huh?”

 

“Are you sayin’ the ring broke off the branch?”

 

“I guess…” said Sib.

 

“Hooey,” she said and reared back to swat him again.  The door to Arc and Sib’s room burst open, and again, Sib’s mom was startled out of hitting him.

 

“What was that?” Arc asked, his eyes blinking in the light.  “What are you two doin’?”

 

“Ma’s tryin’ to whack me with a spatula.” 

 

“Well you’re makin’ too much noise,” he said.  He walked over and took the spatula out of his mom’s hand.  “I’m tryin’ to sleep, so both of you knock it off.” He went back into the bedroom and closed the door.

 

“That’s it,” Sib’s mom said and she went to the corner and got out the broom.

 

“Don’t.” said Sib.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I mean, the ring prevents me from gettin’ hurt, but it don’t care about anybody else.  You remember when you slipped on the grease and fell on your butt on Christmas mornin’?”  She nodded.  “You was tryin’ to swat me.  The ring wouldn’t let you and it nearly busted your tailbone preventin’ it.  If you keep tryin’ to swat me, it’s gonna stop you somehow.” 

 

“Like what?” she said.

 

“Like breakin’ your utensils, or damagin’ the house...or...or hurtin’ you.” 

 

“Is that how it worked for grandpa?”

 

“You heard pa’s stories.  Everyone around grandpa got hurt, but he never got a scratch until after he took off the ring.” said Sib.  “I’m realizin’ now it’s how it works for me.”

 

“Well if that ring’s protectin’ you from gettin’ hurt, then I’m glad you have it.”

 

“Do you know why Gramma gave it to him?”

 

“I didn’t know that.  Did you hear that from your pa?”

 

“No, I…” again he hesitated.  I gotta tell somebody.  “Gramma gave me some of her memories.”

 

“When was this?” 

 

“The Sunday before she passed,” Sib said.  “She gave me the memory of her givin’ the prophecy, but it was all mangled.  There weren’t no sound, so I don’t know what she said.”

 

“Well that’s too bad.  I know you wanted to hear about that from her.” 

 

“And then she gave me another memory of her and grandpa talkin’ in her cabin.  He said that she had given him that ring long before.”

 

“Well I guess that would make sense, now that I think about it,” she said.  “Your grandpa was a nomaj after all.” 

 

“He was a nomaj?” Sib exclaimed, and then glancing at the room where his brother was sleeping, repeated much quieter. “He was a nomaj?”

 

“Well, yeah,” she said.  “But I guess you never knew that since you were only five when he died.”  

 

Sib sat and thought about that for a while.  What does that mean?... I guess it don’t mean nothing.  He shrugged and decided to change the subject.  He looked over at his bedroom door to make sure it was closed.  Arc had gone back to bed, but he didn’t want to risk him overhearing what he was going to mention next. 

 

"There was a third memory, ma.  MACUSA were the ones that paralyzed her."
 

"What?" she exclaimed, and then, much quieter.  "What?"

 

"They were tryin' to get the memory of the prophecy from her.  That's why it was damaged and they paralyzed her when they were at it.

 

"Those bastards..." 

 

"I know."  

 

They were quiet for a long while before Sib changed the subject.  "Ma, did you decide how you're gettin' the 'thing' to Willow's ma?"

 

"No.  I don't know what to do with it."

 

“Why don’t you just send it with an owl?" 

 

“I don’t trust owl post.”

 

“How about if I just give it to Willow tomorrow at school?”

 

“What?  Just hand her a…” she leaned over conspiratorially.  “...a wand?” she whispered.

 

“No, not like that.  I’m thinkin’ you hide it in somethin’ else.”   He thought for a moment.  “Maybe like in a sweater or somethin’.” 

 

“Like I got a sweater that I wouldn’t be ashamed to give.”

 

“Well, what about flowers?” 

 

“There ain’t no flowers right now,” she said shaking her head. 

 

“Well I don’t know then.” 

 

“Sib,” she remarked, after a long silence.  “You got me thinkin’ about flowers and flour.”  She got up and went to the cupboard.  “I still got this container that Incheon’s mom gave us when she sent over that yakgwa.  What if I made Willow’s mom somethin’?”

 

“Do you know how to make yakgwa?” Sib asked.

 

“Of course not.  I’ll make some mad dogs.”

 

“Nice,” said Sib.  Her mom made delicious super-long doughnuts with cream in the center.  They were like an open-faced eclair.  Someone could easily hide a foot long wand in one.  “But how are you gonna keep Willow from eatin’ the one with the ‘you-know-what’ in it?” 

 

Sib’s mom thought for a second.  “I’ll put their names on ‘em.’”

 

“Sounds great, ma.  Don’t forget to put my name on mine.” 

 

“You hush and head off to bed.  I got some cookin’ to do.”

 

*******

 

Sib brought the container of mad dogs to the lounge the next day, but he stopped right at the entrance with the other Pathfinders.  The lounge had been trashed overnight.  Every chair was overturned, their lockers searched, and everything dumped on the floor that could be moved. 

 

“What happened?” he asked.  It looked like someone had rifled through the lounge like they had searched his house.  “Did MACUSA do this?”

 

“It was not them,” a voice called from behind them.  They spun around and saw the Hunter standing by the portal.

 

“Hunter, who did this?” asked Lily.

 

“It was a woman in a black robe with a long staff. She searched everything.  I could do nothing to stop her.”

 

The woman in black.  How did she get in?  What was she looking for?

 

Willow came through the portal, bringing Mrs. Black who surveyed the damage.  “All of you, out,” Mrs. Black commanded.  “Hunter, could you ask Mr. Puterschmidt to meet me here?  Let him know the password, if you please.”  The Hunter nodded and disappeared through the floor.  The rest of them went back through the portal and stood in the hallway. 

 

A few minutes later, Mr. Puterschmidt passed them.  “Second years, please report to my classroom for first period,” he told them.  “You and the Suncorns should continue with turning the frogs into mice and back again.”  He turned to Hye-lin and the boys.  “You too; off to first period.” He said ‘Andaste’ when he reached the portal and disappeared into the lounge.  All of them started walking to the central stair, not saying anything.  

 

Normally, Sib would jump the stairs with the others down to the first floor but today he walked with Willow and Incheon.  “Here,” he said, holding out the container to Willow.  “Some mad dogs from my mom to yours.”

 

“Oh, that’s nice,” she replied.  “What’s the occasion?”

 

“Dunno,” he replied.  “Maybe they’re havin’ a bake-off.”  Willow took the container and peeked inside.

 

“These are gigantic,” she said.  “Do people really eat a whole one of these?”

 

“Whole ones…” said Incheon.  Sib had seen him polish off three at one sitting.

 

“One of these has my name on it.” 

 

“Well then,” said Sib.  “Best eat it before Incheon decides to change his name to Willow.”

 

“What’s your mom’s name?” asked Incheon.

 

“I’m not telling,” replied Willow, snapping the container shut.  She smiled for a second and then as quickly it melted back to a frown. 

 

“Do you think the woman in black was looking for the memories?”  She patted her bag to let Sib know she still had them inside.

 

“I don’t know,” said Sib.  “But I suppose I can ask her when I see her.” They both looked at him in surprise and he relayed the vision that he had to them.  

 

“Why did she need you to deliver something?” asked Willow.  “It sounds kinda sketchy.”

 

“Everythin' about this whole year has been sketchy,” he replied.  “What’s one more?”

 

*******

 

Sib sat in the lounge before classes later that week, working on his Mysticism homework.  Mrs. Black and Mr. Puterschmidt had put the lounge back into order, but none of them knew anything about why it had been searched in the first place and neither of the teachers had yet said a word to any of the Pathfinders.  The only thing different was that the hallway that led to their lounge now had a series of portraits along it so that access through the corridor could be tracked, and there was one portrait placed just inside the portal as well.

 

“Are you just starting your homework now?” Willow asked him

 

“Hm,” Sib grumbled and buried his face back in his Mysticism text.  Sib had found out from Mr. Cosmuto that the Mars-Moon conjunction was only a week and a half away.  He relayed that to Miss Pyx immediately after and to his dismay she had turned the information into a homework assignment for the class.  He was flipping through a book trying to put something down on paper to explain the significance of the conjunction for Mysticism.  He found something and immediately scribbled it down on his parchment.

 

‘The Moon-Mars conjunction combines the emotional moon with the short-tempered and unpredictable Mars.  It indicates that people who undertake tasks can get involved in projects without worrying about the outcomes.’

 

She said to provide details, but since we're gettin' close to the conjunction, I ain't really worried about the outcome.  He closed his book and looked up. 

 

“There, done,” he said.  Sib thought that Willow looked exhausted.  “Are you alright?”

 

She nodded.  “Just tired.  My mom got a wand somehow and now she wants me to teach her everything I know all at once.  She’s keeping me up late and I’m having trouble waking up in the morning.”

 

“Try teaching her ‘veternum’,” said Lily, overhearing their conversation from the nearby couch.

 

“What’s that?” 

 

“It will make her tired, so you can get some sleep.”

 

Willow smiled and then turned back to Sib.  “The woman in the woods,” she said.  “You shouldn’t do what she asks you to.”

 

“What do you mean?” he asked.

 

“Listen to this.”  She opened a parchment and read.  “Actions taken during the conjunction of Mars and the Moon are directed at attacking and defeating enemies and competitors.” 

 

“So?” he said.

 

“Well, that’s what Lef found, so maybe the woman in black is just using you to get back at her enemies.  There’s more.”  She opened another scroll.  “The Mars and Moon conjunction promotes impulsive acts opposing control and authority.”

 

“I’m not following you,” said Sib.  “This is just a bunch of ideas for our Mysticism homework.” 

 

“It connects,” she said, handing Lily’s homework back to her.  “The woman in black - whatever she’s doing opposes control and authority.”  Sib just looked at her blankly.

 

“More?” she asked as she opened another.  “One ‘flatulent frisbee’; one box ‘puking pastilles’... Incheon, what is this?”

 

“Oh, that’s my order for Three Dubs,” he replied.

 

She threw it at him and took out her own paper.  “People acting under the influence of the Mars and Moon conjunction act with strong biases, which makes them hasty and rash.  This may enhance anger and frustration and lead to disastrous acts.” 

 

“What’s your point?” Sib asked.

 

“So, this woman in black trashes our lounge looking for the memories and then she asks you to deliver something.  Don’t you see she’s acting to destroy control and authority and if you do it, the results could be disastrous?”

 

“Incheon is ordering fart frisbees under the influence of the conjunction," Sib said, pointing at him.  "That sounds more like ‘opposing control and authority’ to me.”

 

“Could be disastrous,” added Incheon.  “...at least I’m hoping.”

 

“I’m being serious.  At least promise that you’ll talk to us about it before you do anything.”

 

“Okay, okay…”

 

Hye-lin burst into the lounge and ran over to where they were talking.

 

“Willow,” she panted, out of breath.  “You should see...COMC…”

 

“Hye-lin,” Lily said, standing up and helping her to rest in a chair.  “Slow down.  What’s going on?”

 

“There’s been...a manticore attack...in the pegasus barn.”  Willow bolted to the portal.  Sib threw his homework in his bag and followed after her, seeing her disappear as she jumped the stairs for just the second time all year.  He didn’t catch her again until she had reached the invisible barrier that had been set up around the barn, excluding the gathered throng of students from entering.

 

“I have to see,” she said, pacing back and forth.  “Can you get past?” she asked him.

 

Sib's attempts to push past were useless and he didn’t even know what spell to cast to try to break through.

 

“Here,” came a voice from behind them.  Quinta had squeezed through the students to where they were standing.  She pushed her hands into the invisible barrier and pulled them apart as if she was parting a curtain.  “Go between my hands,” she said.  Willow squeezed through and disappeared into the barn.

 

“How did you do that?” asked Sib when Quinta had let go.

 

“Magic, nimrod,” she said.  “You should try it sometime.” Sib just shook his head.  Several seventh-years around them had also tried to penetrate the barrier with no success.



Chapter 18: The Firebird
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Mrs. Black cleared them all away shortly after Willow disappeared into the barn and the students shuffled to their first period class, abuzz with rumor.  Willow didn’t show up for Alteration and Mr. Puterschmidt received a message to excuse Lef halfway through the class.  Neither of them appeared in History of Magic, Nomaj Studies, or at lunch.  

 

“Do you think they’re okay?” Sib asked Quinta, who was working with him and Incheon in their agonizing double-length potions class.  

 

“Who?” she said, trying and failing to cut up her spiderroot.  It crawled away every time she let go.

 

“Willow and Lef,” he said.  “They’ve been gone all morning.” 

 

“I hate you!” she yelled at the root on her board and she put up her finger to cast a spell at it, burning it into cinders.

 

“Burnt spiderroot will not work in today’s potion, Miss Rodriguez,” Mr. Holmes said as he walked by.  “You might try paralyzing it next time instead of just incinerating everything.”  

 

“I hate Alchemy,” Quinta muttered under her breath.  She sat on her stool and crossed her arms, apparently giving up for the class.  

 

“Well,” said Incheon.  “As always, good conversation, Quinta.  I’m going to go get us some new spiderroot.  Sib, stir this twelve times counterclockwise.”  Sib nodded to him and picked up the ladle to stir their potion.

 

“I thought you were good at everything,” Sib said to her.  “I’m glad to know you suck at making potions as much as I do.”

 

“Why are you glad?” 

 

“I dunno.  I guess it makes you seem almost human.”

 

“Thanks.   By the way, that’s clockwise, dumbass.”

 

After Incheon had returned to their table and smelled the stinking booger-consistency goop that was left in their cauldron, he too gave up.  Sib wrote the class off as another ‘fail’ so that when Willow and Lef joined them at the very end of the period, they had a few minutes to talk.

 

Willow’s eyes were puffy and red.  Lef told them what happened.  “Corey got into the Pegasus barns last night.  He… he killed Chippy.”  Sib remembered that Chippy was the pegasus that had pulled their carriage on the first day of school.

 

“I’m real sorry, Willow,” Sib said.  

 

She nodded.  “I’m more pissed than anything,” she said.  “Ursula said she’d look after him.  I don’t understand what she was doing.  I sent a message to her using Fred.”

 

“Do you think that’s smart?” said Sib.  “I mean, she told us not to try to reach out to her.”

 

“Do you think I care what she wants us to do right now?” Willow hissed, her anger boiling over.   

 

Sib looked over and saw Lef slowly shaking her head and pursing her lips.  She was staring at Incheon, who was biting his lips and nodding his head slowly.  Just as Incheon opened his mouth to say something, the bell rung and they grabbed their things to head to their last class, Mysticism.  Sib held Incheon and Quinta back and nodded for the others to go.  After Lily, Lef and Willow were gone, they started walking slowly to the lifts.

 

“I know what you were going to say and I don’t want you to say it,” Sib told Incheon.

 

“But she had to know this was coming,” he said.  “She let a manticore go wild into the woods.”

 

“I know, but I want you to take that thought and bury it deep inside.  You know how Willow gets.” Incheon just shook his head.

 

“Why did you hold me back?” asked Quinta.

 

“‘Cause you tend to speak your mind, and I think it’s best if you don’t do that around Willow.  At least not for a little while.”  He looked around. “And, because one of the Hammersmiths tried to curse me earlier this week and I like havin’ you around to…discourage them.”

 

*******

 

A week and a half later, on the day of the conjunction, they sat throwing a ball at each other in their first class, Thaumaturgy.  Mr. Hendershot had split up the class to work on two different charms. On one side of the room, the Murgatroyd students were working with the amplifying charm, ‘sonorous’, to try to hear each other whisper from the other side of the room.  Sib and the other Pathfinders were tossing balls at each other and attempting to slow down their flight using ‘arresto momentum’.  Willow hadn’t shown up to school that morning and Quinta, as usual, was sitting in the back of the room reading a book.

 

“Why doesn’t Quinta have to do this,” Lily asked Mr. Hendershot as he walked by checking on them.  

 

“Because she doesn’t need it.  Watch.”  He took one of the balls that were in front of them, wound up and threw it at Quinta as hard as he could, the ball whizzed across the room and, without Quinta even looking up from her reading, halted a foot from her head.  It proceeded to zip around the room faster and faster until it exploded into a ball of flame.  It hovered for a moment in midair and then flew at the wall, punching a hole in the foot-thick stone wall between them and the outside.  The room was completely silent in amazement.  The only sound was a quiet ‘flip’ as Quinta turned a page in her book.

 

Mr. Hendershot looked back at Lily.  “When you can do that, you can also sit in the back of the room and read a book.”  Lily crossed her arms in displeasure and looked away.

 

“But how does she do it?” Sib asked.

 

“I couldn’t tell you.  Once every couple of generations, a mage is born who is so talented, so unbelievably skilled in a particular area of magic that they break all the boundaries about what a mage is supposed to be able to do.  Quinta is that way with charms.  I’ve never seen her equal.”

 

“You mean like Miss Knox is with illusions?”

 

He smiled.  “She is amazing, isn’t she?  Her illusions were so good, she even fooled Mr. Zolock.  He figured if she can fool a ghost then she should definitely be hired.”  He shook his head. “But I’m talking way beyond that.  Quinta is, in a word, a prodigy.”

 

“So why is she at school at all?” asked Lily.  Sib heard a hint of jealousy in Lily’s voice.  She had been the top student in Charms before Quinta moved up.

 

“Is she this talented at everything?” he asked. 

“She’s as bad as me in potions,” said Sib. 

 

“And that’s pretty bad,” added Incheon.

 

“So she still has something to learn.  Besides, there’s more to being at Gampton Hall than learning a few spells.  Now arrest it!” He quickly tossed a new ball at Incheon, which bounced off of his head and landed on the table in front of him.

“Ow.”

 

“Well, let’s switch up, shall we?” suggested Mr. Hendershot.  He had the students change what they were working on so that the Pathfinders started working to cast ‘sonorous’ on a long, stringy object which would then be stretched out across the length of the room.  One person would whisper in one end and the other person was supposed to be able to hear.

 

“It’s like an extendable ear,” said Incheon, who was standing next to Sib, whispering to Lef who was on the other side of the room.

 

“Exactly,” said Mr. Hendershot.  “Of course the Weasleys really perfected it, but we’re just creating a simple version of the same thing.”  He left them and walked to the other side of the room.  After a bit of trial and error, they seemed to get the hang of it and Mr. Hendershot let them freely converse for the last few minutes of class.  

 

Willow arrived late and came over to join them.  They huddled around her.  “I met Ursula this morning before school,” she said.  “I guess my message let her know how ticked off I was.”

 

“And?” 

 

“And ten days ago was the full moon,” she said.  There was a collective ‘a-ha’ as they realized that she had been in bear form when Corey attacked the school.  “As a bear, Corey could easily kill her, so she has to hide herself away and leave him to his own.”

 

“So did you say you were sorry?” Lef asked.

 

“Sorry?  Why?  It’s not like she didn’t know she was a were-bear when she agreed to watch him.  After we broke him out, she should have thought of something to do with Corey when she was changed.”

 

“Incheon, what are you holding?” Lily asked.  She was staring across the room.

 

“One of those extendable ear things,” he said.  “Why?”

 

“Where’s the other end?”  Sib’s gaze followed the stringy flesh-colored object across the floor and right onto Mr. Hendershot’s desk.  He was sitting behind it and staring at them.  He quickly got up and walked out of the room.

 

“He heard every word we just said,” Sib realized out loud.

 

All through Herbology, COMC, and Astronomy, they kept waiting for the shoe to drop.  Any minute we’re gonna get the call to go see Mrs. Black.  Any minute now.  At the end of the day, they were all sitting in the lounge in an unbelieving silence that nothing had happened.

 

“I guess it’ll be tomorrow then,” said Lily.  “I’m going home now.”

 

“But what about tonight?” asked Sib.  “It’s the conjunction.  Can you come?”

 

“After today?” she said.  “I’m in enough trouble already, Sib.  I’m not adding sneaking out to the list.  Sorry.”  She got up and left for the day.

 

“I can’t go either,” said Lef.  “Our house is alarmed and there’s no way anyone can get in or out after eleven.”

 

“Is anyone else goin’? Sib asked. 

 

“Buddy, I am right with you,” Incheon said.  “If you were marching into the manticore’s den itself, I’d be right by your side.” 

 

“I’ll be there, too,” added Quinta. 

 

“Great, I’m out,” said Incheon.  

 

Sib looked at him, confused.  “What was that you just said about stickin’ by me into the manticore’s den?”

 

“I hear they eat people.  Quinta is people, so you should be good.”  He started gathering his things as well.

 

“Willow, you’ll be there.”

“I can’t,” she replied.  “There’s no way for me to get here.”

 

“But you’re there.  It was in the vision.”

 

“I’m telling you, I'm not coming.”

 

“I don’t get it,” he said.  “You say you can’t come tonight but you can sneak out of school to go yell at Ursula as if breakin’ out Corey was her idea.”

 

“You’re a real jerk,” she said as she stormed away.  Quinta was the only one left.

 

“Don’t worry about it,” said Sib, although Quinta didn’t look worried in the least.  “She’ll be there.”

 

*******

 

Sib woke at one in the morning and quietly snuck out of his bunk and into the dining room.  He dressed silently and he was careful to whisper as he stepped into the fireplace. “Gampton Commons,” he called and firejumped to the public fireplaces near the town square.  Quinta was waiting for him. 

 

“Did you have any trouble sneakin’ out?” he asked her.

 

“No,” she replied.  “My grandfather’s usually asleep by nine thirty.”

 

“Have you seen Willow?” 

 

“She said she wasn’t coming.”

 

“Except that I know she’s going to be here.” 

 

“Well, we aren’t going to make it if we don’t get moving,” she said.  “Do you know where we’re going?”

 

“Yeah.  We gotta walk to the north end of the island on the west side and then start walkin’ east.  Do you know a better way than cross-country?”

 

“How about we borrow a boat?” she suggested.  Sib hadn’t even thought of that, but quickly realized that would be much easier than bushwacking for the next hour. 

 

He nodded and looked at the time on the clock in the town square.  I can’t wait for her no more.  I don’t know how, but she’ll have to find her way to us.  “Let’s get goin’,” said Sib and they headed to the east side of town where the public docks were.  They found a small rowboat and Quinta crawled inside.

 

“Uh,” Sib started.  “I don’t…”

 

“Shut your face and get in,” she hissed.  “I’ll handle it.”  Sib pulled the rope that was holding the small craft to the dock as Quinta put her hand on the side of the boat.  It started moving out into the stream on its own.

 

“Where’d you learn to do this?” Sib asked once they had drifted far enough away from the riverside houses to not be overheard.

 

“I saw Mr. Woodhead do it on our first day and I had him show me how.”

 

“How many times have you practiced?” he asked.

 

“This will be one,” she said.  They drifted against the current for a while in silence.  Gamp Island passing by slowly on the left.

 

“Is Incheon your friend?” Quinta asked.

 

“Yeah, sure.”

 

“What do you do with him?”

 

“I dunno," he responded.  "We laugh and fool around.  Whatever.”

 

“Is that what a friend is?”

 

“Oh come on,” said Sib.  “You can’t tell me you haven’t had friends?”  Quinta didn’t answer.  “I mean... you’re rough and weird and quirky and funny in a very dark way, but you have to have had friends before, right?”

 

“Before I got my wand, I wasn’t able to control my magic very well.” 

 

“None of us were,” replied Sib.  “I used to make rainbow bubbles appear.  My ma told me that didn’t go over so well at my grandpa’s funeral.” Because his family was nomaj... Sib now realized.

 

“I could do much more.” 

 

“Well didn’t you have playmates, or a brother or sister?”

 

“I have four older brothers, but they're much older than me.  Other kids didn’t end up playing with me more than once.  I…” she hesitated.  “I hurt some of them.”  

 

How am I supposed to respond to that…

 

They floated on in silence for minutes that seemed to Sib like hours.  What am I supposed to do?  "Well, you’re our friend now,” he finally told her.

 

“Am I?”

 

“Well, at least for my part,” he said, dipping his hand in the icy cold water.  “And the fact that you’re here means that you’re mine.”

 

“I am?”

 

He thought of Mr. Hendershot’s words from earlier in the day.  ‘There’s more to being at Gampton Hall than learning a few spells.’  “Yeah, you are.”  They both were silent for a while longer.  As they reached the north end of the island, Sib could tell that Quinta was turning the boat.  They were now floating down the west side of the island, heading back towards Gampton Hall.  

 

"What are you going to do about your mom?" Sib asked.

 

"I was going to march into MACUSA and demand to know what happened to her."

 

"But?"

 

"But I tried that and nobody had any idea what I was talking about.  They just dismissed me as some stupid brown girl whose mom dumped them and ran off with some hobo."

 

Ouch.  "So what now?"

 

"Now I'll do it on my own," Quinta said. 

 

Sib thought of when he had said the same thing that Quinta just did.  "And I'll be right there with you when you do." She was silent for a while, but Sib thought he saw a smirk pass over her face.

 

“I don’t know how far down to go,” she said to Sib.  “But we shouldn’t go anywhere near the falls.”  There was a large waterfall right next to Gampton Hall.  Sib had been in Featherpenny house the year before and their lounge was high above the library and looked out over the falls.  Sib wasn’t sure how his ring would possibly save him if he went over them in a rowboat. 

