“Lumos,” Sib called and a ball of light emerged from the front of his amulet. A giant ghostly figure emerged from the darkness and Sib screamed before he realized it was the Hunter. “Oh, it’s you,” he said and he ran over to where Quinta had collapsed. He pulled her up to rest against him and he checked to make sure she was still breathing. Her hands felt like ice as Sib propped her against the wall. He turned back to the ghost.
“I can’t get through,” he said. “Is there a way?”
“Always,” said the Hunter, who pointed to a pressure plate on the opposite wall from where Sib had been looking. Sib reached up and pressed it and the rock door behind them ground open. Sib picked up Quinta, carrying her into the salamander pens. He remembered this room from the year before. It was a circular space about twenty feet across; the ceiling lost in darkness. It was filled with ashes which Sib kicked up as he carried Quinta through the room. The space used to hold flaming salamanders back in the early days of the school when they were used to light kitchen fires; now there were nomaj in the kitchens who used electricity brought in especially for them. Near the door where he entered were the remains of an old chest that had held the archives of their house in secret for over two hundred years. He walked to the other side and set Quinta down against the far wall.
“I know there are two stones to push,” he said. The Hunter nodded and pointed them out. They were too far apart for him to push by himself. This door had always been a two-person job. “I don’t suppose you can push one?” he said to the ghost, already knowing the answer. The Hunter shook his head. Quinta was still out cold.
“Use your fire stick,” the ghost said. Fire stick? Oh, he means the Firebird. Sib nodded and reached in his bag to pull the broom back out. Holding the shaft near the base, he was just able to press the two stones simultaneously. A small two foot by two foot door opened in front of him. Sib knew it led to an unused fireplace in the Gampton Hall kitchens; as he had been this way before. After putting his broom away, he slid Quinta near the door and crawled through, reaching back to pull her out of the ashes.
“Wingardium leviosa,” he called and the large box that was blocking the way - a ‘freezer’ Willow had called it - floated up into the air. Sib pushed it to make room. He pulled Quinta out into the kitchen and did his best to hide his tracks by closing the door to the salamander pens, putting the freezer back in place, and using 'scourgify' to clean the ashes off the two of them as best he could.
He carried her through the school and she started to come to as he set her down by the firejumps in the main gallery. “That tunnel was not held up by a charm,” she croaked.
“You’re okay,” said Sib, relieved.
“If this is okay, then I don’t want to know what ‘crappy’ feels like.”
“Can you stand?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Help me up.”
“What happened in the tunnel?” Sib asked as he pulled her to her feet.
“I closed it,” she said. “But I had help.”
“No, you were useless as usual,” she remarked, cutting him off. “I’m talking about the Hunter.” She pointed behind Sib. “He was...inside my head. He told me what to do.”
Sib turned around to see the Hunter standing behind them. That must be why she was glowing. “He told me how to get out of the tunnel too,” said Sib.
“Help will come to those who ask,” the Hunter told them.
“Well, thanks,” said Sib. “I’ll remember to ask for it sooner.” He helped Quinta to the fireplace and made sure she firejumped home safely. He waved goodbye to the ghost and firejumped himself, landing quietly in his cabin. He undressed, snuck into his bed, and fell asleep almost instantly.
“So what is the lesson that I wanted you to get out of the frogs-to-mice transfiguration?” Mr. Puterschmidt asked them the next morning in Alteration class. The class had been working on this particular spell for more than two weeks now. Sib had managed it - once. For now, the silence from the class was deafening. Sib was looking at the floor and was trying to keep his eyes open. He felt like a total zombie, but his mom had not let him call out sick that morning.
“Miss Smith?” He had called on Lily, who had her hand up, as usual.
“The mice become completely like mice and lose all of their...frogness.” she said.
“Excellent. Yes, when you transfigure an object - it becomes completely like that object and doesn’t retain any of its original characteristics - at least not overtly. That's the fourth exception to Gamp's law - mind and...” He stopped mid-sentence. “Mr. Ryong, you have a question?” Mr. P sounded surprised. Honestly, Sib was too. Incheon never asked questions.
“What about an animagus? Don’t they still act like the mage?”
“Excellent question! Five points to Pathfinder." He walked around to the front of his desk to face the class. “You see, it’s the difference between an ability and a spell,” he continued. “I have the ability to turn into a hare - which you’ve all seen.” Sib remembered the first time Mr. P had turned into a rabbit in his class. It was quite impressive. “But it’s not a spell. I don’t need my wand to do so. Transfiguration on the other hand requires a spell.”
“So it’s impossible for a mage to turn into multiple animals?” Incheon asked.
