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.”
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.
“You mean you knew?”
“How long? More than a month?”
“More than five months?”
“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.”
“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.”
“Here,” she said, handing him the clipboard.
There were a series of dashes and dots and underneath, Willow’s decoding spelling out five directions:
“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.
“Now what do I do?” Nothing appeared to be happening. “Do I have to say a spell or something?”
“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.”
“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:
“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."
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