Mrs. Black cleared them all away shortly after Willow disappeared into the barn and the students shuffled to their first period class, abuzz with rumor. Willow didn’t show up for Alteration and Mr. Puterschmidt received a message to excuse Lef halfway through the class. Neither of them appeared in History of Magic, Nomaj Studies, or at lunch.
“Do you think they’re okay?” Sib asked Quinta, who was working with him and Incheon in their agonizing double-length potions class.
“Who?” she said, trying and failing to cut up her spiderroot. It crawled away every time she let go.
“Willow and Lef,” he said. “They’ve been gone all morning.”
“I hate you!” she yelled at the root on her board and she put up her finger to cast a spell at it, burning it into cinders.
“Burnt spiderroot will not work in today’s potion, Miss Rodriguez,” Mr. Holmes said as he walked by. “You might try paralyzing it next time instead of just incinerating everything.”
“I hate Alchemy,” Quinta muttered under her breath. She sat on her stool and crossed her arms, apparently giving up for the class.
“Well,” said Incheon. “As always, good conversation, Quinta. I’m going to go get us some new spiderroot. Sib, stir this twelve times counterclockwise.” Sib nodded to him and picked up the ladle to stir their potion.
“I thought you were good at everything,” Sib said to her. “I’m glad to know you suck at making potions as much as I do.”
“Why are you glad?”
“I dunno. I guess it makes you seem almost human.”
“Thanks. By the way, that’s clockwise, dumbass.”
After Incheon had returned to their table and smelled the stinking booger-consistency goop that was left in their cauldron, he too gave up. Sib wrote the class off as another ‘fail’ so that when Willow and Lef joined them at the very end of the period, they had a few minutes to talk.
Willow’s eyes were puffy and red. Lef told them what happened. “Corey got into the Pegasus barns last night. He… he killed Chippy.” Sib remembered that Chippy was the pegasus that had pulled their carriage on the first day of school.
“I’m real sorry, Willow,” Sib said.
She nodded. “I’m more pissed than anything,” she said. “Ursula said she’d look after him. I don’t understand what she was doing. I sent a message to her using Fred.”
“Do you think that’s smart?” said Sib. “I mean, she told us not to try to reach out to her.”
“Do you think I care what she wants us to do right now?” Willow hissed, her anger boiling over.
Sib looked over and saw Lef slowly shaking her head and pursing her lips. She was staring at Incheon, who was biting his lips and nodding his head slowly. Just as Incheon opened his mouth to say something, the bell rung and they grabbed their things to head to their last class, Mysticism. Sib held Incheon and Quinta back and nodded for the others to go. After Lily, Lef and Willow were gone, they started walking slowly to the lifts.
“I know what you were going to say and I don’t want you to say it,” Sib told Incheon.
“But she had to know this was coming,” he said. “She let a manticore go wild into the woods.”
“I know, but I want you to take that thought and bury it deep inside. You know how Willow gets.” Incheon just shook his head.
“Why did you hold me back?” asked Quinta.
“‘Cause you tend to speak your mind, and I think it’s best if you don’t do that around Willow. At least not for a little while.” He looked around. “And, because one of the Hammersmiths tried to curse me earlier this week and I like havin’ you around to…discourage them.”
A week and a half later, on the day of the conjunction, they sat throwing a ball at each other in their first class, Thaumaturgy. Mr. Hendershot had split up the class to work on two different charms. On one side of the room, the Murgatroyd students were working with the amplifying charm, ‘sonorous’, to try to hear each other whisper from the other side of the room. Sib and the other Pathfinders were tossing balls at each other and attempting to slow down their flight using ‘arresto momentum’. Willow hadn’t shown up to school that morning and Quinta, as usual, was sitting in the back of the room reading a book.
“Why doesn’t Quinta have to do this,” Lily asked Mr. Hendershot as he walked by checking on them.
“Because she doesn’t need it. Watch.” He took one of the balls that were in front of them, wound up and threw it at Quinta as hard as he could, the ball whizzed across the room and, without Quinta even looking up from her reading, halted a foot from her head. It proceeded to zip around the room faster and faster until it exploded into a ball of flame. It hovered for a moment in midair and then flew at the wall, punching a hole in the foot-thick stone wall between them and the outside. The room was completely silent in amazement. The only sound was a quiet ‘flip’ as Quinta turned a page in her book.
