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“Oh!  Nice kick save…” started Lily, and then she screamed out “...for a change!”  Sib was sitting in the stands with her, Lef and Willow at the last home game against Ilvermorny. It was a glorious early April evening with mild temperatures and not a cloud in the sky.  As usual, the Gampton Hall team was getting trounced.  In the North American Quidditch Cup standings, they were dead last...by a mile. “Did you see that one, Willow?” Lily asked.

 

“Yeah, but he swung off his broom like it was a gymnastics high bar,” she replied.  “I don’t know if I could do that.”

 

“I’m sure she couldn’t,” muttered Sib, but loud enough for her to hear.  He was staring up into the sky watching the contrails form and disappear from the nomaj airplanes flying high overhead.  The artificial clouds were lit up purple and orange in the setting sunlight and it was much more interesting than the game, which had been going on for hours.  

 

“Lef,” said Willow.  “Would you please tell Sib that he can keep his opinions to himself.”

 

“Tell Willow if she can’t stand the heat…”, Sib started in retort. 

 

“Stop it!” yelled Lef.  “You two have been at this for a month now and I want you to knock it off.  Do you even know why you’re not talking to each other?”

 

“Of course,” said Willow.  “I am choosing not to speak to Sib because he’s a humongous fathead.”

 

“And I ain’t talkin’ to her ‘cause she’s a stubborn ass.”

“Well, I’m glad that’s settled,” said Lef. 

 

“He’s in a Chandelle,” said Lily, not paying attention at all to the conversation behind her.  “She needs a high yo-yo to counter.”  She stood up and yelled.  “High yo-yo!”

 

“Don’t you think it’s weird that we never got busted by Mr. Hendershot?” Willow asked.

 

“I’m not looking a gift pegasus in the mouth,” replied Lef.  “As long as he keeps pretending nothing ever happened, I’m okay with pretending that it didn’t.”  She stood up.  “I’m going to get something to eat.  Lily, would you like anything?”

 

“Uh...sure,” she replied, not offering any details.  “What a terrible combat spread!  Look at them, they’re all bunched up.”

 

“Could you get me a box of fizzing face-kickers?” Willow asked her.

 

“No,” replied Lef.  “I’m not doing either of you any favors until you start talking to one another.”

 

“Fine,” said Willow.  “I’ll come along with you.”

 

Just to be spiteful, Sib decided to go along as well.  “I’m comin’ too.  I got a dragot burnin’ a hole in my bag, so I think I’ll treat myself.”

 

“You shouldn’t spend that!” hissed Willow.

 

Sib shrugged.  I’m definitely spendin’ it now.  “If they didn’t want me to spend it, then they shouldn’t’ve put money in my bag.”

 

“Why can’t you two just let it go?” sighed Lef, sounding like she regretted getting up in the first place.

 

She’s the one that can’t let anything go.  Sib got up and followed the two of them out of the stands.  

 

“God, are they ever going to find the snitch?” asked Willow as they got in line at the refreshment stand.  

 

“If it extends too long past sunset, they’ll have a really hard time,” said Lef.   Sib looked up and saw that the last light was fading in the west.  “Oooh, look at the full moon,” Lef said, pointing in the opposite direction.  “It’s so orange!”

 

“It’s beautiful,” said Willow staring at the pumpkin-colored face of the moon that was just peeking above the treetops to the East.

 

“It’s creepy,” said Sib, just to be contrary.  “Feels like the beginnin’ of a horror story.”

 

As if on cue, people around them started screaming and ran in all directions back toward the school buildings.  Sib turned to look at what was going on and saw that the manticore had emerged from the forest and was running toward the crowd of people waiting in line, bearing down on where Lef was standing, frozen in shock.

 

Sib ran over and got between her and the manticore.  He can’t hurt me, so Lef’ll be safe.  He tried hustling her back toward the school, but she tripped over her own feet as she was backing up and dragged Sib down with her.  Willow was trying to get the manticore’s attention by waving her arms and shouting his name.  Lef screamed.  Sib turned and could smell the acrid musk of the manticore as it approached, tail high in the air.  

 

Suddenly, Sib’s view was blocked as someone stepped in between them and the manticore.  “Petrificus totalus!” she shouted and a red streak of light shot out and hit the manticore right in the face.  Rather than being paralyzed, the manticore roared and leapt toward their protector.  Sib recognized the sound of the manticore’s roar immediately.  It’s from the vision of my dad in the woods.  It was a manticore!

