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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.

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