 

“Here is good,” Sib said, pointing to a small inlet where the boat would be out of the current.  Quinta guided the boat in and Sib tied it to a branch to secure it.  They started walking East toward the four brothers, their only light was the floating ball of ‘lumos’ that Quinta sent out in front of them like a well-trained dog.  The cloud cover had not started to break up, but Sib knew there wasn’t too long before moonrise.  Where can Willow be?

 

They tramped through the dark forest until Sib could see the dark shapes of the hills known as the four brothers blot out the stars on the horizon.  “We’re gettin’ close,” he told Quinta.  It was then that he knew Willow was near.  He looked around for her, but couldn’t spot her anywhere.  

 

“Willow?” he said into the darkness.  She has to be around here somewhere, I can smell her perfume.

 

“She’s not here,” said Quinta.

 

“But I smell her.”

 

“You smell that, pinhead.” She was pointing to a nearby bush.  Sib looked where she meant.  It was scarlet honeysuckle.  Of course.  What an idiot.  I only thought she was here because she wears perfume that smells like honeysuckle.

 

“But someone was with me…” he started.

 

“And what am I, shredded lettuce?”

 

It wasn’t Willow’s voice in the vision.  It was Quinta’s. “Put out that light,” he said.  “We’re nearly there.”  She extinguished it and they continued on, going slowly as their eyes adjusted to the darkness. 

 

The forest suddenly lit up as the crescent moon emerged from behind the clouds.  The long moon-shadows enhanced the barren look of the woods by doubling the tendril-like branches of the trees to cover the forest floor as well as the sky.  There was a small glade just ahead and Sib walked quietly toward it; Quinta just behind him.  He stopped suddenly as a shape that had been indistinguishable from a rock moved just in front of him.   

 

Just like the vision, the old woman unfolded herself upright, her face hidden in blackness under the hood.  “How did you find me?” She rasped, holding her writhing, shifting staff in front of her.

 

“Who are you?” asked Quinta.

 

The old woman pointed an ancient finger at Sib.  “I know you.  You have your grandmother’s gift.” 

 

“I need a memory,” Sib said.

 

“I know why you are here,” she replied.  “But I never trade anything for free.  This...for that.   I can get you a memory...for a simple task.”  She held up the container that Sib remembered from the vision.  “You shall deliver this for me.”  She held out the salt-shaker sized object and Sib reached out to take it.  His finger touched the vial and he closed his fingers around it. 

 

“Why did you trash our lounge?” he asked.

 

“Did I?” she said, chuckling.  “That seems like the kind of thing I would remember doing.”  

 

“So it wasn’t you?” 

 

“I haven’t been welcome in Gampton Hall in over fifty years.  If I were, I certainly wouldn’t start by destroying your room.  Why do you ask?”  Sib could tell her eyes were trying to penetrate into him.  “Was someone looking for something?”

 

Sib remembered what the old woman had told him before.  “Best not to speak of what we know.  You never know who’s listening.” She laughed and Sib thought it was the most unpleasant sound he had ever heard.  “What do you want me to do with this?” He held up the small white container.

 

“Take it to Spellhold and open it when you’re at the prison.  Do not open it before.”

 

“What is it?” 

 

“Don’t ask questions to which you don’t want to know the answer.  If you want the memory, you will do this.”  There was a sound off in the woods and she perked up instantly. “You were followed,” she said.  “It’s MACUSA.  You must escape.” She disapparated with a 'pop' and Sib spun around, seeing points of light all around him bobbing through the trees.  There must have been five or six people moving toward them. 

 

“What do we do?” asked Quinta, readying herself to fight.

 

 Sib remembered the ball from Thaumaturgy class that morning that had burst into flames and he was struck by sudden inspiration.  “Can you enchant anything to fly?”  She nodded and he reached into his bag, pulling out the Firebird broom.  There was a shout from their pursuers as they spotted the flaming light dancing through the trees and the glowing lights started making a beeline for where they stood.  Quinta put her hands on the broom and Sib could instantly feel it infuse with power.  He hopped on and told Quinta to get on right in front of him. She swung her leg over and Sib tried wrapping his hands around her middle, but he had trouble getting a grip on the broom handle.  A flash of light lit up the forest around them and a red-colored spell burst on the trunk of the tree just to their left.  Sib ducked as chunks of bark and burnt splinters flew past his head.  

 

Quinta kicked her legs up and spun around so she was face to face with him, sitting on his lap.  “Go,” she said.  “I’ll hold them off.”  She wrapped her legs around his middle and put her arms around his shoulders.  Sib could feel the raw power flowing through her where his face touched the side of hers and the hair stood up on the back of his neck.  He held his breath and pushed off of the ground.

Sib leaned forward into Quinta to make the broom start moving. He could smell the mix of sweat and fear and excitement that surrounded her.  As he leaned, the broom shot forward and he had to pull back.

 

“Holy…” he said.  “I’ve never been on a broom this powerful.”  He tried again, being much more careful about how much he accelerated and they shot forward again.  

 

There was yelling behind him.  “Jack, Raj, go left!  Anna, cover the right!”

 

Sib glanced back over his shoulder and saw a flash of red light and a bolt fly straight toward them. Quinta blocked the spell with one hand and with the other knocked a MACUSA pursuer right off his broom.  Sib swung his head around and leaned forward a little more, picking up speed and dodging between the trees.  He couldn’t see to the right since Quinta’s head was in the way, but he could see that there was a mage off to his left and he tried to outpace them.  This broom is almost too powerful.  I can barely control it. 

 

He kept them moving in roughly a straight line directly toward the four brothers.  The mage off to the left was still there, occasionally firing a flash of red light through the forest to strike a nearby tree or to be blocked by Quinta’s magic. 

 

“I can’t see off to my right, Quinta,” he said into her ear.  Anyone there?

 

“Yes,” she replied in a strained voice.  “And if this is the best you can fly, there’s no wonder you lost every game this year.  They’re moving ahead of you.”

 

“They’re driving us…” right into a trap.  It was just like the kobolds did back before he started school. 

“We gotta turn around,” he said to her.

 

“Well you’d better make it a good one,” she said.  “You have two of them practically crawling up your butt.”  She grunted as another series of bright red flashes lit up the woods.  Sib didn’t know how much longer she could keep blocking their spells.

 

How are we gonna lose them? As soon as he thought it, he heard Lily’s answer.  ‘I’d do an inside loop and then transition to a bell tailslide.  There’s no way they could follow that.’  “Hold on,” he told Quinta.

 

“What the hell do you think I’m doiiiiiiii…”  She started to scream as Sib pulled up hard and they immediately started climbing up, over and down in a high-speed inside loop, the pursuing riders shooting past them.  Sib could feel Quinta’s weight press down on his thighs as the g-forces increased.  As soon as he was level again, he pulled up and they rocketed through the treetops and out into the night.   Sib leaned back on the broom and they started a weightless freefall.  He twisted the broom around as several red flashes flew toward where they would have been.  As he turned back to the ground, he leaned forward into a power dive and they barrelled past two climbing MACUSA pursuers who were completely caught off-guard. 

 

“Wooo-hoo!” screamed Sib.  “That was amazin’!” 

 

“Sure,” said Quinta.  “Just be glad I’m not facing forward.” she spit and wiped her mouth from having thrown up.  They had gained some time and escaped a certain trap, but Sib knew the MACUSA agents would catch up soon enough.  As he zigged and zagged in a high-speed slalom through the forest, he knew he’d have to find some way to lose them entirely.   

 

“How fast can this broom go?” he asked Quinta as they neared the edge of the forest.

 

“I don’t know,” she said. 

 

“Only one way to find out.” They burst out of the woods over the river and Sib leaned hard into the broom, willing it to go as fast as it could.  He felt it leap underneath them as if it were a thoroughbred released from a starting gate.  

 

“They’re falling behind,” Quinta said into his ear.  Sib could barely hear her over the wind whipping by them. His eyes were watering and he had to squint to continue looking where they were going. 

 

“How did they know where we were?” Sib asked.

 

“Do you think Miss Pyx ratted you out?”

 

“No way.”

 

“Then they tracked us,” she said.  “I’m going to look through your bag.” 

 

“You can do that?”

 

“It’s a charm, nimrod.  Of course I can do that.”  He could feel her rummaging around inside.  “What’s this?” she held out a ball of twine.

 

“That’s mine.  It’s just twine.”  She dropped it into the river.  “Hey!” Sib shouted.

 

“What’s this?” 

 

“Don’t pop that,” he said.  “It’s manticore antidote, but it stinks.”  She dumped it back in his bag.

 

“Why do you have this?” she held out the carving of the manticore that he had made for Willow.

 

"Keep that," he said, still holding out hope that he would eventually find a time to give it to her. ...after she apologized for abandoning me tonight... 

 

“I thought you were poor?” Quinta asked.

 

“I am.” 

 

“Then what’s this?” She held up a shiny dragot.

 

“That ain’t mine,” he said. Her hand formed a fist around it and he heard her whisper something.  

 

She dropped the coin back in his bag.  "That should do it." 

 

They were rapidly approaching the island that held the Pathfinder lounge and the circle of stones.  Sib thought for a moment about just landing and running into Gampton Hall, but there was nowhere to hide inside that their pursuers couldn’t follow.  Tears were pouring down his face from the oncoming wind and he knew he couldn’t keep this up for long.

 

We need a hiding place.  He immediately thought of the salamander pens, where the books that proved the existence of the Pathfinder House had been hidden the previous year.  “I need you to do just a couple more charms,” Sib said in Quinta’s ear as they reached landfall.  “There’s a large stone that I need you to move and then I could use your lumos out in front again.”

 

“Okay,” she answered.  Sib darted through the woods, heading for the location of the entrance to a secret tunnel that he and the Pathfinders had used the year before.  

 

He pulled back on the handle and halted the broom right at the entrance.  “Here.”  He pointed and Quinta turned and put out her hand. "Patentibus!" she called.  The boulder-sized rock door made a grinding noise as it slid open.  Sib had turned around and he could see that their pursuers had not given up the chase.  They were moving through the woods toward where they were.

 

“That’s good enough,” he said once the opening was wide enough for them to fly through.  “Can you close it once we’re through?”

 

“Yes,” she replied.  Sib could tell she was exhausted.  “But I can’t hold it closed against six of them.” 

 

“It’s alright,” said Sib.  “We just need to buy a few more seconds.”  Once inside, Quinta closed the door and they were in pitch blackness.  “Now the light.” 

 

“Lumos dux,” Quinta called and her light-dog jumped out in front of them, hovering in the air.  Sib saw the tunnel entrance and sped into it, the ball of light bounding its way ahead.  He already heard noises through the rock door letting him know the pursuers were only seconds behind.   

 

“Where are we?” asked Quinta as they passed from solid rock walls to walls made entirely of water.

 

“We’re under the river,” Sib replied.  “This leads straight back to Gampton Hall.”  He sped forward, the tunnel extending in almost a perfectly straight line along the riverbed.  The tunnel started climbing again and quickly transitioned back to rock walls.  “We’re almost at the end,” he said.  Quinta didn’t reply, but he felt her nod on his shoulder.  Sib pulled up hard as the tunnel ended in a flat rock face.

 

Sib touched down and helped Quinta off of his lap.  She leaned over against the wall and promptly collapsed.  “Quinta!,” he cried as he hopped off the broom.  “Are you alright?” 

 

She nodded.  “Yeah, but I don’t have much left, so you’d better do all the spell casting from now on.”  Sib put the Firebolt back into his bag and turned to the rock wall.  Panic set in.   He had never been this way through the tunnel and this door had opened from the other side.  He started pushing on the rocks around the door, hoping that he could blindly find the trigger that opened it.  Nothing was working.

 

“Sib,” Quinta called weakly from behind him.  “They’re coming.”

 

“I’m trying.”

 

“Well you need to try faster, pinhead.”

 

Sib pulled out his amulet. “Alohomora!” he called.  "Andaste!" he tried unsuccessfully.  "Open!"  In desperation, he started pounding on the rock wall with his fists and feet.  "Help!"  Giving up, he finally turned and slumped his back against the rock, sliding down to sit on the dirt floor of the tunnel in resignation.

 

“You really do suck at magic, don’t you?” said Quinta and without waiting for a response she stood up and faced the tunnel.  She held her arms outstretched and started bringing her palms together.  The movement was slow and Sib could see her arms shaking with the effort as if she was trying to squeeze a tree trunk down to a toothpick with her bare hands.  Suddenly, she started glowing and a wave of energy pulsed from her.  Sib felt the ground vibrate.  She brought her hands closer together so that they were only a foot apart.  "Ohneega'kahuntsi," she said and with a clap she brought them together.  There was a tremendous ‘boom’ from the tunnel below and blast of air pressed Sib back into the rock.  His ears popped and a wave of water came crashing up the tunnel reaching nearly to Quinta’s feet.

 

She dropped to her knees and her body went slack as she passed out onto the floor.  Her lumos ball extinguished and left Sib alone in the cold darkness.



Chapter 19: Illusions and Interrogations
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“Lumos,” Sib called and a ball of light emerged from the front of his amulet.  A giant ghostly figure emerged from the darkness and Sib screamed before he realized it was the Hunter.  “Oh, it’s you,” he said and he ran over to where Quinta had collapsed.  He pulled her up to rest against him and he checked to make sure she was still breathing.  Her hands felt like ice as Sib propped her against the wall.  He turned back to the ghost.   

 

“I can’t get through,” he said.  “Is there a way?” 

 

“Always,” said the Hunter, who pointed to a pressure plate on the opposite wall from where Sib had been looking.  Sib reached up and pressed it and the rock door behind them ground open.  Sib picked up Quinta, carrying her into the salamander pens.  He remembered this room from the year before.  It was a circular space about twenty feet across; the ceiling lost in darkness.  It was filled with ashes which Sib kicked up as he carried Quinta through the room.  The space used to hold flaming salamanders back in the early days of the school when they were used to light kitchen fires; now there were nomaj in the kitchens who used electricity brought in especially for them.  Near the door where he entered were the remains of an old chest that had held the archives of their house in secret for over two hundred years.  He walked to the other side and set Quinta down against the far wall.

 

“I know there are two stones to push,” he said.  The Hunter nodded and pointed them out.  They were too far apart for him to push by himself.  This door had always been a two-person job.  “I don’t suppose you can push one?” he said to the ghost, already knowing the answer.  The Hunter shook his head.   Quinta was still out cold.  

 

“Use your fire stick,” the ghost said.  Fire stick? Oh, he means the Firebird.  Sib nodded and reached in his bag to pull the broom back out.  Holding the shaft near the base, he was just able to press the two stones simultaneously.  A small two foot by two foot door opened in front of him.  Sib knew it led to an unused fireplace in the Gampton Hall kitchens; as he had been this way before.  After putting his broom away, he slid Quinta near the door and crawled through, reaching back to pull her out of the ashes.  

 

“Wingardium leviosa,” he called and the large box that was blocking the way - a ‘freezer’ Willow had called it - floated up into the air. Sib pushed it to make room.  He pulled Quinta out into the kitchen and did his best to hide his tracks by closing the door to the salamander pens, putting the freezer back in place, and using 'scourgify' to clean the ashes off the two of them as best he could.

 

He carried her through the school and she started to come to as he set her down by the firejumps in the main gallery.  “That tunnel was not held up by a charm,” she croaked.

 

“You’re okay,” said Sib, relieved.

 

“If this is okay, then I don’t want to know what ‘crappy’ feels like.”

 

“Can you stand?”

 

“Yeah,” she said.  “Help me up.”

 

“What happened in the tunnel?” Sib asked as he pulled her to her feet.

 

“I closed it,” she said.  “But I had help.”

 

“But I…” 

 

“No, you were useless as usual,” she remarked, cutting him off.  “I’m talking about the Hunter.”  She pointed behind Sib.  “He was...inside my head.  He told me what to do.” 

 

Sib turned around to see the Hunter standing behind them.  That must be why she was glowing. “He told me how to get out of the tunnel too,” said Sib.

 

“Help will come to those who ask,” the Hunter told them.

 

“Well, thanks,” said Sib.  “I’ll remember to ask for it sooner.”  He helped Quinta to the fireplace and made sure she firejumped home safely.  He waved goodbye to the ghost and firejumped himself, landing quietly in his cabin.  He undressed, snuck into his bed, and fell asleep almost instantly.

 

********

 

“So what is the lesson that I wanted you to get out of the frogs-to-mice transfiguration?” Mr. Puterschmidt asked them the next morning in Alteration class.  The class had been working on this particular spell for more than two weeks now.  Sib had managed it - once.  For now, the silence from the class was deafening.  Sib was looking at the floor and was trying to keep his eyes open.  He felt like a total zombie, but his mom had not let him call out sick that morning.

 

“Miss Smith?” He had called on Lily, who had her hand up, as usual.

 

“The mice become completely like mice and lose all of their...frogness.” she said.

 

“Excellent.  Yes, when you transfigure an object - it becomes completely like that object and doesn’t retain any of its original characteristics - at least not overtly.  That's the fourth exception to Gamp's law - mind and...”  He stopped mid-sentence.  “Mr. Ryong, you have a question?” Mr. P sounded surprised.  Honestly, Sib was too.  Incheon never asked questions.

 

“What about an animagus?  Don’t they still act like the mage?”

 

“Excellent question!  Five points to Pathfinder."  He walked around to the front of his desk to face the class.  “You see, it’s the difference between an ability and a spell,” he continued.  “I have the ability to turn into a hare - which you’ve all seen.”  Sib remembered the first time Mr. P had turned into a rabbit in his class.  It was quite impressive.  “But it’s not a spell.  I don’t need my wand to do so.  Transfiguration on the other hand requires a spell.”

 

“So it’s impossible for a mage to turn into multiple animals?” Incheon asked.

 

I see where he’s goin’ with this now.  Sib looked up at Mr. Puterschmidt to see how he would answer.

 

“Absolutely impossible.  Like we’ve talked about before, a mage only has the ability to transform into a single animal - the one you are most attuned to, and not everyone can even do this.  No, if a mage were to take different forms, that would be a transfiguration spell, and they would lose all sense of themselves when they did it.  It would be a colossal mistake of a one-way trip.  The mage would become an animal and could only escape if someone else transfigured them back.”

 

*******

 

“I’m telling you, it’s not a mage,” said Incheon as they walked past the Chancellor’s office on their way to History of Magic class.

 

“I’m tellin’ you that it’s the Wendigo,” Sib replied.  “And mage or not, we gotta get that memory.”

 

As they walked into History of Magic, Sib knew right away he’d have trouble staying awake.  Part of what made these lessons so interesting was the light show and illusions that Miss Knox put on every time Mr. Z. was telling them about a historical story, but she wasn’t in class today.  Sib managed to find a seat in the back of the class and put his head down on his desk.  

 

He woke at the bell, switched classes to Nomaj Studies and repeated the process.  By the time he made it to lunchtime, he actually felt half decent. “Did I miss anything in Nomaj Studies?” he asked Incheon as they headed to the banquet hall.

 

“He made fun of your snoring,” Incheon said.  “But no, he’s still an idiot.”  They walked together to lunch and he sat down to eat with the other Pathfinders.  They were all talking about how there still had been no fallout from what Mr. Hendershot had heard them say the previous day.

 

“He’s not even in today,” Hye-lin told them as she sat down to join their conversation.

 

“So what happened last night,” Lef asked him.  “Did you meet her?”

 

Sib nodded.  “We met her just like in the vision.  Then MACUSA showed up and Quinta and I had to bug out.”

 

“So why did she trash our lounge?” asked Lily.

 

“She didn’t.” 

 

“Ha!” exclaimed Willow.  She had been giving Sib the cold shoulder all day.  “And you were stupid enough to believe her?”

 

“Yeah, I guess I am,” he said defensively.  “‘Cause I don’t think she did it.”

 

“So it was another Woman in Black?” Willow remarked snidely.

 

“Guys!” said Lef. “Stop snapping at each other.”  She turned to Sib.  “Why do you think it wasn’t her.”

 

“I don’t know,” he said.  “Wait…”  He suddenly knew how he could confirm it.  He stood up.  “Hunter, I need help!” he called.  The surrounding tables looked at him and he hung his head and sat down, embarrassed.

 

“What was that?” Lily asked.

 

“The Hunter saw her.” 

 

“Yeah, so?” 

 

“And Quinta saw the woman in the woods.” As he said it, the Hunter drifted through the wall and annoyed several tables by drifting directly through their occupants.

 

“Thanks, Hunter,” said Sib when he arrived at their table.  The ghost nodded.  “Can you tell us exactly what the Woman in Black looked like who trashed our lounge?” 

 

“She wore a black robe and black hood pulled down over her face.  She carried a staff and used it as mages use a wand to search.”

 

“The staff - what did it look like?” 

 

“It was black and unadorned; but rippled as if it had been made out of water.” 

 

“And her hands - did you see how old she looked from her hands?”

 

“They were not the hands of an old woman or a child,” he answered.

 

“Quinta?” Sib prompted.

 

“The woman in the woods was old.  Her hands looked like she was eighty.  And her staff…it moved.”

 

“What do you mean it moved?” Willow asked.

 

“It has shapes carved on it and they move up and down the shaft,” Sib explained. “It wasn’t the same woman.” 

 

“So who trashed our lounge, then?”

 

There was silence all around. 

 

"I still think it was her," said Willow.  "How many women in black can there be?"

 

“What about the dragot?” asked Quinta.

 

Sib looked at her.  “Did you tell her?” he asked, nodding at Willow.  Quinta shook her head.

 

“Tell me what?” Willow asked coldly.

 

“Search your bag for something that doesn’t belong there.”  She looked huffy, but opened her bag and started looking through.

 

“I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me what I’m…” she paused and pulled out a dragot.  “This isn’t mine.”  It made a ‘click’ as she set it on the table.

 

“It’s how they’re tracking you,” said Quinta.

 

“Who?” 

 

“MACUSA.”

 

“Why?...” she started.  “Oh...But who put it in there?”  

 

“I don't know,” Sib said.  "But we know we're bein' watched."

 

“So what do we do now that we know?” asked Lef, who had just finished searching her own bag and was holding a dragot in her hand.

 

“Nothing,” said Willow, dropping her own coin back in her bag. 

 

“What do you mean?” asked Sib.

 

“We know, but they don’t know we know, you know?”

 

“No,” said Incheon.

 

“But what about the thing the woman in the woods wanted you to deliver?” Lef asked.

 

“I got it,” said Sib.  “She said to take it to Spellhold and open it.” 

 

“What’s in it?” she pressed.

 

“I don’t know.” 

 

Lef continued to quiz him. “Didn’t you ask?”

 

“She wouldn’t say.”

 

“So are you going to do it?” Hye-lin asked him.

 

“I...I dunno.  We need that memory, right?”

 

“You should take it to Pyx and talk it through with her,” said Willow.

 

Sib wanted to snap at her not to tell him what to do, but the bell rung for them to go to their double-length potions class and he just let unsaid snappy comebacks stew inside like whatever Mr. Holmes was going to make them concoct for the next two hours.

 

*******

 

“This is a Firebird!” Lily screamed as they stood in the Pathfinder lounge that afternoon. 

 

“It ain’t really,” Sib explained.  “It’s just the model that was in Quad Depot and then Quinta charmed it to fly...It goes pretty good, though.  Want to take it for a spin?”  Without a second’s hesitation, she grabbed it and rushed outside to take it for a test flight.  All of the others except Quinta went outside for a turn as well.

 

Sib was about to ask Quinta how she was doing when the newly-hung painting on the wall started yelling.  “The British are coming!, the British are coming!”  Sib looked over to see a man dressed in colonial garb riding his Pegasus through the frame and calling out to them.  It was one of the pictures that was moved to the third floor hallway to track movement in and out of the Pathfinder lounge in response to the break-in.

 

“Henry, what are you yammerin’ about?” Sib asked the painting just as Mrs. Black came through the portal.

 

“Mr. Hooplander,” she said.  “There are some gentlemen from MACUSA who wish to speak to you.  Please come with me.”  Sib looked questioningly at Quinta.

 

“Play dumb - it should be easy for you,” she whispered.  Sib grabbed his Stor-All and went with Mrs. Black.

 

As soon as they passed through the portal, Mrs. Black started talking.  “You may be tempted to lie to them, but they are trained to tell when you are lying.” She said all of this staring straight ahead and not looking at him.  “Make sure what you say to them is true.  Do not answer them unless they ask you a question.  Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”

 

“Yes ma’am.”

 

She didn’t say another word until they reached her office on the first floor.  There were two MACUSA agents there, sitting in the chairs that Sib had occupied too often over the past two years.  The one on the left was a short man with thinning red hair and a short beard.  The one on the right was tall with a short buzzed haircut and a hawkbill nose.  They stood up as Mrs. Black and Sib entered.

 

“Thank you Chancellor,” the red-haired one said.  “You can go.”

 

Mrs. Black set her hand on Sib’s shoulder.  “While you are speaking to one of my students, I will be present.  If those conditions are unacceptable, then you may go.”

 

The two agents looked at one another and then shrugged.  The one with the hawkbill nose started first.  “We have reason to believe that information relating to magical security is in your possession.”  

 

That ain’t a question. Sib remained silent.

 

“Look, where’s the memory, kid?” the red-haired one asked.  

 

There were three memories. “Which memory?” Sib replied.