 

Corey landed right on top of the person who was blocking them and the long midnight-black scorpion tail thrust downward and stabbed the struggling mage in the center of the chest.  Bolts of red light now lit up the evening as several mages all around started firing stunning spells at the manticore.  The creature roared again in agony and fear and then fled from the scene, bounding back into the woods faster than anyone could follow.  The surrounding mages gave chase to drive the manticore further away.

 

Sib and Lef crawled over to the person who was lying on the ground, bleeding and gasping.  Her hood had fallen down and Sib recognized her immediately.  “Miss Pyx!”  

 

“...Forgot manticores are...resistant to magic," she choked.  "You weren’t kidding…” Blood had flecked her lips.  “This hurts like hell.  So cold…”

 

“She’s bleeding everywhere,” Lef cried.  “Where’s Mrs. Praecuro?”

 

“No time,” said Sib, digging in his bag.  “I know it’s in here…”  

 

“Sib,” said Lef, trying to find where Miss Pyx had been stung through her robes.  “Just use accio.”

 

“Dang it!  Right.”  He held his hand above the bag, but forgot the name of the root.  “Accio skunk butt!”  The small root pod jumped into his hand.  I didn’t know if that would work.  “Here!”  He tossed it to Lef.

 

It bounced off of Lef’s outstretched hand, but she quickly grabbed it from the grass and burst open the root sac on Miss Pyx’s chest.  The now-familiar stink of unwashed feet and hot garbage struck them both like a slap in the face.  

 

“She’s still bleedin’ Lef,” Sib said, setting aside his bag and grabbing Miss Pyx’s hand.  

 

“I only know ‘episkey’,” she said, and held out her amulet over Miss Pyx’s chest.  “Episkey!”  She looked again at Miss Pyx’s chest.  “There’s so much blood,” Lef sobbed.  “I don’t know if it worked.” 

 

“Just keep chantin’ while I get Mrs. Praecuro.  Don’t stop ‘til I get back.” Sib got up and bolted through the crowd of mages who were starting to gather around Miss Pyx after chasing off the manticore.  Sib started yelling for Mrs. Praecuro.  He didn’t have to travel far as she was hustling over from the stadium at that moment.

 

“It’s Miss Pyx!” Sib said after finding her.  “She’s been stung by the manticore!”  He pointed the way and followed as the school nurse shoved her way through the crowd.  

 

“Make way, make way!” she cried, pushing aside the gawkers.  Lef was still there, casting ‘episkey’, when the nurse grabbed her arm.  “It’s okay now,” she said.  “I’ve got her.”  Lef sat back on the grass and watched as Mrs. Praecuro cast a more involved healing charm over her chest. Sib thought it sounded almost like she was singing.  

 

“The smell,” she remarked, looking over to Lef.  “Checkered rattlesnake plantain?”  Lef nodded.  “Good work, young lady,” she said as she got to her feet.  “I think you just saved her life.”  Mrs. Praecuro looked into the crowd.  “You and you,” she called pointing to two adult mages.  “Help me get her outside the school grounds and I’ll apparate with her to the hospital.”

 

“Everyone must clear the grounds now,” a voice boomed from the school, magnified a thousand times to be heard everywhere across the property.  “The game is postponed.  Everyone shall clear away from the school and proceed directly home.”  Sib recognized the sound of Mrs. Black’s voice and he took Lef’s hand and helped her to her feet.  She was still crying and they walked together back to the school.

“It’s called checkered rattlesnake plantain,” Lef said.  “Not skunk butt.” 

 

“Hey,” Sib responded.  “It worked, didn’t it?”  

 

Lef gave him a half smile.  “Do you think she’ll be okay?”

 

“I was,” said Sib.  “Although he got my shoulder and not in the middle of my chest.”

 

“God,” said Lef.  “That was scary.”

 

“I think I made a huge mistake in helpin’ Willow set that manticore free.”

 

“Miss Mercana did say she’d watch after him, though.” 

 

“Not tonight she ain’t.”  Sib pointed at the full moon and Lef nodded at the reference.  There was a line at the door heading into the main gallery where all of the fans were departing via the Firejump Network.  Sib and Lef sat down on the half wall that surrounded the wizard fountain at the school entrance.  Might as well rest while we wait for the line to disappear.

 

Willow met them there after having been hustled away from the scene of the attack by another mage.  “Did they hurt him?” she asked as soon as she found them.

 

Sib was incensed.  “He stabbed Miss Pyx and you’re worried if that damn manticore was hurt?”

