Hey, who turned out the sun? Sib was momentarily confused as he stepped out of the fireplace after firejumping to Bracken Brae.
“Hsst, over here,” came a whisper as soon as Sib and Quinta stepped into the central town square. It took a second for Sib to realize that it was still night here and he turned toward the sound, seeing someone waving him to hide behind a series of crates that were piled up nearby. He led Quinta to crouch behind the boxes. In the dim light he was able to recognize Willow, who was huddled up with Hye-Lin, Incheon, Hedges and Beene. Willow’s pseudodragon, Fred, was curled around her neck like a scarf.
“MACUSA agents have been jumping in for a while,” she whispered to him. She held up her instant message book. “Lef said she’s on her way.”
“So the two of you didn’t get captured?” Sib asked her.
She shook her head. “I did. One of them caught me and started taking me back to the firejumps, but she got an owl message when we got close and then she took off. I tried taking the memory to the local Ghost office, but my bottle was empty.”
“They were all empty,” Sib replied. “It was a set-up. There’s apparently a break-out at Spellhold, and the old woman wanted a distraction to draw MACUSA away.”
“Are we near Spellhold?”
“I think so,” he responded. “At least, this is where they said they were goin’ when the Spellhold Firejumps were down.”
She pointed to the opposite side of the village. “That’s the way the agents have all been going after they get here.”
“I’m goin’ after my dad,” Sib said.
“And I’m going after Ursula,” she replied. “I know why she got caught, and I know I’m responsible.”
That’s probably what she’s been so upset about. “What about the others?” Sib asked, nodding toward their classmates. “We could get in real trouble here.”
Sib hooked a thumb at the dimwits. “I thought they weren't coming…” he whispered.
“Not my idea,” she whispered back. “Blame Hye-lin.”
He shook his head. “I gotta go,” he said. “Can you get the rest of them there?”
“Yeah,” she replied. “I managed to find a few brooms while I was waiting for everyone.”
“Good. Don’t forget that Quinta can’t fly. Oh, and she found her mom…”
“That’s great, where was she?”
“She was transfigured into a rock. Quinta’s talkin’ to her now.” He pointed out Quinta who was sitting by herself, carrying on a two-sided conversation with her rock.
“Oh my god,” she replied.
“Yeah,” he said. He shifted over to where Incheon was sitting. “Pssst, Incheon.”
“What’s up?” he said.
“My broom is really conspicuous,” Sib told him as he pulled the torch-bright broom out. “Can you use an illusion to cover it up?”
“That would take effort,” he replied, blinking in the sudden light. But then he smiled and pulled out his amulet. Like Sib, his spells were never as powerful when he just used his hands.
“Why don’t you just cast a disillusionment charm?” Quinta asked, looking up from her rock.
“‘Cause we normal mages don’t learn that for another three years,” Incheon replied. “Do you want to do the honors?” She shook her head and went back to talking to her mom. “Dissimulato,” he cast and Sib’s firebird changed into a regular run-of-the-mill school broom and the group of them faded back into the pre-dawn darkness as the Firebird’s light was disguised.
“Perfect. How long will it last?”
“Between three minutes and ten hours.”
“Give or take.”
Sib took the broom and checked to make sure the coast was clear.
“We’ll catch up as soon as Lef gets here,” Willow told him. “Fred will go with you and he can find me when we arrive.” Sib nodded and then pushed off into the slowly brightening sky.
He could tell that Bracken Brae was far west from Gampton Hall and his home in West Virginia. The sun was probably an hour or more from peeking above the horizon. As soon as he was above the treetops, he was lit up by the full moon which was setting in the west. He looked around and saw a glow on the horizon as if a fire was blazing. Guessing that was Spellhold, he headed in that direction, the Pseudodragon taking up a spot just to his right and flapping his wings to keep pace. Sib tried to stay low near the peaks of the towering redwood trees to stay out of sight, but as far as he could tell, there was nobody else around. He leaned forward and sped up.
After about fifteen minutes of flight, Sib saw that something had gone terribly wrong with Spellhold. Even in the pre-dawn light, the damage was obvious. The prison was no longer in the air and had tumbled to the ground, falling on its side like a top that had lost its spin. The visitor's center was ablaze and the gondolas had tumbled to the ground like giant discarded dice. There was black smoke pouring out of several windows near the center of the prison and a fire was still burning at the peak.
Sib knew that his father was near the top, so he angled his broom toward the crashed tower and flew away from the surrounding trees and into the large clearing around the prison. He looked down and could see figures moving on the open field below and a couple of red flashes, but nobody seemed to be paying attention to him.