 

“The one your grandmother gave you.”  

 

She didn’t give them to me. “My grandmother was paralyzed.”

 

“You pulled it from her, then.”  

 

But I don’t know how I did it. “I’m a second-year.  I don’t even know the spell to do that.” The red-haired one shook his head and looked to the other.   

 

The hawkbill nosed man resumed. “Where were you last night?” 

 

I was sleepin' for part of it.  “At home, asleep.”

 

“I think you were in the North Woods last night.”  

 

It ain’t a question.  Sib remained silent. He felt a gentle squeeze on his shoulder that let him know he was doing well.

 

“Last night, I think you met someone in the North Woods.  Did you give that person the memory?”  

 

I didn’t exchange any memories last night. “I didn’t give no one no memories last night.”

 

“...Then you led five highly-trained mages on a chase through the woods on a broom that resembled a Firebird. While the person you met sat on your lap and attacked government agents.”  

 

It ain't a question.  Sib waited until the hawk-nosed man continued.

 

“There was someone with you last night.  Who was it?” 

 

 I didn’t leave my house until one o’clock this mornin'. “The only people with me last night were my ma and brother.”

 

The red-haired man jumped in again.  “How did you get your hands on a Firebird?”

 

It’s a fake. “I never even seen a Firebird.”

 

“...And how did the person you were with block three simultaneous stunning spells without a wand?”  

 

Quinta, you are amazin'. “I didn’t think anyone could do that.”

 

The hawk-nose man spoke again.  “We know you have it,” he said, pointing a finger at Sib.  “We’re going to get it from you one way or another.”  

 

Sib was tired and angry and he’d been stewing about lashing out at Willow all afternoon.  He let go. “What are you going to do, throw me in prison like you did my father?”  Mrs. Black’s hand tightened on his shoulder.  I have to hold it together.

 

The red-haired man opened his mouth, but Mrs. Black cut him off.  “So you’re suggesting that this thirteen year old boy was three hundred miles from his home at two o’clock in the morning flying a million-dragot broom through the woods while evading capture from five trained MACUSA agents all of whom were firing multiple stunning spells at him?”

 

There was silence as the agents looked at each other.

 

“We’re done here, gentlemen.”  She guided Sib back out of her office and walked with him to the lifts.

 

“Thank y…” Sib started.

 

She cut him off.  “I have no idea what you have gotten yourself into, Mr. Hooplander, but you will not drag this school into it.”  She was ticked off and Sib could tell.  “If you haven’t noticed, the world is splitting itself apart and Gampton Hall will not be a pawn in this chess game.  Is that clear?”

 

“Yes, ma’am.”  She turned and stormed away back toward her office as the two MACUSA men stepped into the fireplaces and jumped away.

 

What I’ve gotten myself into?  He started pacing back and forth, not wanting to go back to the lounge to answer more questions.  He didn’t want to go get grilled by going to see Mis Pyx either.  I didn’t ask to have these visions.  I didn’t ask to get rolled into the stinkin’ prophecy.  Why do I have to pick sides anyway?

 

He looked at the fireplaces and thought of Spellhold; of his father and about the injustice of his trial.  That's why I'm pickin' sides...I’m goin’.  He walked over and jumped to the prison entrance.

 

As he rode the gondola, he decided to sit on the opposite side, so that he couldn’t see the prison as he rose.  He looked out over the towering buttes and orange-brown desert dotted with specks of olive green that surrounded them.  Where are we this time?  The prison moved to a new location every day and he had never been in the same location twice in all the times he'd visited.  He knew it was in the western part of the country as the sun was much higher in the sky.  The gentle swaying of the gondola and the quiet around him made it easy to drift.

 

He saw his father - free - running up a steep embankment on all fours deep in the woods.  Someone was holding Sib back from rushing toward him.  There was a flash of green lightning that blinded him and Sib heard a roar - something inhuman that was in horrible pain…

 

The sudden stopping of the gondola brought him back.  He shook his head to clear it and stepped onto the platform at the bottom of the prison.  Was that a dream or a vision?  I’m so tired I can’t tell.  He took the lifts to the Max, and walked to the table where the two bored guards were sitting, discussing some new arrivals.

 

“So why don’t they tear each other to pieces?” one asked.

 

“They give them wolvesbane potion so they keep their minds even when they’re changed,” he responded as Sib approached.  As usual, they just pointed to the small container on the table where Sib was supposed to put all of his magical items.  Sib started emptying his pockets and stood for a moment with the small vial the woman had given him.  Is it magical?

 

“What’cha got?” one of them asked as he dropped his ring and the container the woman had given him into the box.

 

Do I really care if they open it?  “It’s from Three Dubs,” he said.  “Go ahead and look inside.”

 

They both shook their heads. “Naw, I’m good.”  “Nope.”  Sib smiled ruefully and walked through the magic sniffer to see his dad.

 

“Hiya, pa,” he said when his dad emerged.

 

“Hi Sib.  I didn’t know you was comin’ today.”

 

“Yeah, I just wanted to talk to you.”

 

“Well, I’m glad you're here, Sib.  There’s some things I been wantin’ to say.”

 

“Go on, pa.”

 

“Well, I don’t think I’ll be seein’ you and Arc and ma for a long while.”

 

“Pa, don’t talk like that…” 

 

“You hush up and listen.”  Sib nodded and he continued.  “I need you to take care of your mom...and your brother.” 

 

“Arc don’t need my help, pa.  He wouldn’t accept it if I offered.”

 

“You might be surprised what your brother does now.  After he read that letter from your gramma, I think he’s lookin’ to be a changed man.”

 

“What letter?”

 

“Your gramma wrote him a letter long ago.  It was put in her will when you was still in diapers.  Ma gave it to him when she settled Gramma’s accounts and it let him know that she was proud of him just like she was proud of your grandpa - magic or no.  It let him know that he has a choice to either be defined by his lack of magic, or be defined by what he’s gonna do with himself.  I think he’s tryin’ to find his way on the second path.”

 

Sib nodded and thought of his vision on the gondola.  “Pa, what if I said that you were gonna get out of here?”

 

“It don’t matter, Sib.  They’ll only stop trackin' me when I’m dead.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“All of us in the Max have a trace on us.  It’s a spell that lets ‘em know where we are all the time.  Ain’t nobody can take it off except the ones who put it on.  Even if I did escape, it would only be a matter of time before they tracked me down.”

 

“What about the appeal, pa?”

 

“There ain’t gonna be no appeal, Sib.  It’s already been dismissed.”

 

“But they can’t do that!”

 

“Don’t you worry about me.  You just remember what I said about your brother and your ma.  They’re gonna be dependin’ on you.  You understand?”

 

“Yes, pa.”

 

“Now you get home before your ma gets worried.”

 

Sib got up to go.  “I love you, pa.” 

 

“I love you too, son.  Ain’t nothin’ or nobody ever gonna take that away.”

 

Sib left the visitation room feeling worse than ever that his father was out of hope.  He grabbed his ring and the container, not even looking at the two guards.  When he reached the entrance to the gondolas, he went into the bathroom where he set the container on the sink and stared at himself in the mirror.  He had been crying. He splashed some water on his face and dried it off, staring at the vial as he threw away the towel.  To hell with it.  He cracked open the lid, dropped it on the floor and walked away as it rolled under the sink and out of sight.   



Chapter 20: Something is Rotten in Spellhold
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“Oh!  Nice kick save…” started Lily, and then she screamed out “...for a change!”  Sib was sitting in the stands with her, Lef and Willow at the last home game against Ilvermorny. It was a glorious early April evening with mild temperatures and not a cloud in the sky.  As usual, the Gampton Hall team was getting trounced.  In the North American Quidditch Cup standings, they were dead last...by a mile. “Did you see that one, Willow?” Lily asked.

 

“Yeah, but he swung off his broom like it was a gymnastics high bar,” she replied.  “I don’t know if I could do that.”

 

“I’m sure she couldn’t,” muttered Sib, but loud enough for her to hear.  He was staring up into the sky watching the contrails form and disappear from the nomaj airplanes flying high overhead.  The artificial clouds were lit up purple and orange in the setting sunlight and it was much more interesting than the game, which had been going on for hours.  

 

“Lef,” said Willow.  “Would you please tell Sib that he can keep his opinions to himself.”

 

“Tell Willow if she can’t stand the heat…”, Sib started in retort. 

 

“Stop it!” yelled Lef.  “You two have been at this for a month now and I want you to knock it off.  Do you even know why you’re not talking to each other?”

 

“Of course,” said Willow.  “I am choosing not to speak to Sib because he’s a humongous fathead.”

 

“And I ain’t talkin’ to her ‘cause she’s a stubborn ass.”

“Well, I’m glad that’s settled,” said Lef. 

 

“He’s in a Chandelle,” said Lily, not paying attention at all to the conversation behind her.  “She needs a high yo-yo to counter.”  She stood up and yelled.  “High yo-yo!”

 

“Don’t you think it’s weird that we never got busted by Mr. Hendershot?” Willow asked.

 

“I’m not looking a gift pegasus in the mouth,” replied Lef.  “As long as he keeps pretending nothing ever happened, I’m okay with pretending that it didn’t.”  She stood up.  “I’m going to get something to eat.  Lily, would you like anything?”

 

“Uh...sure,” she replied, not offering any details.  “What a terrible combat spread!  Look at them, they’re all bunched up.”

 

“Could you get me a box of fizzing face-kickers?” Willow asked her.

 

“No,” replied Lef.  “I’m not doing either of you any favors until you start talking to one another.”

 

“Fine,” said Willow.  “I’ll come along with you.”

 

Just to be spiteful, Sib decided to go along as well.  “I’m comin’ too.  I got a dragot burnin’ a hole in my bag, so I think I’ll treat myself.”

 

“You shouldn’t spend that!” hissed Willow.

 

Sib shrugged.  I’m definitely spendin’ it now.  “If they didn’t want me to spend it, then they shouldn’t’ve put money in my bag.”

 

“Why can’t you two just let it go?” sighed Lef, sounding like she regretted getting up in the first place.

 

She’s the one that can’t let anything go.  Sib got up and followed the two of them out of the stands.  

 

“God, are they ever going to find the snitch?” asked Willow as they got in line at the refreshment stand.  

 

“If it extends too long past sunset, they’ll have a really hard time,” said Lef.   Sib looked up and saw that the last light was fading in the west.  “Oooh, look at the full moon,” Lef said, pointing in the opposite direction.  “It’s so orange!”

 

“It’s beautiful,” said Willow staring at the pumpkin-colored face of the moon that was just peeking above the treetops to the East.

 

“It’s creepy,” said Sib, just to be contrary.  “Feels like the beginnin’ of a horror story.”

 

As if on cue, people around them started screaming and ran in all directions back toward the school buildings.  Sib turned to look at what was going on and saw that the manticore had emerged from the forest and was running toward the crowd of people waiting in line, bearing down on where Lef was standing, frozen in shock.

 

Sib ran over and got between her and the manticore.  He can’t hurt me, so Lef’ll be safe.  He tried hustling her back toward the school, but she tripped over her own feet as she was backing up and dragged Sib down with her.  Willow was trying to get the manticore’s attention by waving her arms and shouting his name.  Lef screamed.  Sib turned and could smell the acrid musk of the manticore as it approached, tail high in the air.  

 

Suddenly, Sib’s view was blocked as someone stepped in between them and the manticore.  “Petrificus totalus!” she shouted and a red streak of light shot out and hit the manticore right in the face.  Rather than being paralyzed, the manticore roared and leapt toward their protector.  Sib recognized the sound of the manticore’s roar immediately.  It’s from the vision of my dad in the woods.  It was a manticore!

 

Corey landed right on top of the person who was blocking them and the long midnight-black scorpion tail thrust downward and stabbed the struggling mage in the center of the chest.  Bolts of red light now lit up the evening as several mages all around started firing stunning spells at the manticore.  The creature roared again in agony and fear and then fled from the scene, bounding back into the woods faster than anyone could follow.  The surrounding mages gave chase to drive the manticore further away.

 

Sib and Lef crawled over to the person who was lying on the ground, bleeding and gasping.  Her hood had fallen down and Sib recognized her immediately.  “Miss Pyx!”  

 

“...Forgot manticores are...resistant to magic," she choked.  "You weren’t kidding…” Blood had flecked her lips.  “This hurts like hell.  So cold…”

 

“She’s bleeding everywhere,” Lef cried.  “Where’s Mrs. Praecuro?”

 

“No time,” said Sib, digging in his bag.  “I know it’s in here…”  

 

“Sib,” said Lef, trying to find where Miss Pyx had been stung through her robes.  “Just use accio.”

 

“Dang it!  Right.”  He held his hand above the bag, but forgot the name of the root.  “Accio skunk butt!”  The small root pod jumped into his hand.  I didn’t know if that would work.  “Here!”  He tossed it to Lef.

 

It bounced off of Lef’s outstretched hand, but she quickly grabbed it from the grass and burst open the root sac on Miss Pyx’s chest.  The now-familiar stink of unwashed feet and hot garbage struck them both like a slap in the face.  

 

“She’s still bleedin’ Lef,” Sib said, setting aside his bag and grabbing Miss Pyx’s hand.  

 

“I only know ‘episkey’,” she said, and held out her amulet over Miss Pyx’s chest.  “Episkey!”  She looked again at Miss Pyx’s chest.  “There’s so much blood,” Lef sobbed.  “I don’t know if it worked.” 

 

“Just keep chantin’ while I get Mrs. Praecuro.  Don’t stop ‘til I get back.” Sib got up and bolted through the crowd of mages who were starting to gather around Miss Pyx after chasing off the manticore.  Sib started yelling for Mrs. Praecuro.  He didn’t have to travel far as she was hustling over from the stadium at that moment.

 

“It’s Miss Pyx!” Sib said after finding her.  “She’s been stung by the manticore!”  He pointed the way and followed as the school nurse shoved her way through the crowd.  

 

“Make way, make way!” she cried, pushing aside the gawkers.  Lef was still there, casting ‘episkey’, when the nurse grabbed her arm.  “It’s okay now,” she said.  “I’ve got her.”  Lef sat back on the grass and watched as Mrs. Praecuro cast a more involved healing charm over her chest. Sib thought it sounded almost like she was singing.  

 

“The smell,” she remarked, looking over to Lef.  “Checkered rattlesnake plantain?”  Lef nodded.  “Good work, young lady,” she said as she got to her feet.  “I think you just saved her life.”  Mrs. Praecuro looked into the crowd.  “You and you,” she called pointing to two adult mages.  “Help me get her outside the school grounds and I’ll apparate with her to the hospital.”

 

“Everyone must clear the grounds now,” a voice boomed from the school, magnified a thousand times to be heard everywhere across the property.  “The game is postponed.  Everyone shall clear away from the school and proceed directly home.”  Sib recognized the sound of Mrs. Black’s voice and he took Lef’s hand and helped her to her feet.  She was still crying and they walked together back to the school.

“It’s called checkered rattlesnake plantain,” Lef said.  “Not skunk butt.” 

 

“Hey,” Sib responded.  “It worked, didn’t it?”  

 

Lef gave him a half smile.  “Do you think she’ll be okay?”

 

“I was,” said Sib.  “Although he got my shoulder and not in the middle of my chest.”

 

“God,” said Lef.  “That was scary.”

 

“I think I made a huge mistake in helpin’ Willow set that manticore free.”

 

“Miss Mercana did say she’d watch after him, though.” 

 

“Not tonight she ain’t.”  Sib pointed at the full moon and Lef nodded at the reference.  There was a line at the door heading into the main gallery where all of the fans were departing via the Firejump Network.  Sib and Lef sat down on the half wall that surrounded the wizard fountain at the school entrance.  Might as well rest while we wait for the line to disappear.

 

Willow met them there after having been hustled away from the scene of the attack by another mage.  “Did they hurt him?” she asked as soon as she found them.

 

Sib was incensed.  “He stabbed Miss Pyx and you’re worried if that damn manticore was hurt?”

 

Willow was shocked.  “Is she okay?”

 

“They think so,” Lef responded.  “We used the last of the rattlesnake plantain and then Mrs. Praecuro healed her and took her to NNMC.”

 

“Incheon was right,” said Sib.  “We never should’ve released him in the first place.”

 

“They were going to murder him!” she protested.

 

“Willow, don’t you see what he’s done?  He nearly killed Miss Pyx!”

 

“But he didn’t,” she said, pacing back and forth in front of them.  “He was just scared.  This is all Ursula’s fault.  Why hasn't she returned any of my messages?”

 

“You need to take some responsibility for what we done!”

 

“What do you know?” she retorted.  “You’re just a…a stupid hillbilly!”  

 

Damn.  She had to go there. “Well at least I’m smart enough to know when I’ve done wrong.”  He got up and walked away, vowing not to speak another word to her. 

 

*******

 

The following day was Sunday and Sib jumped to the hospital after eating breakfast to visit Miss Pyx.  He walked to the main desk, found her room number and took the lifts up to the animal attack ward.  He walked past a number of doors until he found her room.  He knocked and walked in when she told him to come inside.

 

“How are you?” he asked and sat down in the chair next to her when she gestured toward it.

 

“I’ll likely have a scar in the center of my sternum, but I’ll make it," she replied.  "Good thing that the two of you still had some rattlesnake plantain left.”  

 

“We never should’a broke the manticore out,” Sib confessed.  “We didn’t know what we were doin’.”

 

“No, you didn’t.  But would you have still done it if Ursula hadn’t volunteered to help?”

 

“I dunno, ma’am.”

 

“Well the cat is out of the bag now.  As for Ursula...well, she’s always been a sucker for dangerous animals.  Something makes her want to believe they can live in coexistence with the rest of us.”  Sib knew that she was referring to Ursula’s affliction of arktanthropy.  “Have you had any more visions?” she asked, changing the subject.  

 

“No.  It's just been the one about my pa in the woods and the deadly curse.”  Since the first time he had seen it in the gondola, the vision had become much more clear to him, and he finally connected the ‘green lightning’ with the killing curse that he had heard about the previous year.

 

"Tell me again," she said. "Maybe there’s a detail we missed.”

 

Sib closed his eyes and tried to remember every detail. “My pa is in the woods…”

 

“What do the woods look like?” she asked, interrupting him.  “Is it a jungle, or a certain kind of trees, anything that would help you pinpoint where it was?”

 

“It just looked like regular woods to me.  You know, around here.”  She nodded and he continued.  “...and he’s scrambling up this embankment on all fours, just bounding along to try to get up as fast as he can.  Someone’s holding me back and I’m struggling to reach him…”

 

“Does someone have a physical hold on you, like with their arm?”

 

“Yeah...it’s a man’s arm.  Older-like, I guess.”

 

“Okay, and then there was the green flash, right?” she asked.  “Tell me about that.” 

 

“There was a woman’s voice calling out the curse.  'Avada Kedavra', she said.  It was really loud, like she was practically yelling right next to me, I turned toward it and then there was a green flash right in front of my face.  It blinded me and I’m blinking trying to see what happened when I hear a roar in the background.”  He paused.  “I guess that’s something new, though.” 

 

“What’s that?” she asked.

 

“The roar in the background.  It was the manticore.  I heard it when you hit him with that spell...the manticore is in the woods with my pa.  That must be what the person was shootin’ the green curse at.”

 

“And then?” she asked.

 

“...and then it ends.  I don’t see or hear anythin’ else.”

 

“Well that’s frustrating.  Are you able to tell when it happens from the flowers or birds or anything?”

 

“Well, there’s leaves on all the trees and a flash of orange in the branches that caught my eye earlier,” said Sib.  “If it was an oriole, then they don’t start appearin’ until May.” 

 

She stared through the window for a while before responding.  “Do you think all of your visions have been leading you toward something?” she asked. 

 

Sib thought about it and decided to tell her everything he knew.  She’s earned that much.  “Remember that vision of my grandmother blinking strangely and how I thought it was a code, but then I showed you it didn’t spell anything?”

 

She nodded.  “Except for the ‘Xmas’, right.”

 

“Well, Willow did end up decoding it,” Sib told her.  “My gramma wanted me to get rid of the MACUSA guard so that she could pass me somethin’ without him knowin’.”

 

“A memory…” she said.  “...Hence the need for the penseive.”

 

“Right.  That was the vision that helped Lily figure out what the pool could do.  One of those memories was my gramma givin’ the prophecy, but it was all messed up.”

 

“Messed up?” questioned Miss Pyx.

 

“There weren’t no sound.  So we could’t hear what she was sayin’.”  

 

“So how does that tie to the woman in the woods?” she asked.  

 

“There was three people in the room when the prophecy was bein’ said, but MACUSA only knew about two of ‘em. My gramma and Quinta’s mom - who went missin’ about this time last year.  The woman in the woods can get me the memory of the third person in the room.  I just needed to do a favor for her.”

 

“What did she ask you to do?”

 

“Take somethin’ to Spellhold and open it there.”

 

“You mean, like a spellbomb?” She sounded concerned.

 

“It didn’t do nothin’ when I opened it.  I just dropped it on the floor and walked away.”

 

“Well, if it was a spellbomb, it would have gone off by now.  So now this woman in the woods should be getting you the true version of your grandmother’s prophecy?”

 

“Yeah, she’s…” Sib stopped.  “So you know the version in the paper ain’t true?”

 

She nodded.  “The last line is ‘...only those who follow the path of darkness can avoid the end.’  A few people know that since it was one of the reasons that dark magic was completely banned twelve years ago.  It was pretty bold of MACUSA to try to change that to their favor now.”

 

“I guess…”

 

“What are you going to do with the prophecy once she gets it to you?”

 

“I’m gonna take it right back to the Ghost and get the true version published,” he said.  “That’s what my Gramma wanted me to do.”

 

“And you know this?” she asked.  

 

He nodded.  “That was another memory she gave me.  That’s been her task for me, and I ain’t gonna fail.”

 

“Do you think the latest vision has something to do with the true memory of the prophecy?”

 

“I dunno,” replied Sib.  “But everythin’ else has been pushin’ me in this direction, so I suppose so.”

 

*******

 

Other than noticing the increased guard around the school, and the buzz from the other tables during lunch about the reward for the capture or killing of the manticore, the next few weeks passed by uneventfully.  It was mid-April and Sib, Arc, and their mom were riding the gondola up to see his father; the seagulls hovering in the oceanside air nearby.  His dad’s sentencing hearing had been the day before, but it was held behind closed doors and they hadn’t heard a thing about it since.  That was a bad omen.  As the gondola swayed on the way up, Sib was busy thinking about his Alchemy lesson from earlier that day.

 

He and Willow had settled into a constant silent treatment toward each other.  Sib thought that he would have trouble when Mr. Holmes paired the two of them together for today’s potions lesson, but Sib found that he was so intent on not talking to Willow - and her not speaking to him - that they were able to follow the directions to a letter.  Each one was concentrating on their own step while the other was working on the next.  Their potion turned out perfectly, but Sib couldn’t even enjoy his first perfect grade of the year since he had to share it with her.

 

“Does it look like it’s leanin’ to you?” Arc asked them, pointing to the floating prison.

 

“It ain’t leanin’,” Sib’s mom replied.  It’s just the swingin’ of the gondola.  Sib looked for himself and he wasn’t so sure.  It does look a little off.

 

When the gondola stopped at the top, the door swung open and they all stood up to exit.  Arc took the big step up onto the platform and held his hand back to help their mom up.  “Why didn’t it stop at the platform?” she asked, pointing to the awkward step-up they had to take.

 

“‘Cause the gondola is dumb,” said Arc.  “Now are you comin’?”  She took his hand and Sib followed them, looking back at the gondola.  It shouldn’t do that.  They walked to the lifts and Arc and his mom said where they were going and shot up and out of sight.  Sib followed, stepping into the tube next to theirs.  “The Max,” he said, and was lifted up into the rock.  As he was moving, he heard a strange whining noise, like the air leaking out of a balloon and he was suddenly dumped on an unfamiliar landing platform.

 

It wasn’t where he was supposed to be.  He turned around and stepped back into the tube lift. “The Max” he said more clearly.  Nothing happened.  He tried the other tube.  “Maximum Security!” he shouted, but he still didn’t move.  What is goin’ on?  

 

Sib started walking down the hallway to try to find a different way up to where he needed to be.  He could tell that something was off almost immediately.  His feet didn’t fall where they were supposed to, as if the entire floor was pitched slightly downward to the left.  There were no guards anywhere, and he walked down a well-lit corridor past several spacious empty cells before he reached one with extra thick bars.  There was a woman sitting inside the cell, her grey-streaked red hair especially unkempt.  Sib recognized her immediately.

 

“Ursula?”

 

“Sib! What are you doing here?” She got up and walked over to stand opposite him.

 

“What happened?” he asked.

 

“They managed to track me down a couple of weeks ago,” she said.  "Just before the full moon."

 

“How? You were bein’ so careful.”

 

“Please don’t tell Willow, but I think it was Fred.  She was pretty upset after the manticore escaped and she hasn’t hesitated to let me know by sending her pseudodragon a couple of times a week.  I guess I was a bit lazy too since I didn’t keep moving.”

 

Dang it Willow!  Sib shook his head in resignation.   “What is this place, anyway?”

 

“This is where they’ve relocated all of the human hybrids,” she said.  “Werewolves, half-elves, I even heard they had a centaur, but that’s probably Larry and Barry pulling my chain.”