Mr. Hendershot looked back at Lily. “When you can do that, you can also sit in the back of the room and read a book.” Lily crossed her arms in displeasure and looked away.
“But how does she do it?” Sib asked.
“I couldn’t tell you. Once every couple of generations, a mage is born who is so talented, so unbelievably skilled in a particular area of magic that they break all the boundaries about what a mage is supposed to be able to do. Quinta is that way with charms. I’ve never seen her equal.”
“You mean like Miss Knox is with illusions?”
He smiled. “She is amazing, isn’t she? Her illusions were so good, she even fooled Mr. Zolock. He figured if she can fool a ghost then she should definitely be hired.” He shook his head. “But I’m talking way beyond that. Quinta is, in a word, a prodigy.”
“So why is she at school at all?” asked Lily. Sib heard a hint of jealousy in Lily’s voice. She had been the top student in Charms before Quinta moved up.
“Is she this talented at everything?” he asked.
“She’s as bad as me in potions,” said Sib.
“And that’s pretty bad,” added Incheon.
“So she still has something to learn. Besides, there’s more to being at Gampton Hall than learning a few spells. Now arrest it!” He quickly tossed a new ball at Incheon, which bounced off of his head and landed on the table in front of him.
“Well, let’s switch up, shall we?” suggested Mr. Hendershot. He had the students change what they were working on so that the Pathfinders started working to cast ‘sonorous’ on a long, stringy object which would then be stretched out across the length of the room. One person would whisper in one end and the other person was supposed to be able to hear.
“It’s like an extendable ear,” said Incheon, who was standing next to Sib, whispering to Lef who was on the other side of the room.
“Exactly,” said Mr. Hendershot. “Of course the Weasleys really perfected it, but we’re just creating a simple version of the same thing.” He left them and walked to the other side of the room. After a bit of trial and error, they seemed to get the hang of it and Mr. Hendershot let them freely converse for the last few minutes of class.
Willow arrived late and came over to join them. They huddled around her. “I met Ursula this morning before school,” she said. “I guess my message let her know how ticked off I was.”
“And ten days ago was the full moon,” she said. There was a collective ‘a-ha’ as they realized that she had been in bear form when Corey attacked the school. “As a bear, Corey could easily kill her, so she has to hide herself away and leave him to his own.”
“So did you say you were sorry?” Lef asked.
“Sorry? Why? It’s not like she didn’t know she was a were-bear when she agreed to watch him. After we broke him out, she should have thought of something to do with Corey when she was changed.”
“Incheon, what are you holding?” Lily asked. She was staring across the room.
“One of those extendable ear things,” he said. “Why?”
“Where’s the other end?” Sib’s gaze followed the stringy flesh-colored object across the floor and right onto Mr. Hendershot’s desk. He was sitting behind it and staring at them. He quickly got up and walked out of the room.
“He heard every word we just said,” Sib realized out loud.
All through Herbology, COMC, and Astronomy, they kept waiting for the shoe to drop. Any minute we’re gonna get the call to go see Mrs. Black. Any minute now. At the end of the day, they were all sitting in the lounge in an unbelieving silence that nothing had happened.
“I guess it’ll be tomorrow then,” said Lily. “I’m going home now.”
“But what about tonight?” asked Sib. “It’s the conjunction. Can you come?”
“After today?” she said. “I’m in enough trouble already, Sib. I’m not adding sneaking out to the list. Sorry.” She got up and left for the day.
“I can’t go either,” said Lef. “Our house is alarmed and there’s no way anyone can get in or out after eleven.”
“Is anyone else goin’? Sib asked.
“Buddy, I am right with you,” Incheon said. “If you were marching into the manticore’s den itself, I’d be right by your side.”
“I’ll be there, too,” added Quinta.
“Great, I’m out,” said Incheon.
Sib looked at him, confused. “What was that you just said about stickin’ by me into the manticore’s den?”
“I hear they eat people. Quinta is people, so you should be good.” He started gathering his things as well.
“Willow, you’ll be there.”