Fred had flown ahead of him, but had suddenly halted and was hovering in the air. Sib shot past him and then, as if he had hit an invisible marshmallow wall, his forward momentum was suddenly slowed and stopped. His broom stopped functioning, and Sib found himself plummeting toward the ground more than a hundred feet below. His stomach shot up into his throat and he couldn’t breathe as gravity pulled him toward the ground. He was twisting his broom in desperation and shaking it, trying to make it work.
There was a deep, booming noise and the entire prison shifted further over on its side away from where he was. As it did so, Sib’s broom suddenly worked again and he pulled up as hard as he could to stop his descent. He managed to slow his fall just in time, the tips of his shoes dragging on the ground as he raced away from the prison. There must still be a no-fly zone around the prison that’s still workin’! I ain’t gettin’ in that way.
He raced back to the forest where he knew the others would be coming and found a place to lie low, trusting that nobody had seen him in the darkness that still lingered below the forest canopy. He landed and waited, Fred joining him. “I’ll wait here,” he told the creature. “Tell Willow to meet me.” The pseudodragon blinked and lifted off into the air, flying back through the trees toward Bracken Brae. Sib smiled for a moment, thinking of his grandmother who had communicated with him the same way. He hunkered down and looked back into the clearing.
He heard distant shouting and every once in a while saw a red flash light up the early morning air. In one of the flashes, he thought he saw someone crawling out of a window from the interior of Spellhold and drop to the ground. This must be the breakout.
The others joined him a few minutes later, Fred leading them right to where he was hiding. “So can we just fly over?” Willow asked after she landed.
“There’s a no-fly zone around the whole place,” Sib explained. “You’ll fall to the ground.” They saw as a group of prisoners tried breaking out toward where they were and as soon as they stood up to run they were lit up by a series of red spells that shot out from the edge of the forest to Sib's right. The prisoners dropped to the ground again, either frozen by the spell or ducking for cover.
“Well, we’re not going to walk over…” Incheon observed.
“What about going under?” Lef asked. “Like how you dug out Corey.”
“We can dig!” said Willow.
“Evanesco lutum!”, Sib called, pointing his amulet at the ground. He jumped in the hole and cast again. “Evanesco lutum!” He stopped and put his hands down to the bottom of the hole.
“What’s the matter?” Willow asked.
“I hit bedrock and my ‘evanesco’ spell ain’t workin’.”
“Can anyone disapparate rock?” Lef asked. The silence was enough to answer her question.
“Quinta, can you disapparate that bedrock?” Sib asked.
“What do you think mom?” Quinta asked her rock. She put it up to her ear and then shook her head. “No. That could be someone’s mother,” she replied. “We’re not going to do that.”
“We’re just going to have to run for it,” Willow said.
Recognizing that Willow’s plan would never work, Sib spoke up. “We can’t move with that guard watching.”
“We need a distraction,” said Lef.
“Easy,” said Incheon, pulling a deck of cards from nowhere. “Pick a card.”
“A distraction for the guard,” Willow said.
“Oh. That’s a crime, I had a good one.”
“Ow!” cried Hedges. “Why’d you slap me? I called ‘double no slapbacks.”
“I undid your ‘no slapbacks’ with a doubles-ies undo,” replied Beene.
“Will you two shut up!” hissed Willow.
We need a distraction. “I got it,” said Sib. “Hey Hedges, Beene,” he called.
“Hiya,” said Hedges, coming over to where he was.
“I want you two to go over to that guard but then I want just one of you to ask him what’s goin’ on. Can you do that?”
“Sure,” said Hedges. “Come on,” he said to Beene.
“You come on,” Beene replied.
“No you shut up!”
“What did you just do?” Willow asked as they started walking through the woods toward the guard.
“We needed a distraction,” he replied. “I give you Hedges and Beene.”
If anyone could provide a distraction, it was these two. Sib could hear through the woods the surprise of the MACUSA agent as the two kids appeared through the undergrowth. Although he couldn’t hear the conversation, he could imagine how it was going.
‘Who are you!’ the guard would be exclaiming.
‘He said only one of us should talk,’ Hedges would be saying to Beene, pushing him.
‘Well I’m talking,’ Beene would be replying, shoving back.
‘No, I’m talking, stupid.’
'What are you two doing here?' The agent would be yelling about now. 'Can’t you see there’s a prison breakout going on?'
But it would be too late. Sib could just make out that the two of them were pushing and shoving each other, and the MACUSA agent had stood up and was trying to pull them apart and get them out of the area at the same time.