I see where he’s goin’ with this now. Sib looked up at Mr. Puterschmidt to see how he would answer.
“Absolutely impossible. Like we’ve talked about before, a mage only has the ability to transform into a single animal - the one you are most attuned to, and not everyone can even do this. No, if a mage were to take different forms, that would be a transfiguration spell, and they would lose all sense of themselves when they did it. It would be a colossal mistake of a one-way trip. The mage would become an animal and could only escape if someone else transfigured them back.”
“I’m telling you, it’s not a mage,” said Incheon as they walked past the Chancellor’s office on their way to History of Magic class.
“I’m tellin’ you that it’s the Wendigo,” Sib replied. “And mage or not, we gotta get that memory.”
As they walked into History of Magic, Sib knew right away he’d have trouble staying awake. Part of what made these lessons so interesting was the light show and illusions that Miss Knox put on every time Mr. Z. was telling them about a historical story, but she wasn’t in class today. Sib managed to find a seat in the back of the class and put his head down on his desk.
He woke at the bell, switched classes to Nomaj Studies and repeated the process. By the time he made it to lunchtime, he actually felt half decent. “Did I miss anything in Nomaj Studies?” he asked Incheon as they headed to the banquet hall.
“He made fun of your snoring,” Incheon said. “But no, he’s still an idiot.” They walked together to lunch and he sat down to eat with the other Pathfinders. They were all talking about how there still had been no fallout from what Mr. Hendershot had heard them say the previous day.
“He’s not even in today,” Hye-lin told them as she sat down to join their conversation.
“So what happened last night,” Lef asked him. “Did you meet her?”
Sib nodded. “We met her just like in the vision. Then MACUSA showed up and Quinta and I had to bug out.”
“So why did she trash our lounge?” asked Lily.
“Ha!” exclaimed Willow. She had been giving Sib the cold shoulder all day. “And you were stupid enough to believe her?”
“Yeah, I guess I am,” he said defensively. “‘Cause I don’t think she did it.”
“So it was another Woman in Black?” Willow remarked snidely.
“Guys!” said Lef. “Stop snapping at each other.” She turned to Sib. “Why do you think it wasn’t her.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Wait…” He suddenly knew how he could confirm it. He stood up. “Hunter, I need help!” he called. The surrounding tables looked at him and he hung his head and sat down, embarrassed.
“What was that?” Lily asked.
“The Hunter saw her.”
“And Quinta saw the woman in the woods.” As he said it, the Hunter drifted through the wall and annoyed several tables by drifting directly through their occupants.
“Thanks, Hunter,” said Sib when he arrived at their table. The ghost nodded. “Can you tell us exactly what the Woman in Black looked like who trashed our lounge?”
“She wore a black robe and black hood pulled down over her face. She carried a staff and used it as mages use a wand to search.”
“The staff - what did it look like?”
“It was black and unadorned; but rippled as if it had been made out of water.”
“And her hands - did you see how old she looked from her hands?”
“They were not the hands of an old woman or a child,” he answered.
“Quinta?” Sib prompted.
“The woman in the woods was old. Her hands looked like she was eighty. And her staff…it moved.”
“What do you mean it moved?” Willow asked.
“It has shapes carved on it and they move up and down the shaft,” Sib explained. “It wasn’t the same woman.”
“So who trashed our lounge, then?”
There was silence all around.
"I still think it was her," said Willow. "How many women in black can there be?"
“What about the dragot?” asked Quinta.
Sib looked at her. “Did you tell her?” he asked, nodding at Willow. Quinta shook her head.
“Tell me what?” Willow asked coldly.
“Search your bag for something that doesn’t belong there.” She looked huffy, but opened her bag and started looking through.
“I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me what I’m…” she paused and pulled out a dragot. “This isn’t mine.” It made a ‘click’ as she set it on the table.
“It’s how they’re tracking you,” said Quinta.
“Why?...” she started. “Oh...But who put it in there?”
“I don't know,” Sib said. "But we know we're bein' watched."
“So what do we do now that we know?” asked Lef, who had just finished searching her own bag and was holding a dragot in her hand.
“Nothing,” said Willow, dropping her own coin back in her bag.
“What do you mean?” asked Sib.
“We know, but they don’t know we know, you know?”
“No,” said Incheon.
“But what about the thing the woman in the woods wanted you to deliver?” Lef asked.
“I got it,” said Sib. “She said to take it to Spellhold and open it.”
“What’s in it?” she pressed.
“I don’t know.”
Lef continued to quiz him. “Didn’t you ask?”
“She wouldn’t say.”
“So are you going to do it?” Hye-lin asked him.
“I...I dunno. We need that memory, right?”