“I can’t,” she replied. “There’s no way for me to get here.”
“But you’re there. It was in the vision.”
“I’m telling you, I'm not coming.”
“I don’t get it,” he said. “You say you can’t come tonight but you can sneak out of school to go yell at Ursula as if breakin’ out Corey was her idea.”
“You’re a real jerk,” she said as she stormed away. Quinta was the only one left.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Sib, although Quinta didn’t look worried in the least. “She’ll be there.”
Sib woke at one in the morning and quietly snuck out of his bunk and into the dining room. He dressed silently and he was careful to whisper as he stepped into the fireplace. “Gampton Commons,” he called and firejumped to the public fireplaces near the town square. Quinta was waiting for him.
“Did you have any trouble sneakin’ out?” he asked her.
“No,” she replied. “My grandfather’s usually asleep by nine thirty.”
“Have you seen Willow?”
“She said she wasn’t coming.”
“Except that I know she’s going to be here.”
“Well, we aren’t going to make it if we don’t get moving,” she said. “Do you know where we’re going?”
“Yeah. We gotta walk to the north end of the island on the west side and then start walkin’ east. Do you know a better way than cross-country?”
“How about we borrow a boat?” she suggested. Sib hadn’t even thought of that, but quickly realized that would be much easier than bushwacking for the next hour.
He nodded and looked at the time on the clock in the town square. I can’t wait for her no more. I don’t know how, but she’ll have to find her way to us. “Let’s get goin’,” said Sib and they headed to the east side of town where the public docks were. They found a small rowboat and Quinta crawled inside.
“Uh,” Sib started. “I don’t…”
“Shut your face and get in,” she hissed. “I’ll handle it.” Sib pulled the rope that was holding the small craft to the dock as Quinta put her hand on the side of the boat. It started moving out into the stream on its own.
“Where’d you learn to do this?” Sib asked once they had drifted far enough away from the riverside houses to not be overheard.
“I saw Mr. Woodhead do it on our first day and I had him show me how.”
“How many times have you practiced?” he asked.
“This will be one,” she said. They drifted against the current for a while in silence. Gamp Island passing by slowly on the left.
“Is Incheon your friend?” Quinta asked.
“What do you do with him?”
“I dunno," he responded. "We laugh and fool around. Whatever.”
“Is that what a friend is?”
“Oh come on,” said Sib. “You can’t tell me you haven’t had friends?” Quinta didn’t answer. “I mean... you’re rough and weird and quirky and funny in a very dark way, but you have to have had friends before, right?”
“Before I got my wand, I wasn’t able to control my magic very well.”
“None of us were,” replied Sib. “I used to make rainbow bubbles appear. My ma told me that didn’t go over so well at my grandpa’s funeral.” Because his family was nomaj... Sib now realized.
“I could do much more.”
“Well didn’t you have playmates, or a brother or sister?”
“I have four older brothers, but they're much older than me. Other kids didn’t end up playing with me more than once. I…” she hesitated. “I hurt some of them.”
How am I supposed to respond to that…
They floated on in silence for minutes that seemed to Sib like hours. What am I supposed to do? "Well, you’re our friend now,” he finally told her.
“Well, at least for my part,” he said, dipping his hand in the icy cold water. “And the fact that you’re here means that you’re mine.”
He thought of Mr. Hendershot’s words from earlier in the day. ‘There’s more to being at Gampton Hall than learning a few spells.’ “Yeah, you are.” They both were silent for a while longer. As they reached the north end of the island, Sib could tell that Quinta was turning the boat. They were now floating down the west side of the island, heading back towards Gampton Hall.
"What are you going to do about your mom?" Sib asked.
"I was going to march into MACUSA and demand to know what happened to her."
"But I tried that and nobody had any idea what I was talking about. They just dismissed me as some stupid brown girl whose mom dumped them and ran off with some hobo."
Ouch. "So what now?"
"Now I'll do it on my own," Quinta said.
Sib thought of when he had said the same thing that Quinta just did. "And I'll be right there with you when you do." She was silent for a while, but Sib thought he saw a smirk pass over her face.