 

Willow was shocked.  “Is she okay?”

 

“They think so,” Lef responded.  “We used the last of the rattlesnake plantain and then Mrs. Praecuro healed her and took her to NNMC.”

 

“Incheon was right,” said Sib.  “We never should’ve released him in the first place.”

 

“They were going to murder him!” she protested.

 

“Willow, don’t you see what he’s done?  He nearly killed Miss Pyx!”

 

“But he didn’t,” she said, pacing back and forth in front of them.  “He was just scared.  This is all Ursula’s fault.  Why hasn't she returned any of my messages?”

 

“You need to take some responsibility for what we done!”

 

“What do you know?” she retorted.  “You’re just a…a stupid hillbilly!”  

 

Damn.  She had to go there. “Well at least I’m smart enough to know when I’ve done wrong.”  He got up and walked away, vowing not to speak another word to her. 

 

*******

 

The following day was Sunday and Sib jumped to the hospital after eating breakfast to visit Miss Pyx.  He walked to the main desk, found her room number and took the lifts up to the animal attack ward.  He walked past a number of doors until he found her room.  He knocked and walked in when she told him to come inside.

 

“How are you?” he asked and sat down in the chair next to her when she gestured toward it.

 

“I’ll likely have a scar in the center of my sternum, but I’ll make it," she replied.  "Good thing that the two of you still had some rattlesnake plantain left.”  

 

“We never should’a broke the manticore out,” Sib confessed.  “We didn’t know what we were doin’.”

 

“No, you didn’t.  But would you have still done it if Ursula hadn’t volunteered to help?”

 

“I dunno, ma’am.”

 

“Well the cat is out of the bag now.  As for Ursula...well, she’s always been a sucker for dangerous animals.  Something makes her want to believe they can live in coexistence with the rest of us.”  Sib knew that she was referring to Ursula’s affliction of arktanthropy.  “Have you had any more visions?” she asked, changing the subject.  

 

“No.  It's just been the one about my pa in the woods and the deadly curse.”  Since the first time he had seen it in the gondola, the vision had become much more clear to him, and he finally connected the ‘green lightning’ with the killing curse that he had heard about the previous year.

 

"Tell me again," she said. "Maybe there’s a detail we missed.”

 

Sib closed his eyes and tried to remember every detail. “My pa is in the woods…”

 

“What do the woods look like?” she asked, interrupting him.  “Is it a jungle, or a certain kind of trees, anything that would help you pinpoint where it was?”

 

“It just looked like regular woods to me.  You know, around here.”  She nodded and he continued.  “...and he’s scrambling up this embankment on all fours, just bounding along to try to get up as fast as he can.  Someone’s holding me back and I’m struggling to reach him…”

 

“Does someone have a physical hold on you, like with their arm?”

 

“Yeah...it’s a man’s arm.  Older-like, I guess.”

 

“Okay, and then there was the green flash, right?” she asked.  “Tell me about that.” 

 

“There was a woman’s voice calling out the curse.  'Avada Kedavra', she said.  It was really loud, like she was practically yelling right next to me, I turned toward it and then there was a green flash right in front of my face.  It blinded me and I’m blinking trying to see what happened when I hear a roar in the background.”  He paused.  “I guess that’s something new, though.” 

 

“What’s that?” she asked.

 

“The roar in the background.  It was the manticore.  I heard it when you hit him with that spell...the manticore is in the woods with my pa.  That must be what the person was shootin’ the green curse at.”

 

“And then?” she asked.

 

“...and then it ends.  I don’t see or hear anythin’ else.”

 

“Well that’s frustrating.  Are you able to tell when it happens from the flowers or birds or anything?”

 

“Well, there’s leaves on all the trees and a flash of orange in the branches that caught my eye earlier,” said Sib.  “If it was an oriole, then they don’t start appearin’ until May.” 

 

She stared through the window for a while before responding.  “Do you think all of your visions have been leading you toward something?” she asked. 

 

Sib thought about it and decided to tell her everything he knew.  She’s earned that much.  “Remember that vision of my grandmother blinking strangely and how I thought it was a code, but then I showed you it didn’t spell anything?”

 

She nodded.  “Except for the ‘Xmas’, right.”

 

“Well, Willow did end up decoding it,” Sib told her.  “My gramma wanted me to get rid of the MACUSA guard so that she could pass me somethin’ without him knowin’.”

 

“A memory…” she said.  “...Hence the need for the penseive.”

