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.
“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.”
“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.”
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