“I don’t know how far down to go,” she said to Sib. “But we shouldn’t go anywhere near the falls.” There was a large waterfall right next to Gampton Hall. Sib had been in Featherpenny house the year before and their lounge was high above the library and looked out over the falls. Sib wasn’t sure how his ring would possibly save him if he went over them in a rowboat.
“Here is good,” Sib said, pointing to a small inlet where the boat would be out of the current. Quinta guided the boat in and Sib tied it to a branch to secure it. They started walking East toward the four brothers, their only light was the floating ball of ‘lumos’ that Quinta sent out in front of them like a well-trained dog. The cloud cover had not started to break up, but Sib knew there wasn’t too long before moonrise. Where can Willow be?
They tramped through the dark forest until Sib could see the dark shapes of the hills known as the four brothers blot out the stars on the horizon. “We’re gettin’ close,” he told Quinta. It was then that he knew Willow was near. He looked around for her, but couldn’t spot her anywhere.
“Willow?” he said into the darkness. She has to be around here somewhere, I can smell her perfume.
“She’s not here,” said Quinta.
“But I smell her.”
“You smell that, pinhead.” She was pointing to a nearby bush. Sib looked where she meant. It was scarlet honeysuckle. Of course. What an idiot. I only thought she was here because she wears perfume that smells like honeysuckle.
“But someone was with me…” he started.
“And what am I, shredded lettuce?”
It wasn’t Willow’s voice in the vision. It was Quinta’s. “Put out that light,” he said. “We’re nearly there.” She extinguished it and they continued on, going slowly as their eyes adjusted to the darkness.
The forest suddenly lit up as the crescent moon emerged from behind the clouds. The long moon-shadows enhanced the barren look of the woods by doubling the tendril-like branches of the trees to cover the forest floor as well as the sky. There was a small glade just ahead and Sib walked quietly toward it; Quinta just behind him. He stopped suddenly as a shape that had been indistinguishable from a rock moved just in front of him.
Just like the vision, the old woman unfolded herself upright, her face hidden in blackness under the hood. “How did you find me?” She rasped, holding her writhing, shifting staff in front of her.
“Who are you?” asked Quinta.
The old woman pointed an ancient finger at Sib. “I know you. You have your grandmother’s gift.”
“I need a memory,” Sib said.
“I know why you are here,” she replied. “But I never trade anything for free. This...for that. I can get you a memory...for a simple task.” She held up the container that Sib remembered from the vision. “You shall deliver this for me.” She held out the salt-shaker sized object and Sib reached out to take it. His finger touched the vial and he closed his fingers around it.
“Why did you trash our lounge?” he asked.
“Did I?” she said, chuckling. “That seems like the kind of thing I would remember doing.”
“So it wasn’t you?”
“I haven’t been welcome in Gampton Hall in over fifty years. If I were, I certainly wouldn’t start by destroying your room. Why do you ask?” Sib could tell her eyes were trying to penetrate into him. “Was someone looking for something?”
Sib remembered what the old woman had told him before. “Best not to speak of what we know. You never know who’s listening.” She laughed and Sib thought it was the most unpleasant sound he had ever heard. “What do you want me to do with this?” He held up the small white container.
“Take it to Spellhold and open it when you’re at the prison. Do not open it before.”
“What is it?”
“Don’t ask questions to which you don’t want to know the answer. If you want the memory, you will do this.” There was a sound off in the woods and she perked up instantly. “You were followed,” she said. “It’s MACUSA. You must escape.” She disapparated with a 'pop' and Sib spun around, seeing points of light all around him bobbing through the trees. There must have been five or six people moving toward them.
“What do we do?” asked Quinta, readying herself to fight.
Sib remembered the ball from Thaumaturgy class that morning that had burst into flames and he was struck by sudden inspiration. “Can you enchant anything to fly?” She nodded and he reached into his bag, pulling out the Firebird broom. There was a shout from their pursuers as they spotted the flaming light dancing through the trees and the glowing lights started making a beeline for where they stood. Quinta put her hands on the broom and Sib could instantly feel it infuse with power. He hopped on and told Quinta to get on right in front of him. She swung her leg over and Sib tried wrapping his hands around her middle, but he had trouble getting a grip on the broom handle. A flash of light lit up the forest around them and a red-colored spell burst on the trunk of the tree just to their left. Sib ducked as chunks of bark and burnt splinters flew past his head.