 

“Larry and Barry?”

 

“They’re across the hall.  They have lycanthropy.”  

 

“I heard the guards talkin’ about them,” Sib recalled.  “About how they can share the same cell without tearin’ each other to pieces on the full moon.”

 

“Yes, they take a potion called ‘wolvesbane’.  It lets them stay calm and keep their conscousness when they’ve transformed.”

 

“And what about you?”

 

She laughed.  “There’s no ‘bearsbane’ potion, so I get the extra thick bars.”  She tapped on them with her fingernails.

 

“We gotta get you out of here,” Sib whispered.  

 

“That would be pointless,” she replied.  “Even if I could wander around Spellhold, I don’t have a wand and the whole place is wrapped in a ‘no-fly’ zone.  The only thing I could do is drop five hundred feet to my death.”

 

“I’m sorry Ursula,” he said.

 

“I know.  It’s alright.  Why are you here, anyway?”

 

“My pa got taken in for casting a dark magic spell.  He’s up in the Max.” Sib pointed upward.

 

“Strange that you ended up here,” she said.

 

“The lifts are malfunctioning,” Sib responded.  “I don’t know if there’s another way up.”

 

“The guards seem to come from that direction,” she said, pointing further down the hall that Sib had been walking.  “Try down there.”

 

“Thanks,” he said.  “I’ll see you later.”

 

“We’ll see,” she said, downtrodden, walking back over to sit on her bench.

 

Sib felt awful as he continued to walk down the corridor.  What was Willow thinkin’ sendin’ Fred a couple of times a week?  She should’a known better!  I have half a mind to let her know that this is all her fault…  He reached the end of the corridor and found a spiral staircase that wound both up and down and a lift that was right next to it.  He stepped into the lift, and said ‘the Max’ again, and this time he was lifted and deposited where he should have been.  He quickly checked that his pockets were empty and proceeded into the waiting area, bypassing the two guards who were ignoring him as usual.

 

“We thought you got lost,” his mom said when he arrived.

 

“I did.  The lifts weren’t workin’ and they dumped me off at the wrong level.  I had to find another way up.”

 

“Your pa was just sayin’ he’s been sentenced to alteration,” she told him.

 

He looked at his father.  “I don’t know what that means.”

 

“It means they transfigure me into an inanimate object and I'm stuck that way forever.”

 

He was horrified.  “Ma, this ain’t right!” cried Sib.  “We gotta do something.”

 

His mom didn’t look upset or worried at all.  “We’ll be alright Sib.”

 

“What do you mean, we’ll be alright?  We ain’t never gonna see pa again!”

 

“Don’t you worry, your pa will be fine.”

 

She must be in shock or denial or somethin’.  She ain’t actin’ like she’s about to lose her husband forever.

 

“How are you doin’ Arc?” his father asked, changing the subject.  “How’s school goin’?”

 

“I’m finishin’ school, pa,” he replied.  “I ain’t gonna be on honor roll, but I’m gonna graduate.”

 

“I’m proud of you, son.  I really am, and I know Gramma and Grampa would be proud of you too.”

 

They talked for another half hour, remembering good times or a funny family story and every time Sib brought up doing something, or appealing again, or talking to the lawyer, his mom and dad just redirected the conversation until he gave up.

 

After saying goodbye, they were walking back toward the lifts when his brother suddenly grabbed him and jerked him backward.  A large chunk of the ceiling crashed down right where Sib would have been.  “Lucky I was lookin’ up,” his brother said as they stepped around the wreckage.

 

Lucky?  Sib glanced at his ring.  I never took it off.  The magic ring is still on my finger and the sniffer let me walk right through.  What did I do to Spellhold?



Chapter 21: Wild Goose Chase
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Sib was massaging the knot on the back of his neck.  It had been bothering him since the day after he came back from his visit to Spellhold.  He and Incheon were sitting in the Pathfinder lounge before classes working on a project for Astronomy. 

 

“Do you have a knot in your neck too?” asked Incheon.  “My brother says it’s brain-eating beetles.”

 

“Brain-eating beetles?”

 

“Yeah, but you don’t have to worry since in your case, they’ll starve to death.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

“You bet,” he said smiling.  “What do you want to do today?”

 

“You mean after this project?”  Sib held up his parchment to show Incheon what they were supposed to be working on.

 

“I was thinking ‘instead’.”

 

“Dunno," Sib replied.  "I’m still waitin’ for the old woman to get the memory to me.  What do you think is takin’ her so long?”

 

“Maybe the whole ‘extracting a memory from a monster’ part?”

 

“Could you do me a favor?”

 

“Probably not,” Incheon said.  “Does it involve any effort at all?”

 

“I want you to ask Willow to send Fred off to find her.”

 

“Oof,” he replied.  “That sounds like effort.  First I’d have to figure out where Willow is.”

 

“She’s right there on the other side of the room,” Sib said, pointing to where she was sitting not twenty feet away.

 

“Then I’d have to get up.”  

 

Sib reached over and grabbed Incheon’s arm, twisting it painfully which forced him to stand up to escape the hold.  “There,” Sib said triumphantly.  “You’re up.”

 

“Now I’d have to walk…”  Sib started to get up and force him to move, but Incheon started walking on his own.

 

“So impatient…” he said as he walked over to the table where Lily, Lef, Willow and Hye-lin were sitting.  Sib didn’t watch the conversation and instead glanced over to where Quinta was sitting by herself.  She hadn’t been her usual snarky self ever since she found out about her mother.  She spent most of her time alone; brooding.  Sib didn’t even know what to say to her, but he was starting to get worried.

 

Incheon returned and sat down.  “She said that she sent Fred off to find Ursula three weeks ago with explicit instructions not to come back without a message from her.  She hasn’t seen him since.”

 

“‘Cause she’s in prison…,” started Sib.  He had told them all about Ursula’s imprisonment several weeks before, but as she had asked, had left off the part about Willow’s role in her capture.  He was saving that for the next time Willow ticked him off.  Their mutual silent treatment made that unnecessary so far.

 

“That’s probably causing some of the problem, yes,” replied Incheon.  “Also, you are a blathering dunderhead.”

 

“What?”

 

“A complete nincompoop.  A pathetic, drooling nitwit.”

 

“She said all that?”

 

“No, I just added that for effect.”

 

“Thanks, Incheon.” 

 

“You bet,” he said, smiling.  “Now what do you want to do today?” 

 

Sib sighed and put his Astronomy homework away.  “Let’s go fly on a Firebird.”

 

*******

 

Lef had managed to pull Sib aside on their way to their last class that afternoon.  “Are you going to the game against Uxmal?” Lef asked him, referring to the last Quidditch game of the season scheduled at the opposing school the following weekend.

 

“I wasn’t going to,” Sib replied. “It’s not like we’re gonna win.”

 

“I think you should go.”

 

“Why?  It’s in Mexico, and it’s probably a hundred degrees there.”

 

“Just come to the game, alright?”

 

“I don’t wanna come,” he said.  

 

“Look,” she lowered her voice.  “Willow wants to talk to you.”

 

Sib was confused.  “She hasn't talked to me for a month.  Why do I have to go to Mexico for her to talk to me?  Does the silent treatment not apply there?”

 

“Haven’t you noticed how upset she’s been since you told us about Ursula?”

 

“Not really…” He had been trying hard not to pay attention to her over the past month.

 

“What about when she spilled your drink at lunch the other day and then bought you a butterbeer to replace it?”

 

“What about it?”

 

“...and what about when she threw a dead frog on you in potions class yesterday.”

 

“What are you gettin’ at?”

 

Lef looked exasperated.  “Why do you think Incheon throws frogs on Hye-lin?”

 

“To make her go away?”

 

“God, you are daft.  Incheon likes her.”

 

“He hates her!”

 

She shook her head in resignation.  "It's like talking to a potato.  I’ll make this easy for you."  She poked Sib in the chest with her finger.  "You are going to the game on Saturday and you’re going to shut up and listen when Willow talks to you, got it?”  Her look suggested she wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer.

 

“Alright,” he agreed.  “But I still don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”

 

“You don’t have to.”  She walked away. 

 

I thought Willow hated my guts…  Jeez, I don’t think I’ll ever understand girls.

 

*******

 

When he reached the visitor’s stands at Uxmal that Saturday, the temperature must have been over a hundred degrees in the shade.  He started sweating almost immediately.  He looked around, and saw several familiar faces from the school, but none of the Pathfinders.  I’d better not be the only one.  He found a spot by himself under cover and tried to get comfortable, but he could feel the sweat dripping down his back just from sitting there.  Willow arrived soon after and came to sit by him when she saw where he was.

 

“Fred came back with a message,” she said to him, sitting in the chair next to his.

 

“Are you talking to me now?” he responded angrily.  She was silent and looked out on the field as the players warmed up.  Alright Lef, I’ll shut up and listen to what she says.  “Sorry.  Go on,” he said, much more calmly.

 

“We are all supposed to meet the old woman at the Wendigo circle next Saturday at sunrise.”

 

“Who’s ‘we’?” he asked.  He was desperately afraid that that meant Hedges and Beene as well.

 

“I don’t want to take Hedges and Beene,” she said.  “So I’m assuming it’s all the second years.”  

 

Well, at least we agree on one thing.  There was silence between them as they watched the start of the game.  

 

“I’m sorry I called you a stupid hillbilly,” she said, still not looking at him.  “I know you’re smart and I shouldn’t have said it.”

 

You’re dang right you shouldn’t have said it.  Sib remained silent.  

 

“I was really upset about Corey,” she continued.  “I didn’t want what we did to be a mistake.  I don’t want to see him killed.”

 

I know, but that still don’t make it okay that he’s roamin’ around hurtin’ people.

 

“I thought Ursula could fix it.  I thought she could keep him from attacking anyone, or maybe she could take him back to where he belonged.”

 

He was raised in captivity.  He never learned how to survive on his own.

 

She sighed.  “I was stupid.”

 

“You ain’t stupid,” he said.  “You’re just as stubborn as a mule.”  They were silent for a while as the crowd cheered Uxmal scoring a goal.

 

“Why did you help me break him out?” she asked.

 

Because I liked you.  Because I would have followed you anywhere.  “I don’t know,” he replied.  “You needed help, so I helped.  Why did Lef fix my hand last year?  Why did Quinta go with me to meet the old woman?  Why did you help me figure out the nomaj code my Gramma was usin’?”

 

"Why did Quinta go with you?" she asked.

 

"I don't know," said Sib.  "She's always got her own reasons."  Maybe she was bored.

 

“I don’t like not being friends,” she said, rubbing the back of her neck.

 

“I don’t either.”  He had noticed that their split had also broken apart the rest of the Pathfinders.  They hadn’t done anything as a group in over a month.  Not that Incheon isn’t a good friend.  It’s just that there’s only so much of him I can take at once.  And I miss talkin' to you...  He looked around.  “Nobody else is comin’ to this game are they?”

 

“No,” she replied.  “I wanted to apologize to you in private, and I thought it was a good way to get you alone.”

 

“Apology accepted," he said.  Finally alone again...but I'm not sure you feel about me the same as I did about you...I guess I can throw that stupid carvin' on the fire. "So do we have to stay?”

 

“No.  God, it’s hot.  And besides, we're awful,” she said as she pointed to the Gampton team on the field.

 

“So what do we do about Corey?” Sib asked her as they stood up to leave.

 

“I don’t know,” she said.  “With Ursula in prison, there’s not much we can do.  Do you think the guard around the school grounds is enough?”

 

“I hope so,” he said. 

 

“What are you going to do with the memory when you get it?”

 

“You heard Gramma,” he said.  “I’m going to see what it says and then I’m gettin’ it to the Ghost.”

 

********

 

"I'm surprised to see you here," Sib said to Incheon.  He, Willow, Quinta and Lef were standing in the Wendigo circle at six in the morning the following Saturday when Incheon joined them.  Sib had been sure that Incheon would sleep right through it.  

 

“I've heard stories about the world existing before the sun comes up and I wanted to see for myself," Incheon responded, yawning.  "I wasn't missing anything."

 

"Here comes Lily," said Willow, who had slept over at Lef's house so that the two of them could travel together.   

 

"You weren't sure you could make it," Sib said to her when she arrived. 

 

"My dad is an early riser," she replied.   "So I knew I'd have to tell him what I was doing up so early.  I told him I was helping you with a project at school."

 

“You are helpin’ me with a project.”

 

“I know.  I don’t like lying.  Just promise me we won’t get in trouble.”

 

“How would we get in trouble?," Sib replied.  "I mean, we’re just gettin’ a memory and then we’re goin’ to watch it in the penseive and then take it to the Ghost.  What could go wrong?”

 

“Are you the idiots who set a manticore loose in the woods?”  Sib jumped and turned around.  He didn’t even realize the woman in black had approached them.

 

“I...uh…” Sib started feeling his face flush.

 

“We have no idea what you’re talking about,” Willow replied.  

 

Good thinkin’.  “I did what you asked,” Sib told the old woman to change the subject.  “Do you have the memory?”

 

“Here?” she replied.  “Of course not, but I can tell you how to get it.”

 

“What!  But you promised...”

 

“Enough of that,” she said, raising her writhing staff and cutting him off.  “If you want the memory, then you will follow these instructions.  She opened a small black velvet bag and showed the contents to Sib.  Inside were six scrolls.  She shook the bag.  “Go on, take it.”

 

Sib took the bag from her and reached in, taking out the first one. “Sweetwater,” he read from the outside.

 

“So one of you will go to Sweetwater and follow the directions in the scroll,” the old woman said.  “That will tell you how to collect the memory.  Be careful what you select, as only the person who opens the scroll can collect the memory from each location.”

 

“But there are six scrolls,” Sib said, pulling out another.  “Which one has the memory?”

 

“They all do,” she said.  “Six locations, six copies of the memory, six Pathfinders.”

 

“Why six?” asked Willow.

 

“Because someone else wants them as badly as you do.  They will likely try to take them from you when you collect them.”

 

“But how do they know we have them?” Sib asked.

 

“You never know who’s listening,” she said. 

 

Sib let the scroll drop to his side and he looked at the old woman.  “Who are you?”  She put her hands up and lifted the hood from her head.  She was an elderly, frail-looking woman, in her seventies or eighties, Sib guessed, with long, flowing grey hair and piercing grey eyes.  Sib recognized those eyes.  It’s her!  “You’re the Wendigo,” he said.

 

Without a word, she lifted her staff in the air and changed into a fox which turned around and bounded off into the woods.  “Did you see her eyes?” he asked the others when she had disappeared.

 

“What about them?” Incheon replied.

 

“She was the Wendigo.”

 

“Sure she was,” he said in a way that made it clear he didn’t believe Sib at all.  “…is there a location that’s easy in there?” 

 

Sib looked back into the bag and started reading the names on the scrolls.  “Fitchburg, Dinwiddy,...”

 

“Ooh,” Lef piped up.  “I’ll take Dinwiddy since I live there.”  

 

Sib handed her the scroll.  “Bracken Brae, Narrowway,...”

 

“Narrowway’s easy,” said Incheon.  “I’ll take that.”  

 

Sib handed it to him and read the remaining one.  “Nanty Glo.”

 

“Give me Sweetwater,” said Willow.

 

“I can take Bracken Brae,” said Lily.

 

“I don’t care which one I get,” said Quinta, so Sib handed her the scroll for Fitchburg and kept Nanty Glo for himself.

 

The others had already opened their scrolls so Sib snapped the seal on his and unrolled it.  ‘Firejump to Nanty Glo Town Commons and proceed northwest to Merlin Street.  Behind the fourth house on the left will be a barrel under which will be a key.  Take the key and proceed four miles north…’  The letter went on with step after step. Sib looked up at the others.  “Do yours all have you on a scavenger hunt?” he asked.

 

“Why does it have to be so complicated?” complained Lily.  “I don’t know how long it will take to get this all done.”

 

“Just do your best,” Sib said.  “We’d better get movin’ if we want to get these memories.  Remember, once you get them, we’ll meet back here and take ‘em to the pool.”

 

“That’s dumb,” interjected Willow.  “We should just take them to the Ghost.”  The others were all quiet, waiting for another explosive exchange between the two of them.  

 

“What do you mean?” asked Sib, biting his tongue to prevent himself from making a more forceful response.  Here we go again...

 

“Sorry.  Not dumb,” she fumbled.  “I mean, if someone else is looking for them, we should make sure we get them to the Ghost first, right?”  

 

Sib thought for a moment.  She's right...as much as I hate to admit it.  “Is there a Ghost office in each of these towns?” he asked.

 

“There should be,” Lily said.  “There’s a local version of the Ghost for every major magical town.”

 

“Then get the memory to the Ghost,” said Sib.  “If you make it, send an instant message that says ‘Ghost’ so the rest of us know.”

 

“What if we don’t make it?” asked Lef.

 

Then we got bigger problems.  

 

“We’ll make it,” Willow said.  “I can feel it.”

 

“Must be gas…” muttered Incheon.  He let his scroll unroll.  It was at least a foot longer than any of theirs.  “Anybody want to trade?”

 

When they made it back to the school, the six of them reached inside their bags and pulled out the golden dragots that had been used to track them.  Sib had two in his bag - the one that Quinta had un-charmed and a new one to replace it.  They set all of the coins on the windowsill in the grand gallery and then Sib watched as the others firejumped away before stepping in himself and calling out ‘Nanty Glo’.  The world spun and he stepped out of the public fireplaces into the center of a small village.  He looked around and found himself in familiar country.  The village was nestled in a ravine and the houses stretched up the hillside in both directions.   The trees and soft rolling hills looked exactly like what he’d expect around his West Virginia home in the early morning.

 

He looked around to get his bearings and saw that the main street - 'Glo Avenue' -  ran along the bottom of the ravine.  He checked the light on the horizon to orient himself to the sunrise in the east and then turned northwest, walking up the ravine through the center of the village.  While he was walking, he checked to see if any of the shops were the local office of the Ghost and figured it was in the opposite direction when he didn't see it.  When he got to the fifth road, he saw that it was called ‘Merlin Street’ and turned to walk up.  He noticed the first problem immediately.  All of the houses were on the right.  The left side of the street was a sheer cliff leading right back down to the bottom of the ravine.  He kept climbing and finally the street took a sharp switchback and continued up the ravine - with houses only on the left side of the street.  At the fourth one - an abandoned two-story shack - he went through the slowly rotting structure to find the barrel in the overgrown backyard.  He pushed it over and underneath was a small skeleton key which he picked up.  

 

He read the next direction.  ‘Proceed four miles north to the fork in the road toward Twin Rocks and find the locked chest hidden under a white stone on the right side of the road.’  

 

This is going to take forever.  He reached in his bag and pulled out his broom.  It beats walkin’ any day.  He kicked off and zoomed over the edge of the street and down into the ravine, skirting over the treetops.  He saw several early-morning locals pointing him out as he flew by on his firebird look-alike.  I guess I can’t be inconspicuous on this thing.

 

He leaned forward and shot out of the village, up the north road toward the fork.  Within five minutes, he had reached the place the letter indicated and found the white rock on the side of the road.  Even though he was well outside of town, he noticed quite a bit of foot traffic passing by.  Can’t be too careful.  He waited until everyone was out of sight and pushed over the stone revealing the box underneath.  He used the key to open it and there was a small sphere inside.  He looked back to his scroll. ‘Cast ‘lumos occultatum’ with the globe and the light will reveal the location of the memory on the back side of this note.’  He took the sphere, cast the spell, and turned over the scroll to read what it said.

 

You gotta be kidding me.  There were at least a dozen more steps - each taking him further and further away.  Can I just skip to the end?  He looked through all the steps having him seeking out a map, finding a missing piece and then he saw the last one was ‘Under the white tree at the top of the highest peak you will find what you seek.‘  Forget all this other stuff.  White tree - highest peak.  Got it.  He grabbed his firebird and took to the skies.

 

Once he was in the air, it was simply a matter of looking for the highest peak in sight.  He remembered one of the steps took him due West, so he headed away from the rising sun, looking for a white birch or maybe a sycamore tree on the very top of a high mountain.  After a quarter of an hour of searching in the slowly increasing light, he managed to find exactly what he was looking for, and leaned forward on his broom to hurry toward a windswept birch tree on a high rocky outcrop.  The sky looked wavy over the hilltop as if there was a fire underneath, but he soon realized it was just a mirage.  He pulled up as he reached the white tree and found a small silver box sitting on top of the roots.  He put his broom back in his bag and reached down to pick up the box.  I’ve got it.  Finally.  He reached inside and pulled out a small bottle, holding it up in the early morning sunlight.

 

“I’ll be taking that now.” Sib whirled to see who was talking and was faced with an old grizzled man in a MACUSA robe.  He had short grey hair, a patchy beard and deep crow’s feet around his eyes.  Sib’s attention was quickly drawn to the mage’s wand which was pointed directly at him.  Sib remained still as the man walked to him and took the vial. He put it in his pocket, grabbed Sib around the elbow and then apparated.  Sib felt the familiar body-squeezing pressure of side-along apparition and braced himself for the landing.

 

They landed in a starkly empty grey room with nothing but a pair of chairs and a small table.  There was a single door on either side, but no windows.  The old man checked Sib’s pockets, and then pointed at a chair in the middle of the room.  “Sit,” he said.  Sib sat down and handcuffs immediately jumped up and attached themselves to his wrists.  The old man set the memory on a small table and walked out of the room with Sib’s bag, returning a moment later without it.

 

“Let’s see what we have inside.”  He said as he unstoppered the bottle and turned it over.  It was empty.  He turned back to Sib.  “So who has it?” he demanded.

 

“I...I thought we all did.”  So who does have the memory?

 

They were interrupted by another MACUSA agent who knocked and entered without waiting for a response.  She was a barrel-chested woman with her grey-rooted blonde hair pulled up into a severe bun. “Neither of them have it,” she reported as she stood in the doorway.

 

“They have to know something,” he said.  “Did you try scaring them with the boggart?”

 

“It didn’t work.  One started crying over a moth and the other just sat there with a freakin’ pickle lying on the ground.”

 

Lily & Incheon!

 

“What about the others?”

 

“I sent every agent we have out after the other two kids.  We’ll get them.”  The man nodded, but turned around when he saw the other agent’s attention was drawn to the opposite door.   

 

A ghostly shape oozed under the door and coalesced into the shape of a bulldog.  It trotted over to the two agents and stopped in front of them.  “Spellhold has fallen. Report there at once with reinforcements.”  The patronus evaporated.

 

“What does he mean, Spellhold has fallen?” the bun-headed woman asked.

 

“It’s a breakout,” the grizzled one replied.  “All of our agents are scattered to the four winds chasing after these damn kids.  It was all a setup.” 

 

“What?”

 

“None of them has the memory.  We’ve been had.”  He pointed at her.  “Check the firejump to Spellhold, now.”  The woman disapparated with a ‘pop’.

 

“It appears you’ve been a victim as well,” he said, turning to Sib.  “But you should have never gotten involved with these people.”

 

“I got involved when you threw my pa in prison.”

 

He stared at Sib for a moment, thinking.  “Damn self-fulfilling prophecy…” he muttered.   The other agent re-apparated with a ‘pop’ back into the room. 

 

“Spellhold has no incoming or outgoing traffic," she reported.  "The firejumps are down.”

 

“Damn."  He checked the clock.  "It won't move for another two hours.  We’ll jump to Bracken Brae and travel overland.  Let’s go!”  They ran out of the room, leaving the door open.  Sib was still locked to the immovable chair.

 

He struggled with the handcuffs, trying to squeeze his hands through, but the more he scrunched them down, the more the handcuffs tightened.  Any more and it’s gonna cut off my circulation.

 

Just as he stopped struggling, he heard familiar voices from the hallway. 

 

“Was it at least a giant moth with fangs?”

 

“No, that would have been ridiculous.”

 

“No, ridiculous would have been a giant cucumber with fangs.”

 

“Hey, in here!” Sib called.

 

Lily poked her head inside the door “Sib!”

 

“How did you guys get out?” he said as they came into the room.

 

“They never took our amulets away,” said Incheon.  “So when she bugged out, we just cast with our hands.” 

 

Sib looked down inside his shirt and saw his amulet still resting against his chest.  I am an idiot.  “Alohomora!”  The magical handcuffs fell away.

 

“We were used,” Sib said.  “She never intended on giving us the memory.  It was all a setup to draw MACUSA away from Spellhold...I have to go and try to save my pa.”

 

Lily was exasperated.  “Sib!  You promised we wouldn’t get into trouble,” she said.  “I can’t go to Spellhold - I’d be grounded for a month!”

 

“I understand, but I’m goin’ after my pa and Ursula.  Even if I have to go alone.”

 

“I’ll go with you,” Incheon said.  “But you should probably take Quinta.” 

 

“Is she here?”

 

“I think so, the guards were talking about a girl who kept asking where her mother was.”

 

“Okay.  Incheon - make sure Lily gets to a firejump.  Lily, when you get home, send a message to the others to let them know I’m going to Bracken Brae and then to Spellhold.  They can come or not, but I can’t wait for them.”

 

“What about MACUSA reading the messages?”

 

“They’re all too busy now to care.  I’m goin’ to find Quinta.”  Sib left them and sprinted down the hallway, stopping to peer inside each doorway he came across.  He wasn’t worried about any more guards as they all had been sent to Spellhold.  Three doors down, he found his Stor-All and quickly looked inside to make sure his things were still as he left them.  Finding everything where it should be, he slung it on his back and continued down the hallway.