“You should take it to Pyx and talk it through with her,” said Willow.
Sib wanted to snap at her not to tell him what to do, but the bell rung for them to go to their double-length potions class and he just let unsaid snappy comebacks stew inside like whatever Mr. Holmes was going to make them concoct for the next two hours.
“This is a Firebird!” Lily screamed as they stood in the Pathfinder lounge that afternoon.
“It ain’t really,” Sib explained. “It’s just the model that was in Quad Depot and then Quinta charmed it to fly...It goes pretty good, though. Want to take it for a spin?” Without a second’s hesitation, she grabbed it and rushed outside to take it for a test flight. All of the others except Quinta went outside for a turn as well.
Sib was about to ask Quinta how she was doing when the newly-hung painting on the wall started yelling. “The British are coming!, the British are coming!” Sib looked over to see a man dressed in colonial garb riding his Pegasus through the frame and calling out to them. It was one of the pictures that was moved to the third floor hallway to track movement in and out of the Pathfinder lounge in response to the break-in.
“Henry, what are you yammerin’ about?” Sib asked the painting just as Mrs. Black came through the portal.
“Mr. Hooplander,” she said. “There are some gentlemen from MACUSA who wish to speak to you. Please come with me.” Sib looked questioningly at Quinta.
“Play dumb - it should be easy for you,” she whispered. Sib grabbed his Stor-All and went with Mrs. Black.
As soon as they passed through the portal, Mrs. Black started talking. “You may be tempted to lie to them, but they are trained to tell when you are lying.” She said all of this staring straight ahead and not looking at him. “Make sure what you say to them is true. Do not answer them unless they ask you a question. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”
She didn’t say another word until they reached her office on the first floor. There were two MACUSA agents there, sitting in the chairs that Sib had occupied too often over the past two years. The one on the left was a short man with thinning red hair and a short beard. The one on the right was tall with a short buzzed haircut and a hawkbill nose. They stood up as Mrs. Black and Sib entered.
“Thank you Chancellor,” the red-haired one said. “You can go.”
Mrs. Black set her hand on Sib’s shoulder. “While you are speaking to one of my students, I will be present. If those conditions are unacceptable, then you may go.”
The two agents looked at one another and then shrugged. The one with the hawkbill nose started first. “We have reason to believe that information relating to magical security is in your possession.”
That ain’t a question. Sib remained silent.
“Look, where’s the memory, kid?” the red-haired one asked.
There were three memories. “Which memory?” Sib replied.
“The one your grandmother gave you.”
She didn’t give them to me. “My grandmother was paralyzed.”
“You pulled it from her, then.”
But I don’t know how I did it. “I’m a second-year. I don’t even know the spell to do that.” The red-haired one shook his head and looked to the other.
The hawkbill nosed man resumed. “Where were you last night?”
I was sleepin' for part of it. “At home, asleep.”
“I think you were in the North Woods last night.”
It ain’t a question. Sib remained silent. He felt a gentle squeeze on his shoulder that let him know he was doing well.
“Last night, I think you met someone in the North Woods. Did you give that person the memory?”
I didn’t exchange any memories last night. “I didn’t give no one no memories last night.”
“...Then you led five highly-trained mages on a chase through the woods on a broom that resembled a Firebird. While the person you met sat on your lap and attacked government agents.”
It ain't a question. Sib waited until the hawk-nosed man continued.
“There was someone with you last night. Who was it?”
I didn’t leave my house until one o’clock this mornin'. “The only people with me last night were my ma and brother.”
The red-haired man jumped in again. “How did you get your hands on a Firebird?”
It’s a fake. “I never even seen a Firebird.”
“...And how did the person you were with block three simultaneous stunning spells without a wand?”
Quinta, you are amazin'. “I didn’t think anyone could do that.”
The hawk-nose man spoke again. “We know you have it,” he said, pointing a finger at Sib. “We’re going to get it from you one way or another.”
Sib was tired and angry and he’d been stewing about lashing out at Willow all afternoon. He let go. “What are you going to do, throw me in prison like you did my father?” Mrs. Black’s hand tightened on his shoulder. I have to hold it together.
The red-haired man opened his mouth, but Mrs. Black cut him off. “So you’re suggesting that this thirteen year old boy was three hundred miles from his home at two o’clock in the morning flying a million-dragot broom through the woods while evading capture from five trained MACUSA agents all of whom were firing multiple stunning spells at him?”
There was silence as the agents looked at each other.
“We’re done here, gentlemen.” She guided Sib back out of her office and walked with him to the lifts.
“Thank y…” Sib started.