Quinta kicked her legs up and spun around so she was face to face with him, sitting on his lap. “Go,” she said. “I’ll hold them off.” She wrapped her legs around his middle and put her arms around his shoulders. Sib could feel the raw power flowing through her where his face touched the side of hers and the hair stood up on the back of his neck. He held his breath and pushed off of the ground.
Sib leaned forward into Quinta to make the broom start moving. He could smell the mix of sweat and fear and excitement that surrounded her. As he leaned, the broom shot forward and he had to pull back.
“Holy…” he said. “I’ve never been on a broom this powerful.” He tried again, being much more careful about how much he accelerated and they shot forward again.
There was yelling behind him. “Jack, Raj, go left! Anna, cover the right!”
Sib glanced back over his shoulder and saw a flash of red light and a bolt fly straight toward them. Quinta blocked the spell with one hand and with the other knocked a MACUSA pursuer right off his broom. Sib swung his head around and leaned forward a little more, picking up speed and dodging between the trees. He couldn’t see to the right since Quinta’s head was in the way, but he could see that there was a mage off to his left and he tried to outpace them. This broom is almost too powerful. I can barely control it.
He kept them moving in roughly a straight line directly toward the four brothers. The mage off to the left was still there, occasionally firing a flash of red light through the forest to strike a nearby tree or to be blocked by Quinta’s magic.
“I can’t see off to my right, Quinta,” he said into her ear. “Anyone there?”
“Yes,” she replied in a strained voice. “And if this is the best you can fly, there’s no wonder you lost every game this year. They’re moving ahead of you.”
“They’re driving us…” right into a trap. It was just like the kobolds did back before he started school.
“We gotta turn around,” he said to her.
“Well you’d better make it a good one,” she said. “You have two of them practically crawling up your butt.” She grunted as another series of bright red flashes lit up the woods. Sib didn’t know how much longer she could keep blocking their spells.
How are we gonna lose them? As soon as he thought it, he heard Lily’s answer. ‘I’d do an inside loop and then transition to a bell tailslide. There’s no way they could follow that.’ “Hold on,” he told Quinta.
“What the hell do you think I’m doiiiiiiii…” She started to scream as Sib pulled up hard and they immediately started climbing up, over and down in a high-speed inside loop, the pursuing riders shooting past them. Sib could feel Quinta’s weight press down on his thighs as the g-forces increased. As soon as he was level again, he pulled up and they rocketed through the treetops and out into the night. Sib leaned back on the broom and they started a weightless freefall. He twisted the broom around as several red flashes flew toward where they would have been. As he turned back to the ground, he leaned forward into a power dive and they barrelled past two climbing MACUSA pursuers who were completely caught off-guard.
“Wooo-hoo!” screamed Sib. “That was amazin’!”
“Sure,” said Quinta. “Just be glad I’m not facing forward.” she spit and wiped her mouth from having thrown up. They had gained some time and escaped a certain trap, but Sib knew the MACUSA agents would catch up soon enough. As he zigged and zagged in a high-speed slalom through the forest, he knew he’d have to find some way to lose them entirely.
“How fast can this broom go?” he asked Quinta as they neared the edge of the forest.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Only one way to find out.” They burst out of the woods over the river and Sib leaned hard into the broom, willing it to go as fast as it could. He felt it leap underneath them as if it were a thoroughbred released from a starting gate.
“They’re falling behind,” Quinta said into his ear. Sib could barely hear her over the wind whipping by them. His eyes were watering and he had to squint to continue looking where they were going.
“How did they know where we were?” Sib asked.
“Do you think Miss Pyx ratted you out?”
“Then they tracked us,” she said. “I’m going to look through your bag.”
“You can do that?”
“It’s a charm, nimrod. Of course I can do that.” He could feel her rummaging around inside. “What’s this?” she held out a ball of twine.
“That’s mine. It’s just twine.” She dropped it into the river. “Hey!” Sib shouted.
“Don’t pop that,” he said. “It’s manticore antidote, but it stinks.” She dumped it back in his bag.
“Why do you have this?” she held out the carving of the manticore that he had made for Willow.