 

He knew he was getting close when he found a door that had been blown off its hinges.  Inside, a portly man in a MACUSA robe was lying unconscious on the floor.  “Quinta!” he called.  He heard a smashing noise further down the hall and headed that way.  

 

He found her in a large windowless room that was filled with shelves of rocks.  Quinta was standing next to one of the shelves, picking up each rock, turning it over, and then dropping it on the floor.  Sib pointed back down the hallway toward the room with the unconscious mage.  “What happened?”

 

“I made him talk,” she said.  Sib didn’t want to ask how she did that.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“I’m looking for my mother.  Have you seen her?”  She picked up another rock, turned it over and then dropped it on the ground. 

 

I think she’s finally snapped.  “Your ma’s not in here,” Sib tried to explain to her.  “It’s just shelves of rocks.”

 

“These aren’t rocks," said Quinta, inspecting a rock and then dropping it on the floor.

 

Oh, she’s really lost it.  “Quinta, I need to get to Spellhold and I need you to come with me.”

 

“Sure,” she said.  “Just as soon as I find my mother.”

 

I’m gonna have to leave her here, ain’t I?  Sib went over to try to pull her away.  Instead she handed him a rock.  “What do I…”

 

“Turn it over,” she said. 

 

Sib turned the rock over and saw a name etched into the stone.  “Joel Rosenberg, May 6 2010,” he read.

 

“That’s not my mother.” She took the rock that Sib was holding and dumped it on the floor.  She handed Sib another one.

 

“Pietro Marconi, June 23, 2010.”

 

“That’s not my mother, either.”

 

The realization hit him like a charging oliphaunt. “Oh my god.  These are people.”  Sib dropped Pietro and stared at the shelves of rocks.  He remembered what his father had told him when he visited Spellhold.  ‘They transfigure me into an inanimate object and I’m stuck that way forever…’  “These are people that MACUSA has transfigured.”

 

“The man told me that my mother is one of them, but I can’t find her.”

 

Okay, Sib.  Think.  “Quinta, what's the name and date on the rock you have?”

 

“Christine Agarwal, September 23, 2010.”

 

“They ain’t in alphabetical order, but they might be in time order.  When did your ma disappear?”

 

“Last February 5th.”

 

“Okay - we’re lookin’ on the wrong shelf.  Come on.”  He grabbed her hand and pulled her over to a different shelf that should have been about that time.  “Check the dates on that side.” He picked up a rock from the shelf and saw that it was dated for the previous April.  

 

“January,” she said from the opposite side. 

 

Sib went over to where she was looking and started pulling rocks off the shelf next to hers.  He found what he was looking for near the bottom.  “I found her.” He held out the rock with the name ‘Maria Rodriguez’ on it.  

 

Quinta took it from him.  “How do I make her come back?”

 

“I don’t know,” Sib said.  “But I promise that we’ll find out.  Will you come with me to Spellhold?”

 

“Should I go with him, mom?” she asked the rock.  She held it up to her ear.  “She says ‘yes’.”

 

Did Quinta just get weirder?  He shook his head.  No time.  He grabbed her hand and together they ran down the hall toward where Sib guessed the fireplaces were.  At the end of the corridor was a set of double doors and Sib burst through them to find an entrance hall.  Along one wall was a set of fireplaces and he hurried over to them.  He and Quinta stepped inside and he tossed the floo powder at their feet.  “Bracken Brae!” he shouted.



Chapter 22: Jailbreak!
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Hey, who turned out the sun?  Sib was momentarily confused as he stepped out of the fireplace after firejumping to Bracken Brae.  

 

“Hsst, over here,” came a whisper as soon as Sib and Quinta stepped into the central town square.  It took a second for Sib to realize that it was still night here and he turned toward the sound, seeing someone waving him to hide behind a series of crates that were piled up nearby.  He led Quinta to crouch behind the boxes.  In the dim light he was able to recognize Willow, who was huddled up with Hye-Lin, Incheon, Hedges and Beene.  Willow’s pseudodragon, Fred, was curled around her neck like a scarf.

 

“MACUSA agents have been jumping in for a while,” she whispered to him.  She held up her instant message book.  “Lef said she’s on her way.”

 

“So the two of you didn’t get captured?” Sib asked her.  

 

She shook her head.  “I did.  One of them caught me and started taking me back to the firejumps, but she got an owl message when we got close and then she took off.  I tried taking the memory to the local Ghost office, but my bottle was empty.”

 

“They were all empty,” Sib replied.  “It was a set-up.  There’s apparently a break-out at Spellhold, and the old woman wanted a distraction to draw MACUSA away.”

 

“Are we near Spellhold?”

 

“I think so,” he responded.  “At least, this is where they said they were goin’ when the Spellhold Firejumps were down.”

 

She pointed to the opposite side of the village.  “That’s the way the agents have all been going after they get here.”

 

“I’m goin’ after my dad,” Sib said.  

 

“And I’m going after Ursula,” she replied.  “I know why she got caught, and I know I’m responsible.”

 

That’s probably what she’s been so upset about.   “What about the others?” Sib asked, nodding toward their classmates.  “We could get in real trouble here.”

 

“They know.”

 

Sib hooked a thumb at the dimwits.  “I thought they weren't coming…” he whispered.

 

“Not my idea,” she whispered back.  “Blame Hye-lin.”

 

He shook his head.  “I gotta go,” he said.  “Can you get the rest of them there?”

 

“Yeah,” she replied.  “I managed to find a few brooms while I was waiting for everyone.”

 

“Good.  Don’t forget that Quinta can’t fly.  Oh, and she found her mom…”

 

“That’s great, where was she?”

 

“She was transfigured into a rock.  Quinta’s talkin’ to her now.”  He pointed out Quinta who was sitting by herself, carrying on a two-sided conversation with her rock.

 

“Oh my god,” she replied.

 

“Yeah,” he said.  He shifted over to where Incheon was sitting.  “Pssst,  Incheon.”

 

“What’s up?” he said.

 

“My broom is really conspicuous,” Sib told him as he pulled the torch-bright broom out.  “Can you use an illusion to cover it up?”

 

“That would take effort,” he replied, blinking in the sudden light.  But then he smiled and pulled out his amulet.  Like Sib, his spells were never as powerful when he just used his hands.

 

“Why don’t you just cast a disillusionment charm?” Quinta asked, looking up from her rock.

 

“‘Cause we normal mages don’t learn that for another three years,” Incheon replied.  “Do you want to do the honors?”  She shook her head and went back to talking to her mom.  “Dissimulato,” he cast and Sib’s firebird changed into a regular run-of-the-mill school broom and the group of them faded back into the pre-dawn darkness as the Firebird’s light was disguised.

 

“Perfect.  How long will it last?”

 

“Between three minutes and ten hours.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Give or take.”

 

Sib took the broom and checked to make sure the coast was clear.

 

“We’ll catch up as soon as Lef gets here,” Willow told him.  “Fred will go with you and he can find me when we arrive.” Sib nodded and then pushed off into the slowly brightening sky.  

 

He could tell that Bracken Brae was far west from Gampton Hall and his home in West Virginia.  The sun was probably an hour or more from peeking above the horizon.   As soon as he was above the treetops, he was lit up by the full moon which was setting in the west.  He looked around and saw a glow on the horizon as if a fire was blazing.  Guessing that was Spellhold, he headed in that direction, the Pseudodragon taking up a spot just to his right and flapping his wings to keep pace.  Sib tried to stay low near the peaks of the towering redwood trees to stay out of sight, but as far as he could tell, there was nobody else around.  He leaned forward and sped up.

 

After about fifteen minutes of flight, Sib saw that something had gone terribly wrong with Spellhold.  Even in the pre-dawn light, the damage was obvious.  The prison was no longer in the air and had tumbled to the ground, falling on its side like a top that had lost its spin.  The visitor's center was ablaze and the gondolas had tumbled to the ground like giant discarded dice.  There was black smoke pouring out of several windows near the center of the prison and a fire was still burning at the peak.

 

Sib knew that his father was near the top, so he angled his broom toward the crashed tower and flew away from the surrounding trees and into the large clearing around the prison.  He looked down and could see figures moving on the open field below and a couple of red flashes, but nobody seemed to be paying attention to him.  

 

Fred had flown ahead of him, but had suddenly halted and was hovering in the air.  Sib shot past him and then, as if he had hit an invisible marshmallow wall, his forward momentum was suddenly slowed and stopped.  His broom stopped functioning, and Sib found himself plummeting toward the ground more than a hundred feet below.  His stomach shot up into his throat and he couldn’t breathe as gravity pulled him toward the ground.  He was twisting his broom in desperation and shaking it, trying to make it work.  

 

There was a deep, booming noise and the entire prison shifted further over on its side away from where he was.  As it did so, Sib’s broom suddenly worked again and he pulled up as hard as he could to stop his descent.  He managed to slow his fall just in time, the tips of his shoes dragging on the ground as he raced away from the prison.  There must still be a no-fly zone around the prison that’s still workin’!  I ain’t gettin’ in that way.  

 

He raced back to the forest where he knew the others would be coming and found a place to lie low, trusting that nobody had seen him in the darkness that still lingered below the forest canopy.  He landed and waited, Fred joining him.  “I’ll wait here,” he told the creature. “Tell Willow to meet me.” The pseudodragon blinked and lifted off into the air, flying back through the trees toward Bracken Brae.  Sib smiled for a moment, thinking of his grandmother who had communicated with him the same way.  He hunkered down and looked back into the clearing.

 

He heard distant shouting and every once in a while saw a red flash light up the early morning air.  In one of the flashes, he thought he saw someone crawling out of a window from the interior of Spellhold and drop to the ground.  This must be the breakout.

 

The others joined him a few minutes later, Fred leading them right to where he was hiding.  “So can we just fly over?” Willow asked after she landed.

 

“There’s a no-fly zone around the whole place,” Sib explained.  “You’ll fall to the ground.”  They saw as a group of prisoners tried breaking out toward where they were and as soon as they stood up to run they were lit up by a series of red spells that shot out from the edge of the forest to Sib's right.  The prisoners dropped to the ground again, either frozen by the spell or ducking for cover.

 

“Well, we’re not going to walk over…” Incheon observed.

 

“What about going under?” Lef asked.  “Like how you dug out Corey.”

 

“We can dig!” said Willow.

 

“Evanesco lutum!”, Sib called, pointing his amulet at the ground.  He jumped in the hole and cast again. “Evanesco lutum!”  He stopped and put his hands down to the bottom of the hole.

 

“What’s the matter?” Willow asked.

 

“I hit bedrock and my ‘evanesco’ spell ain’t workin’.”

 

“Can anyone disapparate rock?” Lef asked.  The silence was enough to answer her question.

 

“Quinta, can you disapparate that bedrock?” Sib asked.

 

“What do you think mom?” Quinta asked her rock.  She put it up to her ear and then shook her head.  “No.  That could be someone’s mother,” she replied.   “We’re not going to do that.”

 

“We’re just going to have to run for it,” Willow said.

 

Recognizing that Willow’s plan would never work, Sib spoke up.  “We can’t move with that guard watching.”

 

“We need a distraction,” said Lef.

 

“Easy,” said Incheon, pulling a deck of cards from nowhere.  “Pick a card.”

 

“A distraction for the guard,” Willow said.

 

“Oh.  That’s a crime, I had a good one.”

 

“Ow!” cried Hedges.  “Why’d you slap me?  I called ‘double no slapbacks.”

 

“I undid your ‘no slapbacks’ with a doubles-ies undo,” replied Beene.

 

“Will you two shut up!” hissed Willow. 

 

We need a distraction.  “I got it,” said Sib.  “Hey Hedges, Beene,” he called.  

 

“Hiya,” said Hedges, coming over to where he was.   

 

“I want you two to go over to that guard but then I want just one of you to ask him what’s goin’ on.  Can you do that?”

 

“Sure,” said Hedges.  “Come on,” he said to Beene.  

 

“You come on,” Beene replied.

 

“Shut up!”

 

“No you shut up!”

 

“What did you just do?” Willow asked as they started walking through the woods toward the guard.

 

“We needed a distraction,” he replied.  “I give you Hedges and Beene.”

 

If anyone could provide a distraction, it was these two.   Sib could hear through the woods the surprise of the MACUSA agent as the two kids appeared through the undergrowth.  Although he couldn’t hear the conversation, he could imagine how it was going.

 

‘Who are you!’ the guard would be exclaiming.

 

‘He said only one of us should talk,’ Hedges would be saying to Beene, pushing him.

 

‘Well I’m talking,’ Beene would be replying, shoving back.

 

‘No, I’m talking, stupid.’

 

‘You’re stupid…’

 

'What are you two doing here?'  The agent would be yelling about now.  'Can’t you see there’s a prison breakout going on?'

 

But it would be too late.  Sib could just make out that the two of them were pushing and shoving each other, and the MACUSA agent had stood up and was trying to pull them apart and get them out of the area at the same time.

 

“Let’s go,” he said.  He got up and started running toward the prison. The others followed.  Remembering that Lef had a habit of falling and injuring herself at the most inopportune times, he halted and let Willow lead them as he took up the rear position behind Lef.  He heard something moving through the brush near them and he saw a grey blur to their left as an animal bolted through the undergrowth, startled by their movement.  

 

As they reached the side of the prison, they jumped into a deep hole in the ground where they could hide, Sib bringing up the rear.  The depression probably formed when the prison shifted.  

 

"How do we get in from here?” Willow asked Sib when he slid down the slope next to her.

 

“The entrance was always at the bottom tip, so I guess we go down,” he said.  Willow nodded and started casting ‘evanesco lutum’ while Lef shored up the walls with ‘quasi lapis’ and Quinta cast her light dog to lead the way.  As they were digging, Sib looked around.  He noticed that there was a group of prisoners huddled about fifty feet off to his left, hunkering down next to a grey dog.

 

“We’re there,” called Lef, pulling Sib’s attention away.  “You need to come down and lead us in.”

 

He nodded and was working his way to the tunnel entrance when he was startled by a flock of birds that suddenly erupted and flew in all directions into the sky.  He glanced back to where the prisoners had been and they were all gone.  Only the dog remained.  Wait. That ain’t a dog… His feet slipped on the tunnel entrance and he looked down to find his balance. As he glanced back up, the animal was gone.  It was her.

 

He wrestled for a moment with the thought of going after her, wondering if he should try to find and confront her, but knowing that they didn’t have a lot of time, he shook it off and concentrated on getting inside.  I’m gonna find pa first, then I’ll deal with her.  He half-slid and half jumped to the bottom of the sloping tunnel that Willow had dug to get down to the entrance to Spellhold.  When he got there, he found that Quinta had enlarged the end of the tunnel to form a cavern.  It was lit by her light dog which was slowly pacing around the perimeter.

 

“Those are the lifts,” he pointed.  “They probably won’t work.”  He stepped into them anyway and called out “the Max.”  As he expected, nothing happened.  “We’ll have to find the spiral staircase,” he told them.  “It winds its way up through the whole prison.”  He pointed to a door and Willow tried ‘alohomora’, only to find it didn’t work.

 

“Quinta?” he asked, almost afraid to find out what her rock thought about it, but she just nodded, walked to the door and put her hand on it.  It started glowing and then exploded inward, crashing a moment later somewhere inside.

 

“Holy…” whispered Incheon, who had been right next to Sib.

 

“Yeah,” replied Sib.  “My thoughts exactly.”  

 

Leading them in, Sib found that they were in a large communal area with tables and chairs all around that was probably set up for visitors to the low security areas of the prison. The entire prison was leaning away from them and Sib hustled through, feeling like he was running downhill.  The light dog was right at his heels, casting shadows everywhere as Sib continued looking for an obvious route to the heart of the facility.  He identified a door on the opposite side that was hanging open.  He looked at the door lock as he passed by and he thought it looked chewed.  Like termites got to it...but it’s metal.

 

He led them through and past a hallway full of empty cells with open doors.  These must be the prisoners who were all escapin’.  At the end of the corridor, he saw another door that was hanging open and he led the others through it and into an open room beyond.  Now we’re gettin’ somewhere.  

 

He recognized that he had found the central core of the prison.  On one side of this central room were two lifts, both obviously out of commission, but on the other side was a spiral staircase that led only one direction...up.  Sib started climbing.  The light dog followed him and it cast his shadow on the outside wall of the staircase.  Sib felt like his shadow was leading the way.

 

Every time the staircase turned to climb ‘uphill’ the stairs were on a twenty-degree slope up and Lef had trouble climbing them, so eventually, Sib let Willow lead them up the stairway and he helped Lef from the back.  Willow stopped at one landing after another, but Sib could tell right away as he caught up that they needed to keep going.  

 

At the third landing, Sib recognized that they were finally where they needed to be.  He crossed the room - tilted sideways this time - and tried the door leading to the hallway where Ursula’s cell was.  He pulled it open and the handle came off in his hand.  The lock crumbled like it had been made of rotten wood.  Sib saw several flashes of something small and pink drop to the floor with the remains of the lock and skitter away into the darkness. “Did you see that?” he asked.

 

“See what?” Incheon said.

 

“It looked like...devourers.”  They had found small pink bugs like those the previous year.  They were incredibly dangerous as they ate anything magic like a termite eats wood.  If they were to escape, they would completely destroy everything magic anywhere around them.  

 

“What?” Willow said.  

 

“Devourers,” he said, 

 

“What’s a devourer?” asked Hye-lin.  She hadn’t been at the school when they had come across them before.

 

Incheon recited what he had heard Ursula tell them about the bugs.  “It’s a small bug that is highly resistant to magic, but feeds off of magical power.  If they get loose and start to breed, they will consume everything magical around them: books, plants, brooms, wands, and even the magical protections that hide a building from the nomaj.”

 

“I did this,” Sib said, finally realizing what he had done.  “That’s what she had me release in Spellhold.”

 

“You mean the package she had you deliver?” asked Lef.

 

“Yeah,” he replied.  “They’ve been eatin’ Spellhold from the inside for the past month.”

 

“No time for that now,” Willow reminded him.  “We need to get to Ursula.”  Sib nodded and pulled open the now rotten door.  It opened ‘uphill’, so Sib had to hold it as they passed through into the corridor beyond.  It closed with a ‘clang’ as Sib followed the others.

 

“About halfway down,” he called to Willow.  “It’s the one with the thick bars.”  He followed them through the hallway and Sib saw that they were stopped, staring inside Ursula’s cell.

 

“We have a problem,” said Willow.  Sib caught up and looked inside the cell.  Ursula was a bear.  “It’s still the full moon,” she said.  

 

“But it’s settin’,” he responded.  “If we wait a couple hours, she should turn back.”  The entire prison shuddered and tilted even further over.  Several of the cell doors on the ‘uphill’ side swung open, their locks devoured.

 

“Do we have a couple of hours?” Lef responded.

 

Sib heard a snuffling noise, like a dog that is hunting for something to eat.  It was then that he remembered Larry and Barry.  He turned to see that their door was one of those that had swung open. “We got bigger problems,” he said. “There were two werewolves that were here with her, and their cell is wide open.”  He pointed toward the now open cell door just as two hulking shapes paced out into the hallway and gazed at the six of them with sickly yellow eyes.

 

“Is there another way out?” Hye-lin asked, her voice quivering.  

 

“It’s a dead end,” Sib replied.  The werewolves were between them and the central corridor.  The opposite direction led to a dead end with non-functional lifts.  They were all backing up slowly.

 

They were interrupted by a large, burly, bearded mage who wandered into the hallway behind the werewolves, muttering to himself, his wand held out in front of him.  “Still too early…” he was saying.  He stopped when he saw them.  “What the…” he started and raised his wand.  “Did you drink the potion?” he asked the werewolves.  Sib saw them nod.  “Then go, my friends.” He stepped aside and the two werewolves ran past him toward the central corridor. Sib remembered that they had a wolvesbane potion which let them keep their minds when they transformed. Thank goodness for that.

 

The bearded man turned back to them, his wand still out.  “What are you doing here?” he asked.  Sib looked at him.  He was a huge hulking man with dark hair, a long, unkempt beard and dark blue robes that were large enough to easily double for a tablecloth. 

 

Knowing that the rest of them couldn’t fight back, Sib looked at the doorknob that was still in his hand and suddenly remembered Quinta’s spell from Thaumaturgy class.  “Quinta!” he called, “do your thing!”  He tossed the doorknob at Quinta.  Without her even trying to catch it, the doorknob bounced off her side and fell to the floor.

 

“Ow,” she said.  “Why did you do that?’

 

The bearded mage started laughing.

 

“I thought you would do the charm where you make it fly around the room and then knock him out,” he said.

 

The mage was doubled over in laughter.  “Stop,” he said, still laughing.  He stood up and wiped his eyes.  “It’s me, Ruluff Hendershot,” he said.

 

“Mr. Hendershot?” Willow questioned. Sib looked at him. He looked twice as large and ten times as hairy as Mr. Hendershot, who was not a small man to begin with.

 

“It’s definitely me,” he said, and then called them by name.  “You’re Willow, Sib, Incheon, Lef, Hye-lin, and Quinta.  I’ve cast an illusion on myself to hide my identity.”

 

“What were you laughing at?” Willow asked.

 

“The spell,” he said, still smiling.  “The one where I threw the ball at Quinta and she made it zip around the room and blast through the wall.” 

 

“What about it?” 

 

“It was all an illusion,” he said.  “I just made it look like she could do those things.”

 

“Wait, so she can’t really do it?”

 

“Oh, she can,” he responded.  “She just never chooses to.” Sib looked at Quinta who just shrugged her shoulders.  

 

“So what are you doing here?” Willow asked.

 

“I’m pretty sure the same thing you are,” he responded.  “Ursula.  I've been trying to help her ever since I overheard from you that she was in trouble.”

 

“There’s a small problem,” said Willow.  She pointed into the cage and Mr. Hendershot came closer and looked inside.

 

“I figured as much,” he said.  “It’s too early.”

 

“Can’t we wait for the moon to set?” Sib asked.  

 

“No,” he replied.  “The prison moves at dawn. We don’t have time.”

 

“So what do we do?” Sib asked.

 

“I don’t know,” he replied.  “But while we’re thinking, I’d better disguise the lot of you.” He pointed his wand at Incheon and cast a spell. Incheon immediately transformed into a short, thick woman with spiky blonde hair and a neck tattoo.

 

“What?” said the woman.  “What are you all looking at?” 

 

“Incheon?”

 

“What’s the matter?” she asked.  

 

“Can you even see yourself?” Hye-lin asked.

 

The woman looked down at her body and then back at them. “I see myself,” she responded.

 

“You all will,” Mr. Hendershot responded.  “If you touch him, he'll still be Incheon too.  It’s only other people who will see you differently.”  He cast a spell on the rest of them and Sib found he couldn’t even figure out who was who as they gawked at each other. 

 

“What happens if we just let her out?” an older woman asked. “It looks like her door is unlocked.” She had grey hair that was pulled up into a bun and her green corduroy pants were tattered and fraying at the bottom hem.

 

“Then Ursula attacks you and you become a were-bear forever,” Mr. Hendershot responded.  “She would never forgive me if that happened.”

 

“Can we knock out the bear?” a chubby Persian man with a thick mustache asked.

 

“I don’t have a spell that can do that,” he responded.  “Unless one of you has a Sweet Stunning Sweet from Three Dubs.”  They all turned to the spiky-haired woman with the neck tattoo.

 

“I don’t,” she said.  “I do have a Jelly Jamboree, though.” 

 

“What does that do?” the Persian man asked.

 

“It turns you into a giant quivering ball of slime.”

 

“For how long?” 

 

“About a minute.”

 

“That won’t do,” Mr. Hendershot responded.  “We need to knock her out for longer.”

 

“Wait a minute!” Sib said.  He reached into his bag and started digging.  

 

“Who are you and what are you looking for?” the spiky-haired woman asked.

 

“I’m Sib and I’m lookin’ for those seeds that you planted on me back when we was tryin’ to get rid of my Gramma’s guard.”

 

“Just accio!” the Persian man said.  That must be Lef.  

 

“I forget what they’re called.”

 

“Hollow-stemmed asphodel.”

 

“Accio hollow-stemmed asphodel,” he called, and the seeds leapt into his hand.

 

“Now how do we get her to eat them?” A lanky red-haired man asked.  Sib was pretty sure that was Willow.

 

“Can we put them inside this?” the old woman asked.  She held up an apple.  

 

“Perfect,” said Mr. Hendershot.  He took the apple from the old woman and then the seeds from Sib’s outstretched hand.  

 

“How long will she be out?” the old woman asked.

 

“Long enough to get outside,” he said.  He pushed the seeds deep into the apple.  “Here goes nothing.”  He tossed the apple into the enclosure.  The bear shuffled over to it, stumbling over the uneven floor, sniffed the apple and swallowed it in one bite.  She dropped almost immediately.

 

Mr. Hendershot pulled open the door.  “Pluma!” he cast on Ursula’s unconscious shape.  He ran over and picked her up with one hand, carrying her on his back like a gigantic furry backpack.  Her back half and legs dragged on the ground as he climbed back up to the exit of the cell.  “We need to hurry,” he told them as he led the way back down the hallway toward the central staircase.