She cut him off. “I have no idea what you have gotten yourself into, Mr. Hooplander, but you will not drag this school into it.” She was ticked off and Sib could tell. “If you haven’t noticed, the world is splitting itself apart and Gampton Hall will not be a pawn in this chess game. Is that clear?”
“Yes, ma’am.” She turned and stormed away back toward her office as the two MACUSA men stepped into the fireplaces and jumped away.
What I’ve gotten myself into? He started pacing back and forth, not wanting to go back to the lounge to answer more questions. He didn’t want to go get grilled by going to see Mis Pyx either. I didn’t ask to have these visions. I didn’t ask to get rolled into the stinkin’ prophecy. Why do I have to pick sides anyway?
He looked at the fireplaces and thought of Spellhold; of his father and about the injustice of his trial. That's why I'm pickin' sides...I’m goin’. He walked over and jumped to the prison entrance.
As he rode the gondola, he decided to sit on the opposite side, so that he couldn’t see the prison as he rose. He looked out over the towering buttes and orange-brown desert dotted with specks of olive green that surrounded them. Where are we this time? The prison moved to a new location every day and he had never been in the same location twice in all the times he'd visited. He knew it was in the western part of the country as the sun was much higher in the sky. The gentle swaying of the gondola and the quiet around him made it easy to drift.
He saw his father - free - running up a steep embankment on all fours deep in the woods. Someone was holding Sib back from rushing toward him. There was a flash of green lightning that blinded him and Sib heard a roar - something inhuman that was in horrible pain…
The sudden stopping of the gondola brought him back. He shook his head to clear it and stepped onto the platform at the bottom of the prison. Was that a dream or a vision? I’m so tired I can’t tell. He took the lifts to the Max, and walked to the table where the two bored guards were sitting, discussing some new arrivals.
“So why don’t they tear each other to pieces?” one asked.
“They give them wolvesbane potion so they keep their minds even when they’re changed,” he responded as Sib approached. As usual, they just pointed to the small container on the table where Sib was supposed to put all of his magical items. Sib started emptying his pockets and stood for a moment with the small vial the woman had given him. Is it magical?
“What’cha got?” one of them asked as he dropped his ring and the container the woman had given him into the box.
Do I really care if they open it? “It’s from Three Dubs,” he said. “Go ahead and look inside.”
They both shook their heads. “Naw, I’m good.” “Nope.” Sib smiled ruefully and walked through the magic sniffer to see his dad.
“Hiya, pa,” he said when his dad emerged.
“Hi Sib. I didn’t know you was comin’ today.”
“Yeah, I just wanted to talk to you.”
“Well, I’m glad you're here, Sib. There’s some things I been wantin’ to say.”
“Go on, pa.”
“Well, I don’t think I’ll be seein’ you and Arc and ma for a long while.”
“Pa, don’t talk like that…”
“You hush up and listen.” Sib nodded and he continued. “I need you to take care of your mom...and your brother.”
“Arc don’t need my help, pa. He wouldn’t accept it if I offered.”
“You might be surprised what your brother does now. After he read that letter from your gramma, I think he’s lookin’ to be a changed man.”
“Your gramma wrote him a letter long ago. It was put in her will when you was still in diapers. Ma gave it to him when she settled Gramma’s accounts and it let him know that she was proud of him just like she was proud of your grandpa - magic or no. It let him know that he has a choice to either be defined by his lack of magic, or be defined by what he’s gonna do with himself. I think he’s tryin’ to find his way on the second path.”
Sib nodded and thought of his vision on the gondola. “Pa, what if I said that you were gonna get out of here?”
“It don’t matter, Sib. They’ll only stop trackin' me when I’m dead.”
“What do you mean?”
“All of us in the Max have a trace on us. It’s a spell that lets ‘em know where we are all the time. Ain’t nobody can take it off except the ones who put it on. Even if I did escape, it would only be a matter of time before they tracked me down.”
“What about the appeal, pa?”
“There ain’t gonna be no appeal, Sib. It’s already been dismissed.”
“But they can’t do that!”
“Don’t you worry about me. You just remember what I said about your brother and your ma. They’re gonna be dependin’ on you. You understand?”
“Now you get home before your ma gets worried.”
Sib got up to go. “I love you, pa.”
“I love you too, son. Ain’t nothin’ or nobody ever gonna take that away.”
Sib left the visitation room feeling worse than ever that his father was out of hope. He grabbed his ring and the container, not even looking at the two guards. When he reached the entrance to the gondolas, he went into the bathroom where he set the container on the sink and stared at himself in the mirror. He had been crying. He splashed some water on his face and dried it off, staring at the vial as he threw away the towel. To hell with it. He cracked open the lid, dropped it on the floor and walked away as it rolled under the sink and out of sight.
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