"Keep that," he said, still holding out hope that he would eventually find a time to give it to her. ...after she apologized for abandoning me tonight...
“I thought you were poor?” Quinta asked.
“Then what’s this?” She held up a shiny dragot.
“That ain’t mine,” he said. Her hand formed a fist around it and he heard her whisper something.
She dropped the coin back in his bag. "That should do it."
They were rapidly approaching the island that held the Pathfinder lounge and the circle of stones. Sib thought for a moment about just landing and running into Gampton Hall, but there was nowhere to hide inside that their pursuers couldn’t follow. Tears were pouring down his face from the oncoming wind and he knew he couldn’t keep this up for long.
We need a hiding place. He immediately thought of the salamander pens, where the books that proved the existence of the Pathfinder House had been hidden the previous year. “I need you to do just a couple more charms,” Sib said in Quinta’s ear as they reached landfall. “There’s a large stone that I need you to move and then I could use your lumos out in front again.”
“Okay,” she answered. Sib darted through the woods, heading for the location of the entrance to a secret tunnel that he and the Pathfinders had used the year before.
He pulled back on the handle and halted the broom right at the entrance. “Here.” He pointed and Quinta turned and put out her hand. "Patentibus!" she called. The boulder-sized rock door made a grinding noise as it slid open. Sib had turned around and he could see that their pursuers had not given up the chase. They were moving through the woods toward where they were.
“That’s good enough,” he said once the opening was wide enough for them to fly through. “Can you close it once we’re through?”
“Yes,” she replied. Sib could tell she was exhausted. “But I can’t hold it closed against six of them.”
“It’s alright,” said Sib. “We just need to buy a few more seconds.” Once inside, Quinta closed the door and they were in pitch blackness. “Now the light.”
“Lumos dux,” Quinta called and her light-dog jumped out in front of them, hovering in the air. Sib saw the tunnel entrance and sped into it, the ball of light bounding its way ahead. He already heard noises through the rock door letting him know the pursuers were only seconds behind.
“Where are we?” asked Quinta as they passed from solid rock walls to walls made entirely of water.
“We’re under the river,” Sib replied. “This leads straight back to Gampton Hall.” He sped forward, the tunnel extending in almost a perfectly straight line along the riverbed. The tunnel started climbing again and quickly transitioned back to rock walls. “We’re almost at the end,” he said. Quinta didn’t reply, but he felt her nod on his shoulder. Sib pulled up hard as the tunnel ended in a flat rock face.
Sib touched down and helped Quinta off of his lap. She leaned over against the wall and promptly collapsed. “Quinta!,” he cried as he hopped off the broom. “Are you alright?”
She nodded. “Yeah, but I don’t have much left, so you’d better do all the spell casting from now on.” Sib put the Firebolt back into his bag and turned to the rock wall. Panic set in. He had never been this way through the tunnel and this door had opened from the other side. He started pushing on the rocks around the door, hoping that he could blindly find the trigger that opened it. Nothing was working.
“Sib,” Quinta called weakly from behind him. “They’re coming.”
“Well you need to try faster, pinhead.”
Sib pulled out his amulet. “Alohomora!” he called. "Andaste!" he tried unsuccessfully. "Open!" In desperation, he started pounding on the rock wall with his fists and feet. "Help!" Giving up, he finally turned and slumped his back against the rock, sliding down to sit on the dirt floor of the tunnel in resignation.
“You really do suck at magic, don’t you?” said Quinta and without waiting for a response she stood up and faced the tunnel. She held her arms outstretched and started bringing her palms together. The movement was slow and Sib could see her arms shaking with the effort as if she was trying to squeeze a tree trunk down to a toothpick with her bare hands. Suddenly, she started glowing and a wave of energy pulsed from her. Sib felt the ground vibrate. She brought her hands closer together so that they were only a foot apart. "Ohneega'kahuntsi," she said and with a clap she brought them together. There was a tremendous ‘boom’ from the tunnel below and blast of air pressed Sib back into the rock. His ears popped and a wave of water came crashing up the tunnel reaching nearly to Quinta’s feet.
She dropped to her knees and her body went slack as she passed out onto the floor. Her lumos ball extinguished and left Sib alone in the cold darkness.
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