 

Sib went ahead to hold the door open at the end of the hall.  As Mr. Hendershot dragged Ursula through the doorway, a MACUSA mage emerged suddenly from the central stair.  “Expelliarmus!” she called and Hendershot’s wand went flying to a far corner.  The bear, now freed of its pluma spell, dropped to the ground like a ton of bricks.  Mr. Hendershot let out a grunt as he was trapped underneath.

 

“If any of you move a muscle, I won’t hesitate to kill you,” the MACUSA mage said, leveling her wand right at Sib and Incheon who were standing near the door to the hallway.

 

Sib froze in place as the mage came into the room.  She was short but muscular and was dressed in a form-fitting grey MACUSA robe.  She had long black hair and freckles dotting her face.  “Hands in the air, you,” she said, pointing to the doorway where Sib was standing.  She was slowly working her way towards them on the uneven floor.  Incheon - the illusion of him as a spiky-haired woman broken - was right next to Sib and the two of them raised their hands.

  

“I see you were trying to release these monsters to the wild, huh?” the woman said to Mr. Hendershot, who was struggling to breathe under the weight of the unconscious bear.  “I’m sure those two werewolves would be happy running free if I hadn’t stunned them.” 

 

“You,” she said, pointing her wand at someone behind Sib.  “Drop that rock, right now.”

 

Oh, she just made her first mistake.

 

“Drop my mother?” Quinta’s voice said.  

 

“I won’t ask you again,” the mage threatened.  

 

“What was that, mom?” Quinta said.  Sib could picture her holding the rock up to her ear.  “Of course.”

 

“You asked for th…” the dark-haired mage froze in mid-sentence.  Sib and Incheon, who had seen Quinta do this before dropped their hands.  

 

“Grab her wand,” said Sib as he pulled out his amulet and cast ‘wingardium leviosa’ on the bear.  It lifted and Mr. Hendershot rolled out from underneath, groaning in pain. “Lef!” Sib shouted.  “We need you!”  She hurried forward and Sib pointed to Mr. Hendershot.  “He’s hurt.  See what you can do.”  Sib set the bear down and turned back to Willow and Hye-lin who were inspecting the frozen MACUSA mage.

 

“What did you do to her?” Willow asked Quinta.

 

“She wanted me to drop my mother,” she replied.  “And my mother told me not to do that.”

 

“Did she just get weirder?” Incheon whispered to Sib, chucking the mage's wand back down the hallway.

 

He nodded.  "Yeah, as hard as that is to do."  

 

“Brackium emendo,” said Lef as she cast a healing spell on Mr. Hendershot’s ribcage. 

 

He moved his hands over his chest. “Amazing charm work, Lef,” he said.  “That’s as good as Mrs. Praecuro.”  He got up, ran to the corner to grab his wand and then looked back at the frozen MACUSA guard.  

 

“What do you want me to do with her?” Quinta asked Mr. Hendershot.  “Pull her fingernails out, break her kneecaps, slice her…”

 

“Stop!” Mr. Hendershot responded.  “There’s no time."  He cast a spell on the frozen mage and then ran towards Ursula.  "I altered her memory," he called.  "Just knock her out and come on!”  He cast the illusion spells back on all of them and then cast ‘pluma’ on the bear.  The guard dropped into unconsciousness and they all raced to the stairway.  Sib held Willow back as Quinta and Lef followed Mr. Hendershot.  She looked like the lanky red-haired man again, but Sib could feel her real arm under the illusion.

 

“Get them out,” he told Willow.  “I’m goin’ after my pa.”  She nodded and moved toward the stairway.

 

“Since we’re either going to get killed, mauled, or lose these illusions,” Incheon said, now looking like the spiky-haired woman again.  “I don’t suppose you’d mind taking off your shirt before you go?”

 

“Sib,” the old woman with the bun said, passing by.  “If you do that, I will murder you myself.”

 

“What do I look like?” Sib asked, wondering what Hye-lin meant.

 

Incheon just smiled.  “Here,” he said.  “Take this.”  He pressed a Three Dubs candy into Sib’s hand.  “It’s the Jelly Jamboree.  Might be useful.”  He was dragged away by the old woman and was walking backward toward the stairs.  

 

What the hell.  Sib grabbed his shirt and pulled it up.  The last he saw of them was the huge ear-to-ear grin on the spiky-haired woman’s face.

 



Chapter 23: On the Run
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Sib started climbing the central staircase, but since the tower had shifted even more, he found the uphill sections almost impossible without scrambling up with his hands.

 

This is too slow.  He stopped and opened his Stor-All, reached inside and grabbed the Firebird.  Incheon’s spell had worn off, and the broom blazed into light when he removed it from his bag, but he didn’t care.  He even noticed that the light from the broom helped him see.  He hopped on and started to fly up in a corkscrew toward the top where he knew his father was.

 

He was starting to get dizzy when he noticed that there was more light in the stairway.  He rounded one last corner and emerged into a large circular room.  The stairs kept climbing, but Sib flew out into the room, which was brightened by the pre-dawn light through a few small porthole-sized windows.

 

Gotta figure out where I am.  Besides, I’m smellin’ more smoke the higher I climb.  He landed and stepped off his broom, went over to the door and touched the handle.  It was cool, so he cracked it open.  Bingo.  He recognized the entry area to the Max where he had been so many times before - although never by this route.  After confirming the guards were nowhere to be seen, he walked into the room and began to crawl up the steep incline toward the table where the guards usually sat.  The box where he was supposed to put magical items was still securely fastened in place on the table, but the chairs had tumbled away back behind where Sib had come into the room.

 

He went past the table and stopped at the sniffer door.  It wasn’t workin’ last time, so here’s hopin’.  He stepped through and nothing held him back.  He climbed inside and went to the tables where he usually talked to his father.  He put his hand up to check if the barrier was there and his hand passed right through.  Feeling lucky, he vaulted over the table and headed toward the door where his dad always emerged.  

 

He entered and found a long corridor with cells along either side.  He scrambled along, his calves starting to burn from the constant uphill climb.  He passed one empty cell after another.  Maybe he already got out.  He reached a junction and there were three more corridors branching out.  The prison shuddered heavily and shifted again.  He had to crouch down to avoid losing his balance, but he still ended up sliding back the way he had climbed by a few feet.  I ain’t got much time.

 

“Pa!” he called.  

 

“Hey, over here!” came a voice from the central corridor.  Sib rushed toward the sound and saw his father inside a cell with his hands gripping the still-closed door.  

 

“Pa!” Sib cried as he saw him.  “Man, am I glad to see you.”

 

“Who are you?” he asked.

 

“Pa,” he replied, confused. “It’s me, Sib.”

 

“Look, miss,” he said.  “I don’t know what you’re tryin’ to pull.  Are you MACUSA?”

 

The disguise!  “Pa,” he said.  “It’s an illusion.”

 

“Okay, then,” he replied, clearly disbelieving. “What did your Uncle get you for your birthday?” he asked.

 

“Uncle Andy ain’t never gotten me nothing,” he responded. 

 

“What’s your brother’s favorite spell?” 

 

“Pa, he’s a squib.”

 

“What does your ma make better than anyone?”

 

“Foot-long mad dogs,” he said.  “Pa, it’s really me.”

 

His father just stared at him up and down.  “Son,” he replied.  “That is an amazin’ illusion.”   

 

“It ain’t mine,” he responded.  “Now let’s get you out of there.”

 

His dad shook his head.  “These doors didn’t open like the others,” he said.  “Nothin’ I’ve tried is movin’ ‘em.”

 

Sib tried ‘alohomora’ and even tried to look around for a devourer to put on the lock, but they must not have reached this wing yet.  “Where’s everyone else?” 

 

“Their locks opened and they bugged out, but I’ve been alone in this wing the whole time.”

 

“Why didn’t they help you out?”

 

“It’s the Max, Sib,” he replied.  “Typically, there ain’t nice people stayin’ in here.”

 

“Well, somethin’s gotta work, pa.”

 

“Not unless you can turn me into smoke.”

 

Or jelly!  “I got one better.  Here,” he said, reaching into his bag, and then passing the Jelly Jamboree through the bars.  “Eat this.”

 

“What is it?” his dad said, unwrapping it.

 

“It’s your ticket out.  Now hurry.”  His dad looked at the candy, shrugged and popped it in his mouth.  The instant it hit his tongue, he turned into a giant cube of jiggling yellow pudding that started sliding along the sloped floor to the left side of his cell.  

 

Here goes nothin’.  Sib held out his amulet.  “Accio jelly!”  The globular mass shuddered and then moved toward Sib, pressing itself against the bars.  At first, Sib thought it wouldn’t work as the jelly just bulged its way against the barrier, but then it split and started to ooze through, cutting around the bars like butter pushed through a screen door. 

 

It dropped into a pile on the near side and the shredded bits of jelly tumbled over themselves on the way to stop by Sib’s feet.  Seconds later, his dad reappeared where the pile of jelly had been.

 

“Whoa,” he said, slowly getting to his feet.  “What was that?”

 

“A Jelly Jamboree from Three Dubs,” said Sib.  “Now come on.”  He led the way - back downhill this time - to the visitors area.  They jumped the visitor’s desk, jogged through the sniffer and the guard area and reached the stairway again.  

 

“Up or down?” Sib asked.

 

“Unless you got wings, we gotta go down,” his dad replied.  They started that way, but got no further than two turns of the spiral staircase before they heard voices below.

 

“No good, Pa,” Sib whispered as they turned around.  “We gotta go up.”

 

“Ain’t there another staircase?”

 

“Not that I know about,” he replied. “We’ll be okay.  Come on.”  They climbed back up, Sib and his father both helping each other up the tricky uphill parts of the staircase until they were at the top.  It ended at a landing with a single door.  There was nowhere else to go.

 

Sib’s dad opened the door, which swung down and away from them. The area outside was bathed in morning sunlight.  They were looking downhill at an angle toward the ground.  Sib held onto the door and eased himself out.  They were in a stone-cobbled courtyard and there was a fire burning in a structure over to Sib’s left.  Ahead, the wall and floor had crumbled, leaving a sheer drop to the ground a hundred feet below.  To the right was a parapet wall and Sib scrambled sideways across the slope to look over the side.  

 

What happened to the trees?  

 

“The prison moved,” his father observed as he came to stand next to him, and then he looked at the sun.  “Looks like we’re still on the west coast though.”

 

“I don’t see another way down,” Sib said, looking at the ruins of the lifts outside of the burning building on the other side of the courtyard.

 

“We could try gettin’ past those guards who are comin’ up the stairs,” his dad suggested.  “I know a couple’a spells I could try if you let me borrow Gramma’s wand.”

 

He’s going to get us killed.  Sib glanced at his ring.  No, he’s going to get himself killed.  Wait a minute…  “Pa, we gotta jump.”

 

“Unless you got a Three Dubs candy that’s gonna turn me into a goose, that ain’t gonna work.”  

 

Sib reached in his bag and pulled his Firebird back out.  “We’ll be okay,” he said.  “I have this.”  

 

His father took it from Sib’s outstretched hands and admired it.  “It’s a beauty,” he said.  “But ain’t there a no-fly zone around the prison?” 

 

“It won’t be there,” Sib replied.

 

“And how do you know that?”

 

“Because I’m wearin’ Grandpa’s ring,” he said, flashing it at his dad.  

 

“And I’m supposed to put all my faith in that no-luck piece of…”  He was cut off as a spell flashed at them and hit the parapet nearby.  Bits of shattered rock flew past them.  Sib looked back toward the central staircase and saw two mages getting ready to shoot more spells at them from the stairway door.  

 

Without warning, Sib’s dad grabbed him, picked him up, and threw him over the parapet.  Sib started falling to the ground without his broom.  Sib looked back toward his dad.  His father had vaulted over the side and was plummeting after him on the broom as a bolt of green light shot by his head.

 

Sib turned back to the ground which was approaching faster and faster.  This is gonna hurt.  Suddenly, he felt a yank on the back of his pants slowing him.  He looked up and saw that his father had one hand on the Firebird and the other on the back of Sib’s belt, they pulled up and - like what had happened earlier that morning - Sib felt the grass flit by on his shoes as his face and body hovered a foot from the ground.  His dad kept going until they were into the surrounding forest and then he halted the broom and set Sib down.  

 

“I guess my ring works,” said Sib, dusting himself off.

 

“I reckon so,” his father replied, his hands shaking.  “But it sure didn’t seem like it.”  His dad handed him back the broom.

 

“Are you alright, pa?”

 

“That killin’ curse,” he said.  “It wasn’t but a hair’s breadth from hittin’ me.  Even a graze from that curse is enough to kill a full grown man.”  He took a deep breath. “Let’s get movin’.  They’ll be followin’ any second now.”  

 

Sib mounted the broom and his dad climbed on behind him.  Sib kicked off and leaned forward, trying to get as much distance between them and Spellhold as he could.  After flying for a half hour through the forest he pulled up so that they could get above the treetops and fly in a straight line.

 

“Where do we go now, pa?” he asked. 

 

“We just need to find a MINSAR station.”

 

“MINSAR?” 

 

“Stands for Mage in Need Search and Rescue,” he said.  “They come callin’ if any mage gets into trouble by jumpin’ where they shouldn’t or havin’ their wand broken when they’re out and about.”

 

“So how do we find one?”

 

“It sets off a signal,” he said.  “You just gotta know what to look for.”

 

They flew on for another fifteen minutes before his dad poked him on the shoulder.  “There,” he said, pointing to a hill in the distance.  “Do you see how the sky kinda’ wavers above that hill, like air above a hot tin roof?”

 

Sib squinted where his father was pointing.  “The sky...is it wobblin’?”

 

“It looks that way,” he replied.  “Let’s go.”  Sib turned toward the hill and leaned forward.  The broom didn’t accelerate.  He leaned forward again and the broom started dropping.

 

“What’s wrong?” his dad asked.

 

“I don’t know,” Sib replied.  “It won’t do what it’s supposed to.”  He tried getting it to speed up, but it was now sputtering and jerking haphazardly.  

 

“Is it supposed to be smokin’?” 

 

Sib turned around and saw the broom was leaving a trail of dirty black smoke back the way they had come.  Without warning, the broom stopped working, sending the two of them into a tumbling free fall.  Sib barely had time to look down before he hit a series of vines which slowed his speed.  As they snapped, he dropped and landed in a stinking slime-filled bog.

 

He dragged himself out - unhurt - but soaked and covered in rotten-smelling ooze.  He saw the remains of his broom sticking out of the ground and he went back to grab it.  

 

It was stuck in the ground like a tiki torch, but the flames had sputtered out.  As he touched it, the broom disintegrated into a pile of splinters and ash.  He watched as a small pink bug crawled from the wreckage of his prized possession.  His blood boiled.  You will die for this.  With as much force as he could muster, Sib crushed the bug under his shoe, grinding it into the ground underneath.  A smear of pink and green was all that remained when he removed his foot.  He brushed through the pile of debris to be sure there weren’t any others and then he scraped a hole in the soft forest floor next to the pile, pushed the remains of his broom in and covered it again.

 

I gotta find pa.  He started walking through the forest in the direction that they had been traveling.  He was pretty sure his dad had landed further along the path than he did.  “Pa!” he called as he pushed through the shrubs and vines.

 

“Here, Sib,” came a weak call. 

 

Sib hurried toward it to find his father lying face-down on the ground.  He wasn’t moving.  “Pa!” Sib ran to him and put his hand on his father’s back.  

 

His dad inhaled sharply. “Careful,” he said weakly.  “I’m pretty sure I busted a couple‘a ribs.”  He coughed and winced in pain.  Sib saw bloody spit trickle from his dad’s mouth.

 

“I can fix it.  Hold on.” He tried to remember the spell that Lef had used.  God, was that only an hour ago?   It feels like a week.  He grabbed his amulet.  “Brackium emendo.” he called.  His father inhaled sharply again and Sib saw his body shift.  “Are you okay?”

 

His father rolled over onto his back, breathing deeply.  He used his hands to feel his side.  “I’m better,” he said.  “Thanks, son.” He put out his hand.  “I need to sit up.”  Sib pulled him to a sitting position and then helped him get propped up against a tree. His dad pressed his eyes closed as another wave of pain hit him.  “You got your ma’s gift for healin’ bones,” he said.

 

“But she stinks at it,” Sib replied.  His father looked up at him and smiled.  “Oh,” he realized.  “Sorry.” 

 

His dad closed his eyes again for a moment.  "It's alright.  Nobody in this family is good at healin' magic."  He glanced at the soaking mess that was Sib’s outfit.  “Could you uh….cover yourself up, son?”

 

“What?  Why?”

 

“You’re wearin’ a wet tee shirt.”

 

“I don’t understand,” he said, looking down at it.  It was soaked and clinging to his chest.

 

His dad looked away and shook his head.  “Who did you say did this illusion?”

 

“My Thaumaturgy teacher, Mr. Hendershot.”

 

“That man needs to get himself a girlfriend.”

 

Sib was confused.  “I know I’m a girl because Incheon asked me to pull up my shirt.”

 

“Let’s just say you look like a very well-endowed young lady.”

 

“You mean I look rich?”

 

His dad turned back to look him in the face.  “When your friend looked at your chest he got an eyeful.  Is that clear enough for you?”

 

“Oh,” he said.  “I think I got an old shirt in my bag.” He pulled his Stor-All off of his back, wiped the slime from the water-proof flap, and dug through, finding a long-sleeved tee that he had worn the previous summer.  It had big slash marks across the back where the harpy had tried to claw him.  He had hidden it in his bag so his mom wouldn’t ask questions.  He reached down and started to pull off his shirt to change.

 

“Don’t take it off here!” His dad said, bringing his hands up to his eyes.  “Go over yonder behind them bushes…  I don’t need that image noodlin’ around in my brain.”

 

Sib walked away from his dad, cast ‘reparo’ on his old shirt to fix the slashes and then changed.  As he pulled on the clean shirt, he found the sleeves were an inch too short.  I didn’t realize I grew that much.

 

He returned to find his dad hadn’t moved.  “Do you think you can walk, pa?”

 

“Not well and not far,” he replied.  “I think I just need to rest here for a while.”  

 

“What about the trace?” asked Sib. “Ain’t they gonna find us?"

 

“They’re probably busy roundin’ up the others who have it.  Even so, I know we gotta get movin’ soon since it’s only a matter of time before they come for me...  Just gimme a sec.”  He closed his eyes and Sib found a log nearby to lean against.  Soon his father’s breathing had deepened and become regular, letting Sib know his dad had passed out.  

 

Sib rubbed the knot in his neck again and thought about their situation.  We ain’t got no food, no money, and no transportation.  We got one wand between us and we’re three thousand miles from home with half of MACUSA on our tail.  My pa’s hurt and he’s gonna be attacked by a manticore.  My favorite possession in the world is a pile of ash and scrap that I buried like it was related to me. He smiled ruefully. If this ain’t the deepest pickle I ever been in, I don’t know what is.

 

He looked down at the ring on his finger.  This is now the only thing I own in the world that’s worth havin’.  He took it off and carefully slipped it on his father’s pinky finger.  But you need it now more than I do.

 

*******

 

Sib had dozed off himself and was awoken by his father coughing and sputtering.  “Are you alright, pa?”  He crawled over to kneel next to him.

 

“Yeah, I’m feelin’ tons better,” he said, and then looked at Sib.  “I see you’re back to lookin’ normal too. I just had these stupid leaves blow into my mouth.” He had spit them out into his hand and was holding them up to the light.  “Well I’ll be…”

 

“What?” Sib asked.

 

“It’s motherwort,” he replied, putting it back in his mouth and chewing.  He swallowed.  “It’s a healin’ plant, but it ain’t supposed to grow west of the Appalachian Mountains.  What are the odds of findin’ it here?”

 

About one in one, since you’re wearin’ that ring.  “Come on, pa.  Let’s get up and movin’.”  Sib helped his dad up, but as soon as he was standing, he noticed the ring on his finger.

 

“Why’d you give me this?” his dad said, taking it off.

 

“You can’t be hurt if you’re wearin’ it.”

 

He held it out to Sib.  “You mom would never forgive me if something happened to you.”

 

“Pa, I need you to know that I have grandma’s gift...her visions.”

 

“I know that,” he said.  “Your Gramma let us know long ago.”

 

Sib was surprised for a moment.  “You need it more than me.”

 

“Take it, son.”

 

“Pa, you’re gonna be attacked by a manticore,” Sib replied.  “I saw it happen and I need you to wear the ring.  I ain’t losin’ you.”

 

His father looked down at the ring.  “Attacked by a manticore, am I?”

 

“I’m not movin' 'til you put it on.”

 

“Alright,” he said.  “But as soon as we get away from that manticore, you’re puttin’ it on again.  Deal?”

 

“Deal.”

 

It was only afterwards that Sib noticed how much time had passed; they must have slept for hours.  The sun was past its zenith when they started walking in the direction of the hill with the MINSAR station.  After an hour of hiking they had made it nearly to their destination.  As they were climbing the last rise, Sib asked his dad about the stations.  “So how does this MINSAR thing work?”

 

“If a mage needs help anywhere in the US, they ain’t never more than a day’s hike to the nearest MINSAR station.  They put ‘em all over and they can be used whenever somebody needs to be found or rescued.”

 

“Why couldn’t the person just use magic?”

 

“Well, what if their wand was busted?” he replied.  “I don’t know anyone who ever had that happen…”

 

I guess pa knows that Arc busted my wand back in August. “Heard about that, huh?”  

 

He smiled.  “Anyways,” he continued, “search and rescue teams can jump from a couple of central locations across the country to any one of these stations in seconds.”

 

“So it’s like the firejump network?” 

 

“Yeah, except they don’t have to worry about disguisin’ a fireplace in the middle of nowhere, ‘cause MINSAR stations look like trees.  And you don’t have to worry if you don’t have a pocket of floo powder on ya, either.”

 

“So how do you know which tree is the MINSAR station?”

 

“Cause it looks like that,” his dad replied, pointing to a lone white-trunked tree on the peak of the hill just ahead.  

 

“I seen a tree like that before,” said Sib.  “It was a white birch on the top of a hill outside of Nanty Glo.”

 

“Was the sky waverin’ above it?”

 

“Yeah,” he replied.  “Now that I think about it, it was.  I thought I was seein’ a mirage or somethin’.”

 

They approached the white poplar and his father put his hands on the trunk next to a low branch.  “Now what you’re supposed to do is to pull down this low branch and then MINSAR will jump to this location.”

 

“But we ain’t gonna do that are we?” Sib guessed.

 

“Nope, ‘cause there’s no doubt that the only people jumpin’ here will be MACUSA agents.  Instead we can use the link to jump to the MINSAR hub when they jump here.”

 

“What good’s that do us?”

 

“‘Cause the MINSAR we jump to is connected to every other MINSAR across the country.  We’ll just make a quarter-second pit stop before we keep goin’.”

 

“Where do we stop?”

 

“We’ll jump to the MINSAR station near Gampton,” he said.  “I know a place on the island where I can lay low for a while.”

 

“What about your trace?” 

 

“Maybe the bugs ate it, I dunno.”  He didn’t sound convinced and Sib wasn’t either.  “You ever side-along apparate before?” he asked.

 

“Yeah,” Sib replied.  “Ma took me.”

 

“Good, so you know what to expect.  This time instead of landin’ you’re gonna skip.  It’s a touch and go.  Are you ready?”

 

Sib nodded and he grabbed his father’s arm.  His dad pushed down the branch and twisted.  Sib saw shapes emerge on the hilltop a split second before the world went black and the universal pressure of apparition took hold.  Like his dad described, he touched down long enough to see an equipment-filled room before he felt his father’s arm pull him again into the blackness.  There wasn’t enough time to take a breath.  He felt like he was running out of air and he was struggling to breathe.  He kicked his feet in a basic survival reaction.  He was dying…  

 

Suddenly the pressure released.  Sib collapsed into a heap on the ground, gasping for breath as his father leaned over and put his hands on his knees.  “I ain’t never apparated three thousand miles before,” his dad said, catching his breath.  “And I don’t never want to again.”  He put his hand out to help Sib up. “You alright?”  Sib nodded and took his father’s hand.  

 

Looking around, Sib saw that they were standing next to a lone white birch tree on the top of a wooded hill.  The sun was lower in the sky and the woods looked familiar in that he could identify the trees and plants around him.  “Let’s head that way,” his dad said, pointing north.

 

They traveled for a while to the north through thick woods.  Sib could hear the sound of the rapids and the falls in the far distance, so he knew they were somewhere near Gampton Hall even though he couldn’t see it through the trees.

 

“Ow!” he exclaimed.

 

“What happened?” his father asked, coming back toward him.

 

Sib pointed to a nettle bush.  “I pricked myself.”

 

His dad smirked.  “Want me to take you to the hospital?” 

 

“No, it’s just…”  Sib thought about when the last time was that he got injured.  The manticore?  “I’ve had that ring on so long that I forgot what it felt like to hurt.”

 

“Want me to punch you on the arm so you keep rememberin’?” his dad joked.  “Or can we keep movin’?”  Sib nodded and they hiked on.  

 

After about a half hour, they came to a road.  His dad looked puzzled and then remembered something.  “I forgot there was nomaj in the kitchens,” he said.  “I guess they use this road.”