 

“Right.  That was the vision that helped Lily figure out what the pool could do.  One of those memories was my gramma givin’ the prophecy, but it was all messed up.”

 

“Messed up?” questioned Miss Pyx.

 

“There weren’t no sound.  So we could’t hear what she was sayin’.”  

 

“So how does that tie to the woman in the woods?” she asked.  

 

“There was three people in the room when the prophecy was bein’ said, but MACUSA only knew about two of ‘em. My gramma and Quinta’s mom - who went missin’ about this time last year.  The woman in the woods can get me the memory of the third person in the room.  I just needed to do a favor for her.”

 

“What did she ask you to do?”

 

“Take somethin’ to Spellhold and open it there.”

 

“You mean, like a spellbomb?” She sounded concerned.

 

“It didn’t do nothin’ when I opened it.  I just dropped it on the floor and walked away.”

 

“Well, if it was a spellbomb, it would have gone off by now.  So now this woman in the woods should be getting you the true version of your grandmother’s prophecy?”

 

“Yeah, she’s…” Sib stopped.  “So you know the version in the paper ain’t true?”

 

She nodded.  “The last line is ‘...only those who follow the path of darkness can avoid the end.’  A few people know that since it was one of the reasons that dark magic was completely banned twelve years ago.  It was pretty bold of MACUSA to try to change that to their favor now.”

 

“I guess…”

 

“What are you going to do with the prophecy once she gets it to you?”

 

“I’m gonna take it right back to the Ghost and get the true version published,” he said.  “That’s what my Gramma wanted me to do.”

 

“And you know this?” she asked.  

 

He nodded.  “That was another memory she gave me.  That’s been her task for me, and I ain’t gonna fail.”

 

“Do you think the latest vision has something to do with the true memory of the prophecy?”

 

“I dunno,” replied Sib.  “But everythin’ else has been pushin’ me in this direction, so I suppose so.”

 

*******

 

Other than noticing the increased guard around the school, and the buzz from the other tables during lunch about the reward for the capture or killing of the manticore, the next few weeks passed by uneventfully.  It was mid-April and Sib, Arc, and their mom were riding the gondola up to see his father; the seagulls hovering in the oceanside air nearby.  His dad’s sentencing hearing had been the day before, but it was held behind closed doors and they hadn’t heard a thing about it since.  That was a bad omen.  As the gondola swayed on the way up, Sib was busy thinking about his Alchemy lesson from earlier that day.

 

He and Willow had settled into a constant silent treatment toward each other.  Sib thought that he would have trouble when Mr. Holmes paired the two of them together for today’s potions lesson, but Sib found that he was so intent on not talking to Willow - and her not speaking to him - that they were able to follow the directions to a letter.  Each one was concentrating on their own step while the other was working on the next.  Their potion turned out perfectly, but Sib couldn’t even enjoy his first perfect grade of the year since he had to share it with her.

 

“Does it look like it’s leanin’ to you?” Arc asked them, pointing to the floating prison.

 

“It ain’t leanin’,” Sib’s mom replied.  It’s just the swingin’ of the gondola.  Sib looked for himself and he wasn’t so sure.  It does look a little off.

 

When the gondola stopped at the top, the door swung open and they all stood up to exit.  Arc took the big step up onto the platform and held his hand back to help their mom up.  “Why didn’t it stop at the platform?” she asked, pointing to the awkward step-up they had to take.

 

“‘Cause the gondola is dumb,” said Arc.  “Now are you comin’?”  She took his hand and Sib followed them, looking back at the gondola.  It shouldn’t do that.  They walked to the lifts and Arc and his mom said where they were going and shot up and out of sight.  Sib followed, stepping into the tube next to theirs.  “The Max,” he said, and was lifted up into the rock.  As he was moving, he heard a strange whining noise, like the air leaking out of a balloon and he was suddenly dumped on an unfamiliar landing platform.

 

It wasn’t where he was supposed to be.  He turned around and stepped back into the tube lift. “The Max” he said more clearly.  Nothing happened.  He tried the other tube.  “Maximum Security!” he shouted, but he still didn’t move.  What is goin’ on?  

 

Sib started walking down the hallway to try to find a different way up to where he needed to be.  He could tell that something was off almost immediately.  His feet didn’t fall where they were supposed to, as if the entire floor was pitched slightly downward to the left.  There were no guards anywhere, and he walked down a well-lit corridor past several spacious empty cells before he reached one with extra thick bars.  There was a woman sitting inside the cell, her grey-streaked red hair especially unkempt.  Sib recognized her immediately.

