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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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