 

“It’s Saturday, pa.  We should be good.”  They checked all around them just in case and jogged into the woods on the far side, not stopping until the road was out of sight and they had crossed the path that led to the docks where the first-years arrive on their very first school day.

 

“Do you know where you’re headed, pa?” Sib asked after another quarter-hour of bushwacking through the overgrown trees and shrubs.  His hands were covered with scratches and scrapes that were starting to itch.  At least there’s no sign of the manticore...

 

“Up towards the four brothers,” his dad replied.  “We’re almost there.  We just gotta cut across this ravine.”  He pointed to their path ahead.

 

There were a series of popping noises all around them and Sib turned to see figures moving through the woods; all wearing the grey robes of MACUSA.  “Go, pa!” he yelled.  “Run!”  Sib turned and chased his father toward the embankment that led down into the ravine.  One of the MACUSA mages cast a spell and Sib’s father jumped over the edge of the ravine and disappeared from sight as a green jet of light burst on a tree next to him.  

 

Sib raced after him but an arm reached out from behind a tree and held him back.  He clawed at the arm, trying to get loose.  He saw his father bounding up the far side of the ravine, using his hands and legs to climb faster.  Sib saw a flash of orange off to his right in the branches, but he turned to the left as a female mage yelled a spell practically in his ear.

 

“Avada Kedavra!” she shouted and a green flash burst right in front of Sib’s eyes, blinding him.  He pulled his hands up to rub them clear when he heard the scream of the manticore.  But the manticore ain’t here!

 

He blinked to clear his vision and saw that it was his father roaring in pain.  It wasn’t the manticore I heard at all!  It was the most horrifying sound he ever heard.

 

“Sib, you have to stay away,” the man holding him said, but Sib just stomped down on his foot as hard as he could.  The mage’s grip loosened and he swore.  Sib pushed the mage’s arm away and broke free, running toward his father. 

 

He leapt down into the ravine, sliding to the bottom, jumped up and then ran full out to get to where his dad was standing.  “Pa!” he screamed, “Run!”

 

“Hit him again!” called a female voice.

 

“Petrificus totalus!” came another voice and Sib felt the spell hit him squarely in the back.  He froze completely, but his forward momentum carried him partly up the slope toward his father.  His muscles were frozen, but he could still see as three more green bolts hit his father; once...twice...three times.  His father let out a last pitiful sound that was more animal than human and Sib could see the fear and anger and confusion on his face...and then he collapsed.  His body went limp and slid down the hill, stopping only when it came to rest against a tree trunk.  If Sib could have moved, he would have been able to reach out and touch his father’s hand.

 

More mages ran to where Sib and his father were lying.  Most in the grey robes of MACUSA, but there were four in the navy blue of NNMC.

 

“Well?” A female voice asked from behind Sib's field of vision.  

 

The medics from NNMC were huddled around his father’s body.  One of them turned to look up at her.  “He’s dead.”



Chapter 24: A Ring and a Feather
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He can’t be dead.  He has the ring.  Check again!  Check again, damn you!

 

One of the medics stood up, he was a middle-aged black man with the darkest brown skin Sib had ever seen.  “How did you find him?” he asked the mage standing behind Sib.  “Was it the trace?”  

 

Sib heard the ferns rustle as she walked around to stand on the other side of the body.  “The trace was busted when the devourers ate the core of Spellhold,” she said.  “We bugged the kid and his friends.”  

 

My dad was safe...I led them right to him.  The mage came into Sib’s field of vision and he saw who it was.

 

Miss Knox!  She was the one that planted the tracer coins on us...  His mind raced back and he now realized that she had also trashed their lounge.  She must have made herself look like the woman in black to do it…  And now she murdered my father!  Sib’s hate for her boiled inside to the point where he felt he was going to burst. 

 

“I guess you can get rid of the bugs now,” said another of the medics.  Her hood was up, but Sib could tell she was albino with pale eyes.  She was crying. 

 

“Yes,” Miss Knox replied.  She pointed her wand up into the air and muttered a spell that Sib didn’t recognize.  

 

He felt something moving on the back of his neck.  No...it's inside the back of my neck.  A small creature dug out of his skin where the knot was, crawled a few steps and then dropped to the ground.  Sib mentally shuddered at the sensation.

 

“We’ll take care of the kid and the body,” said another of the medics - a young hispanic man with a scar across his chin. 

 

Sib saw the red welts and blood on his arm.  He must have been the one holding me back.  I hate you too.

 

“See that you do,” Miss Knox said and motioned for the MACUSA mages to leave.

 

“Pluma,” a fourth mage called.  He was a young man with a cleft lip and a spotty mustache.  He picked up Sib with one hand and carried him horizontally as two other medics carried his father.  Sib could only see up into the sky and the branches above.  They began walking through the woods along the bottom of the ravine, their robes whispering as they brushed through the undergrowth.  

 

Sib heard popping all around them as the MACUSA mages disapparated and then noticed a sudden burst of orange in the branches above.  The oriole landed on a branch nearby and started chirping.  It’s matin’ season.  It doesn’t care that pa is dead.  I wish I was a bird.

 

Sib could see the four medics in his peripheral vision as they walked.  The man with the cleft lip was carrying him on his left.  The hispanic man was walking on the right and the albino woman and the black man were behind, carrying his father’s body.

 

“Have they gone?” the albino woman asked, wiping the tears from her face.

 

“Yes,” the dark man responded.   

 

The hispanic medic pulled out his wand.  “They always creep me out,” he said.  “It’s like they enjoy killing people.  Expecto patronum.”  There was a flash of white light.  “Tell her they are both secured.”  Sib saw a small ghostly cat-like creature bound up the side of the ravine they were in and disappear over the edge.  The hispanic man stopped walking for a moment and waited for the black man to catch up.  “Can you do something about this?” he asked.  “He scratched the bejeesus out of me.”

 

You deserved it.

 

“Sure,” the black man replied.  “Episkey.”  He turned to the albino woman.  “I'm sorry it had to turn out this way, Winnie," he said.

 

"I know Christopher.  It's just so sad.  I wish I could have saved him.”  

 

“Can I have this?” the hispanic man said, pointing to Sib’s father’s body.

 

“You heartless bastard,” Winnie yelled at him.  “All you can think about is claiming the reward!”

 

“Well, is anyone else going to do it?”  There was silence.

 

Sib was seething.  I will find you and I will tear your guts out…

 

“Here,” Christopher said, picking up a rock from the ground.  “Can you make this look like him?”

 

“Of course.  But he might not look as good as that.”

 

“It will be good enough for our purposes.” 

 

What are you talkin’ about?  What are you gonna do with my pa’s body?  Are you gonna try to claim the reward twice?

 

“What do we do about him?” Winnie asked, pointing to Sib.  “He shouldn’t have seen any of this.”

 

“No mission ever goes according to plan,” the man with the cleft lip said.

 

“Should we alter his memory?” the hispanic man asked.  “We could obliviate this whole thing.”

 

“No,” Christopher responded.  “It would just make it harder for him later.”

 

“Why can’t we just tell him?” Winnie asked.  

 

“We must be careful,” the man with the cleft lip said.  “You never know who’s listening.” He looked down and Sib could see those unmistakable grey eyes.  It’s her!  The Wendigo!

 

She has to be behind this!  She planned on breaking my dad out so she could collect on the reward money after he was killed!

 

“I think he should sleep for a while,” the Wendigo said.  “...until things are more clear.”  She lifted her wand and pointed it at him.  “Pax requiem,” she cast and Sib knew no more.

 

*******

 

Sib opened his eyes.  I know this place…  He was staring on the spot on the ceiling of his bedroom that looked like the constellation of the big dipper.  He sat up and looked around.  The soft light of early morning bathed the walls.

 

Morning?   My window faces west.  What time is it? Who put me in my pajamas?  He crawled from his bed and dressed himself.  Where was I last?

 

Then he remembered.  The Wendigo...  .

 

“You’re awake,” his mom said as he emerged.  “The NMMC medics said we should let you sleep, but I was starting to get worried.  It’s been more than twenty-four hours.”

 

“He’s dead,” said Sib.

 

His mom set down the dish she was putting away.  “Sure he is,” she said and walked over to give him a hug.  She whispered in his ear.  “Come outside and take a walk with me.”

 

He pushed her away.  “Where’s pa’s body?”

 

“I don’t know,” she responded.  “At the hospital?”

 

“You mean you don’t even know where his body is?  Who claimed the reward?”

 

“What reward?”

 

“For killin’ pa!  Jesus, ma!  The Wendigo has been behind the whole thing!”

 

“Sib,” she pleaded.  “Just calm down.”  

 

Arc came in the front door.  “What’s goin’ on?” 

 

“What’s goin’ on?” hollered Sib.  “Dad was setup by the Wendigo!  She planned the whole thing from the beginnin’!”

 

“Sib, listen,” his brother said.  “I really think it would be good for you to take a walk right now.  Go blow off some steam in the woods.”

 

“Take a walk in the woods?!” He was incredulous.  “What is the matter with you two?”

 

“Sib, please,” his mother said.

 

“Dad is dead and the two of you are acting like everything is fine!  You want me to go somewhere?  Well, I’ll tell you where you can go...you can both go to hell!”  He stormed to the fireplace and grabbed a handful of floo powder.  The container tipped off of the mantle and smashed on the floor, scattering dust everywhere.  He didn’t care.  He thought of somewhere he could be alone.  “Gampton Hall!” he shouted.

 

He emerged in the gallery.  The last light of day was fading in the west and all of the paintings on the wall had already started sleeping.  He walked quietly to the stairs.  He climbed them in the increasing murkiness, not wanting to cast ‘lumos’.  I want it dark.

 

He walked down the hall toward the Pathfinder lounge.  He had a bone to pick with the Orenda.

 

“What’s afoot?” called Henry from his frame.  His pegasus was in the background grazing.  He started following Sib from frame to frame down the hallway.  “Are the British assaulting our shores once again?  Shall I call the minutemen?”

 

“Cram it, Henry,” said Sib.  

 

“Fine,” he replied.  “See if I give you any warning next time…”  He faded away as Sib reached the archway.  

 

“Andaste!” he called.  The gateway glowed blue and he stepped inside.  He walked through the lounge and out into the grove.  Night had set in and the stars gleamed overhead.  His mind was a jumbled mess of thoughts.  

 

It’s not like I can go to MACUSA for help...  Why did I ever help her in the first place by takin’ those devourers? She tricked me. I led Miss Knox right to my dad.  Why didn’t I figure out she had a trace on me?  What about the vision?

 

The vision…  He was furious at the Orenda.  “What did you do!”  he yelled at them as he walked into the circle of stones.  “I trusted you!  I listened to you!  I accepted you, and this is what you give me in return!”  

 

He kicked one of the stones as hard as he could and pain shot halfway up his leg. He fell to the ground and held it, rocking back and forth, wincing.

 

“You knew how I would interpret that vision!” he yelled from the ground.  “You knew he was going to die!”  He started crying.  “What the hell did you want me to learn from this!”

 

“Not all is as it appears,” a voice spoke, breaking the momentary silence.  

 

Sib turned to see the Hunter standing on the opposite side of the pool from him.  “What?” he asked, wiping his face with his shirt.

 

“I will tell you what the Orenda showed me.”  He pulled the giant longbow from his shoulder and leaned on it like it was a staff.  “They gave me a vision that showed me standing in ashes, screaming my victory song to be heard by the Great Spirit.  I stood among the ruins of my enemies and I was victorious over them.”

 

“But you weren’t,” Sib said.  “Damien Bones burned down the whole school.”

 

He nodded.  “The ashes were my tribe.  The song was my sorrow.  And I learned…”

 

“What did you learn?”

 

“That in my pride, I forgot my duty.  I have now been given a second chance by the Orenda.  I shall not forget again.”

 

“So what does that have to do with me?”

 

“Not all is as it appears.”

 

“I watched them murder my father!” Sib yelled as the ghost faded from view. “Are you sayin’ I didn’t see the spells hit him?  That I didn’t see him die right in front of my face?”  He called after the Hunter into the night.  “I know what I saw!”  

 

He got up and hobbled around the pool.  “What the hell do you know?  You’ve been dead for two hundred and fifty years.”  

 

In other circumstances, Sib would have thought it was a beautiful night.  The sky was crystal clear and the twinkling stars were reflected in the calm water of the pool in the center of the circle.  He couldn’t enjoy the beauty.  The world was an ugly place full of hate and greed and hurt and unfairness and trickery and death…

 

He sat down and put his back against one of the stones.  He was looking directly above the sky stone and the North Star was just above the top.  He stared into the night.  Miss Pyx said that people can see the future in the stars.  All I see is the cold, dead blackness in between…

 

He sat in that spot, unmoving, while the sky spun around the North Star.   It was all his fault; it was the Wendigo’s fault; it was Knox’s fault; it was MACUSA’s fault; it was all his fault.  He cried and then hated; schemed, plotted revenge and then cried again.  

 

*******

 

“The Hunter told me to find you here,” Incheon said as he walked into the circle of stones.  He looked at Sib.  “You alright?”  

 

Sib looked up.  It was morning.  Did I sleep?  He shook his head at Incheon’s question.  No, I am not alright…

 

“You want to talk about it?”  Sib shook his head again.  “Do you care if I talk?”  

 

I don’t care about anything.

 

“I’ll take your complete lack of response as an emphatic ‘yes’,” Incheon said and sat down with his back to the stone to Sib’s right.  “How’s your neck?  I guess brain-eating beetles wasn’t far off after all.  The next time I have a stiff neck, I’m going straight to Mrs. Praecuro to have that sucker removed.”  Incheon reached up and rubbed his neck, shivering in recollection.  “As bad as cucumbers…”

 

“Did anyone tell you about what happened after you flashed me?”  Sib didn’t respond.  “Thanks for that, by the way.  Although I wish someone had described it to me out loud so that I could remember every detail.”  He sighed.  

 

“Anyway, we started heading down the stairway and Lef, in her infinite clumsiness, stumbles on the steep slope of the stairs and falls into Hendershot, who drops Ursula.  But, since she weighed as much as a feather, she started floating down the stairway like a sinking balloon, just out of reach of Hendershot, who kept jumping in the air to catch her.  Well, she woke up in mid-air and started growling and swiping her claws at us, and Hendershot is freaking out, protecting us, and trying to figure out what to do as she drifted further down the stairwell.”

 

“Just below us were the two frozen werewolves that the short MACUSA mage had zapped and Hendershot unfroze them, asked them to help, and then reversed the pluma spell on Ursula. Did you know that werebears are afraid of werewolves?”

 

No.

 

“So then the werewolves frightened her down the stairs and we were running down following them because Hendershot told us we had to get out of the prison before it moved.  Also, did you know the prison moved every day?”

 

Yes. 

 

“Anyway, we made the last corner, sprinted through the landing and the cellblock and out into the visitor’s area, only to find Ursula lying on the ground with two other dorky-looking guys helping her up.  Hendershot screams at them to get out and we all started booking it for the exit.  We bust out into that cave that Quinta made and literally a second later, the whole thing vanishes.  ‘Poof’.”  Incheon made a little exploding motion with his hands.    

 

“Did you know Ursula and Hendershot were a thing?”

 

I think so...I remember them bein’ close last year before she had to disappear.  

 

“Well, there was this whole lovey-dovey reunion thing in the cave.  Hendershot told her who he was, she starts complaining about his appearance and then she kisses him flat-out like she hadn’t seen him in a thousand years.  She looked at all of us and was confused until Hendershot told her who we were.  She told us he was the best illusionist in the country...hands down; could make a dragon look like a puppy dog.”

 

Sib remembered what his dad had said.  “Son, that is one amazin’ illusion…”  He felt the pain well up for a moment.  

 

“So we get out of the cave, up the tunnel and back into the clearing," Incheon continued.  "When we get to the top, the old woman is just standing there like she’d been waiting for us the whole time.”

 

I’m sure she was...just waiting for the next prize.

 

“And then…”  Incheon stopped. 

 

Sib looked over at him.  He was just staring off into space. “And then…” Sib prompted him.

 

“Oh good,” he replied.  “I thought you were asleep.”  He stood up, went to the center of the circle of stones and looked into the pool.  “She turned us into birds.”

 

Sib remembered the prisoners who seemingly disappeared when the flock of birds flew off.  The prisoners...did she turn them into birds too?  That doesn’t make any sense.  “She turned you into birds?” he asked.

 

“Yeah,” he continued.  “And I know it’s impossible - Mr. Puterschmidt told us so in Alteration class - but I was the bird.”  He looked up into the sky.  “I kept my mind...she really is the Wendigo.”

 

Sib remembered something that Mr. Hendershot had told them before.  “What did Hendershot say about Quinta the day he overheard us?” 

 

Incheon thought for a moment and then recited from memory.  “Once every couple of generations, a mage is born who is so talented, so unbelievably skilled in a particular area of magic that they break all the boundaries about what a mage is supposed to be able to do.” 

 

Two prodigies...Quinta and the Wendigo.  Sib heard voices coming through the grove and looked up to see Lef and Willow enter the circle of stones.  Sib felt happy for a fraction of a second and then the crushing weight of the world came down again. 

 

“The Hunter mentioned that you two were out here,” Willow said.  “Did you tell him what happened?” she asked Incheon.

 

“Did I tell him what happened?" he replied.  "You just missed the most magnificent retelling of events in the history of humankind.  No future recollection of Saturday’s events will ever approach the awesomeness of what I just conveyed, so please don’t try.”

 

“I won’t,” replied Willow, shaking her head.  Sib heard the familiar buzz of an instant message book.  Lef and Willow both reached into their bags and grabbed their book.  Sib hadn’t used his in months.  “It’s from Lily,” said Willow.  “She wrote ‘brt’.  I think she’s getting the hang of texting.”  The book buzzed again while she had it open.  “Now she wrote ‘Ghost,’ which reminds me...”  She reached in her bag and pulled out a vial.  “Here, Sib,” she said, holding it out.  “The old woman gave me this and told me to get it to you.  I hope you don’t mind that I took it to the Ghost first.” 

 

"He's not moving this morning," Incheon said.  "Just hang onto it for him until he feels like it."  She looked at Sib with concern, and then nodded and put the vial back into her bag.

 

The memory…  Why would she give that to me now?  She already got everything she wanted...

 

“So why were you laughing when Ursula called Mr. Hendershot ‘Christopher Robin’?” Lef asked Willow.  

 

One of the medics was named Christopher.

 

“It’s a nomaj story,” Willow responded.  “Christopher Robin is a little boy who loves his stuffed bear, Winnie.”

 

The other medic was Winnie...

 

Sib heard more voices and looked behind Willow and Lef to see Lily and Hye-lin show up.  “Willow, I’m so sorry,” Lily said when she arrived, handing the paper to her.  

 

Willow looked, read for a moment and then dropped it to the ground.  She started crying. Lef handed her a tissue from her bag.  “Oh, I know it had to happen,” Willow said between sobs. “But it’s just so horrible.”

 

Incheon walked over and picked up the paper.  He read the headline out loud.  “‘Spellhold falls, mass breakout of prisoners.’  Why are you upset about that?”

 

“Turn it over,” Lily told him.  He flipped the page over and read the next story.  “Manticore haunting Gampton Island killed.”  He read in silence for a few seconds.  “It says here, the guy who killed it was named Andrew Hooplander.”  

 

“Do you know him Sib?” Hye-lin asked.

 

That’s my Uncle Andy.  I haven’t seen him in years.  How did he manage to kill the manticore?

 

“Leave him be,” said Incheon.  “He’s not talking yet either.”  He turned to Lily.  “Why did you send ‘Ghost’?”

 

“Turn to page eight.”  

 

Incheon flipped to the center of the paper and read.  “The Ghost is issuing a correction to a previous story run on October 16.  In it, the prophecy was inaccurately stated.  The correct version of the prophecy should read: ‘I see five bloody harvests; five years of darkness; and at the end there is nothing. The end of the era of magic is nearing.  The nomaj will rise and replace the mage.  I see legions of mages becoming powerless; the ranks growing of the magic deprived and magic depraved.  Gampton Hall’s fifth house will mark the beginning.  Only those who follow the path of darkness can avoid the end’.

 

“Why’d they bury this on page eight as a correction?” asked Willow.

 

“Mother and I are sure MACUSA made them do it,” said Quinta, who had just arrived, carrying her mother tucked under her arm like it was a quaffle.  “We’re surprised it’s printed at all.”

 

“But at least the truth is out there,” Lef added. 

 

At least we didn’t fail you, Gramma...

 

They looked up as a delivery owl flew into the clearing, circled twice and then dropped a small package at Sib’s feet.  He reached over to pick it up as the owl screeched and flew off. 

 

It was addressed to him.  The two ‘o’s in his last name even had little dots in them like his dad always used to do.  He opened the box and looked inside.  There was a feather - orange and black...an oriole...and a small silver ring. There was no note.  

 

He tilted the box and the ring dropped into the palm of his hand.  This is my ring.  Why would the Wendigo give me my ring back?  He picked up the orange and black feather and twirled it in his fingers.  Thoughts raced through his brain one after another.  

 

“She turned us into birds…”

 

“Sib, you have to stay away…” 

 

He knew my name...How did he know my name?

 

“You just want to claim the reward, don’t you?”

 

“Even a graze from that curse is enough to kill a full grown man...”  

 

They hit him with four killing curses. 

 

“...manticores are resistant to magic…”

 

He screamed like a manticore…

 

Christopher Robin and Winnie…

 

“...he was the best illusionist in the country...hands down; could make a dragon look like a puppy dog...”

 

...he screamed like a manticore…

 

“Not all is as it appears…”

 

 

Oh. 

 

My. 

 

God.

 

 

“My dad’s alive!” he said, jumping up.  

 

“What?” 

 

“The oriole!” he shouted, holding up the feather.  “She turned him into an oriole!  He’s alive!”

 

“Are you alright?”

 

“And the manticore...Hendershot he...he charmed it to look like my dad, but it wasn’t.  Don’t you see?”

 

“No,” said Incheon.

 

Sib ran over and hugged him, picking him up in the air in a gigantic bear hug.  “My dad isn’t dead!”

 

“That’s...good?” Incheon replied when Sib set him down.

 

“Ursula was there...and Uncle Andy...and the Wendigo!”

 

Sib hugged Willow next. He placed his hands on her cheeks and wiped away her tears with his thumbs. “I’m sorry about Corey,” he said. “But he gave his life to save my dad.”  She smelled like honeysuckle. Without thinking, he leaned in and kissed her on the lips.  

 

“He what?” she asked when he pulled away.

 

“He’s alive!” cried Sib, who stepped back and then he fell to his knees and wept.  Tears of joy streaked down his cheeks as his friends huddled around him.

 

He’s alive!

 

 

 

 

 

(*Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin created by A.A. Milne) 



Chapter 25: You Never Know...
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

“...So we bushwacked from the MINSAR station up to the North Woods,” Sib was telling them.  He looked up from staring down at the scratches on his right hand.  His left was holding Willow’s.  She was sitting next to him; both leaning up against the spirit stone.  Sib had just finished telling them about his escape from Spellhold with his father and their jump to Gamp Island.   

 

“Then there was this poppin’ noise,” Sib continued, “and MACUSA agents were apparatin’ all around us.  I told my pa to run and he jumped down into a ravine.  He dropped outta sight…”

 

She must have been waitin’ for him in the ravine.  Were Ursula and Hendershot and the manticore waitin’ there too?

 

“I was runnin’ after him but a hand reached out from behind a tree and grabbed me.  I started clawin’ at it, but he held me tight.  So then someone right next to the guy holdin’ me cast a killin’ curse.  I turned my head to look and her wand was right next to my face.  The green flash blinded me and I heard the sound of screamin’.”

 

“This was your vision,” Lily said.  

 

He nodded.  He had shared it with the others, but not with Willow.  “Yeah.  But my vision always ended there.  I thought the green curse was bein’ shot at the manticore, ‘cause the scream sounded like what we heard when Miss Pyx shot him in the face with a stunnin’ spell.” He turned to Willow.  “That’s why I didn’t tell you,” he said.  “I didn’t want you to be upset about it.”  

 

“It’s okay,” she said and squeezed his hand. “Lef told me anyway.”

 

Sib flashed a smile at Lef and continued.  “So I blinked to clear my vision and there ain’t no manticore.  There’s only my pa screamin’ in pain.  That’s when the guy holdin’ me whispered in my ear.

 

“What did he say?” Lily asked.

 

“Sib, you have to stay away.” 

 

“How did he know your name?”

 

“I didn’t think about that at the time. I was just tryin’ to bust loose. Well, I stomped on the guy’s foot holdin’ me and broke free, runnin’ toward my pa as fast as I could.  I jumped down into the ravine and then I got hit with a stunnin’ spell and fell to the ground.  Three more killin’ spells hit my pa and then he collapsed and slid down the slope to rest right next to me.”  

 

He looked down.  Willow’s hand was holding his hand so hard, her fingers were turning red.  She saw and let go a little.  He smiled at her.

 

“So I was lyin’ there when the rest of the MACUSA mages and the medics from NNMC come hoverin’ around.  The medics checked on my pa and said he was dead.  I didn’t believe it at first since I gave him my ring.”  He glanced down at it on his finger, reflecting a slice of the blue morning sky. “One of the medics asked about how they had found us and she said that the trace that was on my pa got lost when the devourers ate spellhold, but that she had bugged all of us.”