 

“Ursula?”

 

“Sib! What are you doing here?” She got up and walked over to stand opposite him.

 

“What happened?” he asked.

 

“They managed to track me down a couple of weeks ago,” she said.  "Just before the full moon."

 

“How? You were bein’ so careful.”

 

“Please don’t tell Willow, but I think it was Fred.  She was pretty upset after the manticore escaped and she hasn’t hesitated to let me know by sending her pseudodragon a couple of times a week.  I guess I was a bit lazy too since I didn’t keep moving.”

 

Dang it Willow!  Sib shook his head in resignation.   “What is this place, anyway?”

 

“This is where they’ve relocated all of the human hybrids,” she said.  “Werewolves, half-elves, I even heard they had a centaur, but that’s probably Larry and Barry pulling my chain.”

 

“Larry and Barry?”

 

“They’re across the hall.  They have lycanthropy.”  

 

“I heard the guards talkin’ about them,” Sib recalled.  “About how they can share the same cell without tearin’ each other to pieces on the full moon.”

 

“Yes, they take a potion called ‘wolvesbane’.  It lets them stay calm and keep their conscousness when they’ve transformed.”

 

“And what about you?”

 

She laughed.  “There’s no ‘bearsbane’ potion, so I get the extra thick bars.”  She tapped on them with her fingernails.

 

“We gotta get you out of here,” Sib whispered.  

 

“That would be pointless,” she replied.  “Even if I could wander around Spellhold, I don’t have a wand and the whole place is wrapped in a ‘no-fly’ zone.  The only thing I could do is drop five hundred feet to my death.”

 

“I’m sorry Ursula,” he said.

 

“I know.  It’s alright.  Why are you here, anyway?”

 

“My pa got taken in for casting a dark magic spell.  He’s up in the Max.” Sib pointed upward.

 

“Strange that you ended up here,” she said.

 

“The lifts are malfunctioning,” Sib responded.  “I don’t know if there’s another way up.”

 

“The guards seem to come from that direction,” she said, pointing further down the hall that Sib had been walking.  “Try down there.”

 

“Thanks,” he said.  “I’ll see you later.”

 

“We’ll see,” she said, downtrodden, walking back over to sit on her bench.

 

Sib felt awful as he continued to walk down the corridor.  What was Willow thinkin’ sendin’ Fred a couple of times a week?  She should’a known better!  I have half a mind to let her know that this is all her fault…  He reached the end of the corridor and found a spiral staircase that wound both up and down and a lift that was right next to it.  He stepped into the lift, and said ‘the Max’ again, and this time he was lifted and deposited where he should have been.  He quickly checked that his pockets were empty and proceeded into the waiting area, bypassing the two guards who were ignoring him as usual.

 

“We thought you got lost,” his mom said when he arrived.

 

“I did.  The lifts weren’t workin’ and they dumped me off at the wrong level.  I had to find another way up.”

 

“Your pa was just sayin’ he’s been sentenced to alteration,” she told him.

 

He looked at his father.  “I don’t know what that means.”

 

“It means they transfigure me into an inanimate object and I'm stuck that way forever.”

 

He was horrified.  “Ma, this ain’t right!” cried Sib.  “We gotta do something.”

 

His mom didn’t look upset or worried at all.  “We’ll be alright Sib.”

 

“What do you mean, we’ll be alright?  We ain’t never gonna see pa again!”

 

“Don’t you worry, your pa will be fine.”

 

She must be in shock or denial or somethin’.  She ain’t actin’ like she’s about to lose her husband forever.

 

“How are you doin’ Arc?” his father asked, changing the subject.  “How’s school goin’?”

 

“I’m finishin’ school, pa,” he replied.  “I ain’t gonna be on honor roll, but I’m gonna graduate.”

 

“I’m proud of you, son.  I really am, and I know Gramma and Grampa would be proud of you too.”

 

They talked for another half hour, remembering good times or a funny family story and every time Sib brought up doing something, or appealing again, or talking to the lawyer, his mom and dad just redirected the conversation until he gave up.

 

After saying goodbye, they were walking back toward the lifts when his brother suddenly grabbed him and jerked him backward.  A large chunk of the ceiling crashed down right where Sib would have been.  “Lucky I was lookin’ up,” his brother said as they stepped around the wreckage.

 

Lucky?  Sib glanced at his ring.  I never took it off.  The magic ring is still on my finger and the sniffer let me walk right through.  What did I do to Spellhold?

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