 

“The bugs!” exclaimed Lef.  They all reached up and rubbed the back of their necks.  All except Quinta.  

 

She was petting her mother.  “Is that what that was?” she said. “Mother told me to kill it right away.  We thought it was some kind of parasite.”

 

“So how did they plant them on us?” Lef asked.

 

“It was Miss Knox,” Sib replied.  “She walked around to where I could see and it was her - plain as day.  She must'a used her ‘Woman in Black’ illusion to get past the Hunter and trash our lounge too.”

 

“Her illusions were so good, she even fooled a ghost,” recited Incheon.

 

“The medics picked me up with ‘pluma’ and then did the same with pa’s body and then they started carryin’ us out of the woods as the MACUSA mages all disapparated.”

 

He tried remembering the details of the conversation.  “It’s strange now that I think about what they talked about,” he said.  “First one sends off a patronus sayin’ that ‘both are secured’.”  It was a bobcat.  Uncle Andy’s patronus is a bobcat.  He was sendin’ that to ma!  He smirked at the thought.

 

“Then he said he wanted to take my pa’s body for the reward.  I wanted to kill him somethin’ fierce by that time.”

 

“There was a reward for your father?” asked Hye-lin. “You had just broken him out a few hours before.”

 

“I guess there wasn’t,” Sib said.  “But I didn’t know that at the time…  Anyway, one of ‘em picks up a rock and asks if the first one can turn it into somethin’ that looks like my pa.”

 

“He wanted to turn a rock into your father?” asked Hye-lin.

 

“Just his body,” said Lily.  “You’ll learn about that in Alteration class next year.  You can’t bring something to life that isn’t already alive.”

 

“That’s so creepy,” Hye-lin said.  “Why would he want to create a second body?”

 

“I thought it was because they wanted to claim the reward twice,” Sib told them.  “That was when they started talkin’ about what to do with me.  The one holdin’ me looked down and I saw his eyes.”

 

“What about them?” Willow asked.

 

“It wasn’t him; it was her.”  They all knew who he meant.  “Then, I started freakin’ out inside.  I thought the Wendigo was behind everythin’; that she had busted out my pa just to collect the reward money after he got tracked down and killed.”

 

“But there wasn’t any reward...” started Lily. 

 

“Let’s just say I wasn’t in my right mind at that point.”  They all nodded.  “The Wendigo cast a spell on me that put me to sleep through all of Sunday.  I woke up at home after sunset last night.”

 

My ma and Arc; they had to have known...  Why did they want me to go for a walk?  Why didn’t they just tell me?

 

“So what happened after you woke up?” Willow asked.

 

“I…” he hesitated and looked down at the ground.  “I kinda blew up at my ma and brother.  They were actin’ strange…” like pa wasn’t dead, he now realized,  “...and I didn’t understand why.  They kept tellin’ me to go for a walk.”

 

“Why?” Lily asked.

 

“I still don’t know,” he said, shaking his head.  “But then I got real upset and I… sorta cursed at ‘em... and jumped here.”

 

“So you’ve been here all night?” Willow said.

 

“Yeah.  Right there,” he said, pointing to the wind stone on the opposite side of the clearing where Lily and Hye-lin were propped against the obelisk.  “I was pretty stark ravin’ mad last night.”

 

‘Not all is as it appears…’ Did the Hunter know too?

 

“So how did you find out that your dad is alive?” Lily asked.

 

“This,” he said, holding up the orange and black feather.

 

“A feather?”

 

“It started to click after Incheon told me how the Wendigo turned them into birds.  That wouldn’t make no sense if she was just after them for the reward money.”

 

“What about what you saw in the woods?”

 

“I saw my pa disappear over the edge of a ravine,” he said.  “Then I saw someone who looked like my pa go scramblin’ up the other side.”

 

“But not your dad?” Lily asked.  

 

Sib shook his head. “Not my dad.”

 

“But someone died?”  

 

Willow was squeezing his hand tightly again.  “Yeah,” Sib said.  “The person who looked like my dad did get hit with those killin’ curses and he did die.”

 

“Who?”

 

“Corey,” he said.  Willow released the pressure from his hand.

 

“The manticore?” asked Hye-lin. “But how did it look like your dad? Did someone transfigure it?”

 

Sib shook his head.  “Manticores are highly resistant to magic,” he said.  “They won’t transfigure...it was an illusion.”

 

“Someone made a manticore look like a person?” Lily asked, incredulously.  “Who can do that?” Incheon got up and walked over to pick up the newspaper where it had been lying next to Willow.

 

“They were all there,” Sib said.  “The medics who carried my pa’s body.  I forgot to tell you their names were Christopher and Winnie.”  

 

“Hendershot and Ursula!” Willow cried, sitting forward.

 

Sib nodded. “Ursula is the only one who could control the manticore and only Hendershot could have done an illusion good enough to fool another illusionist like Miss Knox.”

 

“What about the other one?" Hye-lin asked.  "The one that wanted to collect the reward on your dad?”

 

“It was your uncle, wasn’t it?” asked Incheon, holding up the paper.  “He’s got welts all over his left arm.”

 

Sib nodded.  “That’s how he knew my name.  He was talkin’ about the reward on the Manticore.”

 

“And the rock that they wanted to turn into your dad’s body?” Hye-lin asked.

 

“I’m pretty sure that’s what we’re gonna bury at the funeral in a week or so.”

 

“What about your father?” she continued.  “I mean, the real one?”

 

“When he jumped over that ledge, the Wendigo must’a been right there.  She turned him into an oriole.  I saw a flash of orange and black in the branches right before I got blinded by the spell.”  He twirled the feather in his fingers again.  “I saw him again as they were haulin’ me out of the forest.  He was up in the branches - singin’.”  He was singin’ to me...

 

Quinta stood up.  “I’m going early to Alteration to ask Mr. Puterschmidt to help me with Mother.”  

 

Sib pushed himself up and pulled Willow to her feet.  They still hadn’t let go of each other’s hands.  “We’ll go with you.”  The others all stood up as well.

 

“I can go alone,” Quinta said.

 

“You will go alone,” Sib replied.  “And we’ll be right there with you when you do.”

 

*******

 

“Do you like her?” Willow asked him as they walked down the third-floor corridor toward the stairs.  Lef had hustled the others down the hallway already - Incheon complaining all the way - so that Willow and Sib were walking alone.  

 

“Who?” he asked. “Quinta?”  She nodded.  “Sure I do,” he replied.

 

She stopped holding his hand.  “More than me?”

 

Sib stopped. “You’re kidding right?”  Her pouting face let him know that she wasn’t.  “No,” he said emphatically.  “I like her as a friend, but she’s insane!”  He pointed down the hall to where the others were jumping the stairway.  “You’ve seen her. She’s brash and rude and treats us like we’re idiots.  I don’t like her like that.”

 

“Then why are you always helping her?”

 

“Because she’s alone,” said Sib.  “She don’t have anyone except us and I remember what that feels like. Don’t you remember when you and Lef found me last year?”  Sib had been excluded from Featherpenny house where he had been incorrectly sorted the year before.  Willow and Lef had found him alone and crying in a basement room.  When he asked them to leave, they refused… and had been his friends ever since.  “Her brothers are all much older than her and she has never had friends.”

 

“Never?”

 

“Until she joined the second-years this spring.”

 

“She’s just so weird,” Willow said.

 

“Yes, she is,” he replied.  “But she’s also amazin’. She could cast a fully-formed dragon patronus on our first day at school.”

 

“Is that what that was?”

 

Sib nodded.  “She can freeze people in mid-motion without utterin’ a word.  She stopped three simultaneous stunning spells with her bare hands.”

 

“I’ll never do those things,” Willow said.

 

“I don’t care,” said Sib.  “I’m never gonna do those things either.  All I’m sayin’ is that I’m glad she’s on our side.”

 

“So you only like me...like that?” she asked awkwardly.  

 

He pulled his Stor-All off his back and reached in for the manticore.  "Here," he said.  "I been meanin' to give you this for a long time."

 

She looked at it and a tear fell down her cheek.  "It's beautiful."

 

He stepped to her, kissing her on the lips.  

 

“Hubba, hubba!” Henry’s voice called to them from the picture frame behind Sib’s back.  The two of them broke into a laugh.  She wiped her cheeks, took his hand, and they walked down the stairs to Alteration.

 

When they got there, it was still several minutes before the bell.  They heard Mr. Puterschmidt’s voice as they walked into the room. “...but that would be a clear violation of the International Transfiguration Agreement - not to mention the Geneva Wizarding Convention,” he told Quinta.  He was looking at her rock which was sitting on his desk and his nervous tic of hard blinking had increased in his agitation. 

 

“But can you fix her?” she asked.

 

Mr. Puterschmidt picked up the rock and turned it over in his hand.  “I can try,” he said.  He put the rock on the floor and pulled his wand from his coat pocket.  He moved his wand in a careful, twisting motion and then swung it down until it was pointed at the rock, the tip of his wand vibrating from the pressure of his grip.  

 

There was an explosion and a flash of light.  Sib and Willow had brought their arms up to cover their face.  When Sib glanced above his arm, he saw the room was filled with a blue haze and Mr. Puterschmidt was on the floor, leaning up against the wall.

 

“Mr. P!” they yelled and went over to where he had collapsed.  Sib got out of the way so that Lef could be right next to their very dazed-looking teacher.

 

“Are you okay?” asked Lef, looking him over.  “Are you hurt?”

 

“Yes!” he said, angrily.  “My ego is severely bruised!  Now help me up.”  He put out his hands and Sib and Willow helped pull him to his feet.  He looked at the rock that was still sitting where he had set it.

 

“That is beyond my skill,” he said, nodding at the stone.  “There is protective magic on that rock that I cannot penetrate.”

 

“So who can?” asked Quinta.

 

“The mage who put it there in the first place,” he responded.  “Think of it like a magical safe.  Only someone who knows the combination can get inside.”  Quinta sighed heavily.  “I’m truly sorry Miss Rodriguez.  If that rock is indeed your mother, then I’m afraid I’m no help at all.”

 

Quinta went over and picked up the rock, tucking it under her arm.  She walked to Mr. Puterschmidt and put her hand on his.  “It’s okay,” she said.  “We’ll figure it out.”

 

“Something tells me that you will,” he responded, patting her hand.  The bell rung to signal the start of the day and Quinta calmly walked to her seat and sat down, putting her mother in the center of her desk.

 

It was then that Sib realized that he didn’t have his Stor-All.  He had left it at home the previous night.  He didn’t have his books or his alchemy kit and he couldn’t even take notes.  He sat dumbfounded at his desk while his other classmates came into the room.  He was about to get up to ask Willow for help when there was a knock at Mr. Puterschmidt’s door and Mrs. Black requested for Sib to step out into the hallway with her.

 

He noticed she was carrying his Stor-All bag, but she didn’t hand it to him right away.  She walked him away from the classroom to where they had privacy.  “How are you, Mr. Hooplander?” she asked.

 

“I’m fine, ma’am,” he replied.

 

“I’m aware of what happened this past weekend,” she said. “You needn’t be here.  You can grieve with your family.”

 

That’s right.  Everyone else thinks my pa is dead.  “I’m… I’m fine, Mrs. Black.”

 

“I find that hard to believe,” she replied.  “But perhaps it has not hit home yet.  Are you sure you want to stay?”

 

“Yes ma’am,” he replied.  

 

She nodded and handed him his bag.  “Your mother sent this over this morning.  We have counseling available to you and your friends if you would like to take advantage of it." She paused and took a breath. "I, myself, have found it useful to talk through ...difficulty... with someone.”  Sib thought it was a rare glimpse inside Mrs. Black's demeanor.  He always assumed she was as cold inside as she was out.

 

“Thank you, ma’am.  I’ve been talkin’ to Miss Pyx quite a bit and she’s been helpin’ me.”

 

“This may be beyond what she is comfortable dealing with, but I will offer support to her as well.  Is there any message you’d like me to convey back to your mother?  She sounded concerned.”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” he said.  “Please tell her that I’m okay...and that I’m sorry.”

 

*******

 

The newspaper for that day turned out to be a treasure trove.  They were all huddled around it at lunch and Quinta had even made copies of it for everyone using a charm. Most of the other houses in the banquet room were abuzz with rumor and discussion of the weekend’s events.

 

“Listen to this,” said Lily.  “Due to the outbreak of devourers resulting from the infestation at Spellhold, both locations of the prison crash had to be scourged with Fiendfyre.”  She looked up.  “What’s that?”

 

“Were those two locations in California and Oregon?” asked Willow.  “Reports of massive wildfires are all over the nomaj news.”

 

“I love this part,” read Incheon.  “Despite the insistence that no prisoners escaped the cordon of mages that surrounded the prison during the breakout, no prisoners were recaptured and only one was killed during the escape.  ‘They were all gone...just vanished,’ one guard stated on condition of anonymity.  Ghost reporters on the scene confirmed that the anti-apparition and disapparation charms were still functioning well after the prison relocated at sunrise on Saturday.”

 

“Poof,” Incheon said and made a little exploding gesture with his hands.  He flipped to the next page and kept reading.  

 

Willow continued reading from the same article.  “When asked how many of the forty three criminals who had been in Spellhold successfully escaped, MACUSA replied with ‘no comment’.  Unofficial sources have confirmed that every one of the prisoners escaped with forty-two still at large and one prisoner killed while attempting to flee.”

 

“Oh my god, Sib,” cried Incheon.  “You’re in here!”

 

“What page?” said Sib.

 

“Twelve.  It’s the continuation of the story from the front page.  They say you are wanted for aiding and abetting a known criminal.”

 

Sib rifled through the paper and opened to the page.  He was confused.  The only image was a picture of a young, very shapely brunette woman in a white tee shirt.  She was standing next to a man holding a Firebird.  That’s my pa! The picture was from the top of Spellhold and Sib recognized that moment in time.  This was a second before pa threw me over the edge.

 

“Was that me?” he asked.

 

“You bet your sweet bippy it was,” said Incheon.  “How’d they get the photo?”

 

Sib looked at the image.  It moved in slow-motion unlike the other pictures in the paper.  It was as if one of the mages who had shot spells at them shared a memory and someone took a picture from inside.  Can they do that?  

 

“Mr. H made you look like that?” whispered Lily.  “I can’t believe him.  I mean, just look at the size of her…”

 

“Owls!” interrupted Willow, pointing toward the ceiling.  Sib looked up as dozens of the birds flew into the banquet hall delivering copies of the Ghost to the other tables.

 

“I am so saving this picture,” said Incheon.

 

“I am so destroying that picture,” muttered Hye-lin, loud enough for Sib to hear but not enough to carry across the table.  “Did you hear about Mr. Woodhead?” she asked the others.  Seeing no response, she continued.  “He resigned this morning.”

 

“So who’s teaching COMC?” Lily asked.

 

“I don’t know.  Apparently, he only stuck around this long to make sure that the manticore didn’t attack the school again.”

 

“And with Miss Knox gone, that makes two vacancies,” Lily observed.  “I wonder what other changes we’ll have for next year?”  

 

“We have to get through this one first,” Willow said.  “Finals are only a couple of weeks away.”

 

*******

 

“I’ll catch up with you in a bit,” Sib said to Willow after Mysticism that afternoon.  She nodded and headed out with the others back to the Pathfinder lounge.  Sib waited until the other students had left before he approached Miss Pyx.  She was vanishing the prophecy from the board in the front of the room.

 

“So what do you think the prophecy really means?” asked Sib.  They had spent the class discussing and brainstorming possible meanings of the whole thing now that the true version had been published.

 

“Like we talked about in class, it could mean many things,” she said as she walked to the classroom door.  She was talking strangely, as if her response was meant for someone else, but the room was empty except for the two of them.  “Mysticism is very difficult because we try to pin specific events on vague words or visions.” She stood aside and gestured for him to leave the classroom.  “Come take a walk outside with me,” she said.

 

Confused, he grabbed his Stor-All and walked with her to the stairs.  “First floor,” she said as she stepped over the edge of the center of the stairs.  She dropped out of sight.  Sib followed a second later and then met her as they walked to the front door.

 

“Mrs. Black came to me this morning and told me what happened this past weekend,” she said to him as they emerged outside.  Sib was momentarily blinded by the cloudless blue afternoon sky.  “I’m so sorry to hear about your father.” 

 

“I’m alright, Miss Pyx, I found out…”

 

“Not here,” she said, cutting him off.  She pointed to the riverside on their right.  “I’m just so emotionally upset by it all that I need to get some fresh air and sit down.” Sib glanced at her.  She don't look upset.

 

He opened his mouth to respond but she just shook her head.  “Please Sib,” she continued.  “I don’t want to start crying here.” Her eyes weren’t even glassy.

 

Oh!  he realized.  We can’t talk freely anymore.  She led him to a small overlook on the river side of the school.  To the right, Sib could see the school building extend right up to the side of the river; the Murgatroyd lounge jutting out below the falls.  To the left, the river flowed freely downstream toward the town of Gampton.  It was loud here; the noise of the waterfall carrying to where they were standing.  There was a slight mist that was blowing toward them from the churning water below.  

 

Miss Pyx looked around and then cast ‘muffliato’. “Put your bag over there,” she said, pointing to a nearby bench.  Sib did so and returned.  “Any knots in your neck or anywhere else?” she asked.  Sib realized she was talking about bugs like the one that Knox had put on her.  

 

He shook his head.  “I know about the bugs and the one I had is gone.”

 

“As for what I think the prophecy really means,” she said now that she knew they wouldn’t be overheard, “I think the five-year revolution has already begun, and I think you would agree with me.” Sib nodded. “I also think MACUSA has made things worse, not better.” 

 

“They’re the ones who put all the restrictions on the wandless mages and human-hybrids,” Sib said.  “Do you think they did that ‘cause of the prophecy?”

 

“Definitely,” she responded.  “And made enemies of all of them in the process.  The idiots practically made it self-fulfilling.”

 

“So what is the path of darkness?”

 

“I really don’t know, Sib,” she said.  “I hope it’s not the dark arts and - although I don’t agree with their methods - I understand why MACUSA banned them a decade ago.”

 

“So what are we all supposed to do now?”

 

“Like we do with most things in Mysticism,” she replied with a sigh.  “We wait for events to unfold.”  She gestured for them to sit on the bench right next to the banister separating them from the river below.  

 

“So it’s safe to talk here?” Sib asked.  

 

She nodded.  “But if you want to continue these conversations in the future, you will need to be more upset than you are about your father’s death.  We can pass it off as shock for now, but it’s going to get obvious shortly.”

 

“So you know?” said Sib.  “That he’s alive, I mean?”

 

“Are you really asking that of your Divination teacher?” she asked, smiling.

 

I guess I should’ve known.  She probably knew before I did.

 

“We can’t talk in the school building anymore,” she continued. “It’s safer outside.  I know Mrs. Black has been pushing back against MACUSA as hard as she can in an attempt to remain neutral, but we’ve already seen they aren’t above breaking the rules to gather information.”

 

Sib thought of Quinta’s mother.  “They’re transfigurin’ people into rocks,” he said.  “Quinta’s mom is one of ‘em.”

 

“Is that why she was talking to it?” asked Miss Pyx.  “She’s always been a little...off, but that would explain quite a bit.  I’m sad to hear that they have sunk so low.”

 

“Mr. P said it was a violation of international agreements,” Sib said, “and he couldn’t transfigure her back.”

 

“Just be careful, Sib,” she said.  “Mr. Puterschmidt is not your ally.”  She thought for a moment.  “Neither is Mrs. Black now that I think about it.”

 

“What do you mean?” he asked.

 

“It’s time to choose sides,” she said.  “Some of the teachers have already chosen, some are undecided, and some - like Mrs. Black - are actively trying to stay neutral.”

 

“So who’s on our side?” he asked.

 

“I don’t know,” she replied.  “It’s not like it’s something we discuss in the staff lounge.”

 

“So why did you say Mr. P is not my ally?”

 

“Because as far as I know, he hasn’t chosen either side.”  She stood up and put her hands on the carved marble bannister.  “Look,” she said as she looked out on the river.  “It’s safest just to assume that everyone has chosen to support MACUSA.  With where we are now, one wrong word at the wrong time to the wrong person could get someone killed.”

 

“Has anyone been killed yet?”

 

She turned around and leaned against the railing.  “Is Quinta’s mom alive?”  There was a moment of silence between them, and then she came back to the bench and sat down.  “Tell me everything,” she said.  “Assume I know less than you think I do.”

 

Realizing that he could be completely honest with her, he retold the entire story like he had done that morning with the Pathfinders.  He included every detail and how he had figured out earlier this morning that his father was alive.

 

“It’s been an eventful weekend for you, hasn’t it?” she asked when he concluded.

 

“Yes ma’am,” he replied.

 

“Remember to be upset about your father’s death, Sib,” she said.  “His life might depend on it.” She stood up to leave.

 

“Miss Pyx?” he asked.  She paused and turned to him.  “I guess the only thing I don’t understand is how the Wendigo knew where my dad and I were gonna be.”

 

“Are you really asking that of your Divination teacher?”

 

Sib’s mouth fell open.  “You!”  She just smiled and walked away.

 

*******

 

“There you are,” Willow said as Sib emerged from the portal into the Pathfinder lounge.  She got up and started walking toward him.  

He held out his hands to stop her. “Let’s go outside to talk,” he said.  He turned to Hye-lin.  “Where are Hedges and Beene?

 

“Somewhere else, being idiots,” she said.  

 

He nodded.  “Good.  Everyone...outside.”

 

“But…” Willow started.

 

“Outside,” he said, cutting her off.  He pointed toward the back door.  “You too, Incheon,” he said as he walked by.

 

“Always with the effort…” he mumbled, but he got up and followed. 

 

As soon as Sib was out of the lounge, he called for the Hunter’s help at the circle of stones.  The ghost was waiting there when they arrived.

 

“What’s going on...?” Willow started, but Sib ignored her and addressed the Hunter.

 

“Can you tell whether we’re being listened to?” he asked.

 

“You are safe here,” he replied.  “The Orenda watch.”  He looked back toward the lounge.  “I will hunt elsewhere.”  He faded away and Sib walked into the circle of stones.

 

“Who’s listening to us?” Willow asked.  “I thought the bugs were gone.”

 

“MACUSA,” Sib responded.  “They're listenin’ to what happens in Gampton Hall.”

 

“Why?” asked Hye-lin.

 

“Because they suspect,” said Sib.  “And for good reason.  We already know one teacher who helped the breakout at Spellhold.  I suppose they’re lookin’ for who might slip up and say somethin’ they shouldn’t.” 

 

“Is that why we’re here?” Lily asked, gesturing to the stones.

 

“Yeah,” replied Sib. “If any one of us mentions that my pa is still alive and they overhear it...he won’t be safe anymore.”  He turned to Willow and took her hands. “I gotta stay out of school for the rest of the week too,” he said.  “I’m supposed to be grievin’ with my family.”  She nodded in understanding.

 

“The picture in the lounge is connected to the others,” the Hunter said and they all jumped at his sudden return.  “Henry’s pegasus will not fly.”  

 

“Do you think they could listen that way?” asked Willow.

 

“I don’t know,” said Sib.  “But somethin’s off and we should assume so.  Did y’all say anythin’ in the lounge after classes?”

 

“No,” Willow replied.  “I was just talking to them about our house points.”

 

“I still think zero is a terrible number,” said Incheon.  “It looks like the cross-section of a cucumber.”

 

“Incheon has decided that if any of us get enough points to get to zero, he’ll immediately lose some,” said Lef.  “Apparently, no house in the history of Gampton Hall has ever had negative points two years in a row.”

 

“We’ll be immortalized,” he said, looking dreamy.  

 

Sib turned back to Willow and took her hands in his again.  Lef corralled the others back to the lounge, Incheon complaining all the way.  When they were alone, Sib leaned in and kissed her again.

 

“I’ll see you next week,” Sib told her.  “But we need to find some way of communicatin’ this summer. Those instant message books aren’t safe.”

 

“Lef and I will work on something,” she replied.  “But I can always just come visit you by Firejump.”

 

“I thought you said you didn’t have a fireplace?”

 

“We’re moving to Gampton,” said Willow.  “I wanted it to be a surprise, but my mom got offered a job...here.”

 

“At Gampton Hall?  Doin’ what?”

 

“Nomaj studies,” she said.  

 

“That’s…” he started, but she cut him off with another kiss.

 

“...amazin’.” he finished, smiling.
 

*******

 

As he jumped home, he smiled at the thought that today had been the best day ever.  He emerged into his cabin and came over to the dining room table where his brother was sitting.  His mom was cooking something on the stove that smelled delicious.  He dug in his pocket.  “Dad’s alive,” he told them, holding up the feather.

 

Sib’s mom carried over a pair of giant foot-long mad dogs.  “You’re just in shock, honey,” she said, setting one mad dog in front of his brother.  “Your father was killed by MACUSA.”  She set the other mad dog at Sib’s place and winked at him, smiling.

 

He opened his mouth to reply and his brother shook his head.  Arc tapped his ear.  That’s why they wanted to get me out of the house...it’s been bugged! Sib nodded in recognition and then sat down at the table.  As he bit into his mad dog, he thought he had never tasted anything more heavenly.  I’d best be careful from here on out.  You never know who’s listenin’.



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