“Let’s go,” he said. He got up and started running toward the prison. The others followed. Remembering that Lef had a habit of falling and injuring herself at the most inopportune times, he halted and let Willow lead them as he took up the rear position behind Lef. He heard something moving through the brush near them and he saw a grey blur to their left as an animal bolted through the undergrowth, startled by their movement.
As they reached the side of the prison, they jumped into a deep hole in the ground where they could hide, Sib bringing up the rear. The depression probably formed when the prison shifted.
"How do we get in from here?” Willow asked Sib when he slid down the slope next to her.
“The entrance was always at the bottom tip, so I guess we go down,” he said. Willow nodded and started casting ‘evanesco lutum’ while Lef shored up the walls with ‘quasi lapis’ and Quinta cast her light dog to lead the way. As they were digging, Sib looked around. He noticed that there was a group of prisoners huddled about fifty feet off to his left, hunkering down next to a grey dog.
“We’re there,” called Lef, pulling Sib’s attention away. “You need to come down and lead us in.”
He nodded and was working his way to the tunnel entrance when he was startled by a flock of birds that suddenly erupted and flew in all directions into the sky. He glanced back to where the prisoners had been and they were all gone. Only the dog remained. Wait. That ain’t a dog… His feet slipped on the tunnel entrance and he looked down to find his balance. As he glanced back up, the animal was gone. It was her.
He wrestled for a moment with the thought of going after her, wondering if he should try to find and confront her, but knowing that they didn’t have a lot of time, he shook it off and concentrated on getting inside. I’m gonna find pa first, then I’ll deal with her. He half-slid and half jumped to the bottom of the sloping tunnel that Willow had dug to get down to the entrance to Spellhold. When he got there, he found that Quinta had enlarged the end of the tunnel to form a cavern. It was lit by her light dog which was slowly pacing around the perimeter.
“Those are the lifts,” he pointed. “They probably won’t work.” He stepped into them anyway and called out “the Max.” As he expected, nothing happened. “We’ll have to find the spiral staircase,” he told them. “It winds its way up through the whole prison.” He pointed to a door and Willow tried ‘alohomora’, only to find it didn’t work.
“Quinta?” he asked, almost afraid to find out what her rock thought about it, but she just nodded, walked to the door and put her hand on it. It started glowing and then exploded inward, crashing a moment later somewhere inside.
“Holy…” whispered Incheon, who had been right next to Sib.
“Yeah,” replied Sib. “My thoughts exactly.”
Leading them in, Sib found that they were in a large communal area with tables and chairs all around that was probably set up for visitors to the low security areas of the prison. The entire prison was leaning away from them and Sib hustled through, feeling like he was running downhill. The light dog was right at his heels, casting shadows everywhere as Sib continued looking for an obvious route to the heart of the facility. He identified a door on the opposite side that was hanging open. He looked at the door lock as he passed by and he thought it looked chewed. Like termites got to it...but it’s metal.
He led them through and past a hallway full of empty cells with open doors. These must be the prisoners who were all escapin’. At the end of the corridor, he saw another door that was hanging open and he led the others through it and into an open room beyond. Now we’re gettin’ somewhere.
He recognized that he had found the central core of the prison. On one side of this central room were two lifts, both obviously out of commission, but on the other side was a spiral staircase that led only one direction...up. Sib started climbing. The light dog followed him and it cast his shadow on the outside wall of the staircase. Sib felt like his shadow was leading the way.
Every time the staircase turned to climb ‘uphill’ the stairs were on a twenty-degree slope up and Lef had trouble climbing them, so eventually, Sib let Willow lead them up the stairway and he helped Lef from the back. Willow stopped at one landing after another, but Sib could tell right away as he caught up that they needed to keep going.
At the third landing, Sib recognized that they were finally where they needed to be. He crossed the room - tilted sideways this time - and tried the door leading to the hallway where Ursula’s cell was. He pulled it open and the handle came off in his hand. The lock crumbled like it had been made of rotten wood. Sib saw several flashes of something small and pink drop to the floor with the remains of the lock and skitter away into the darkness. “Did you see that?” he asked.
“See what?” Incheon said.
“It looked like...devourers.” They had found small pink bugs like those the previous year. They were incredibly dangerous as they ate anything magic like a termite eats wood. If they were to escape, they would completely destroy everything magic anywhere around them.
“What?” Willow said.
“Devourers,” he said,
“What’s a devourer?” asked Hye-lin. She hadn’t been at the school when they had come across them before.
Incheon recited what he had heard Ursula tell them about the bugs. “It’s a small bug that is highly resistant to magic, but feeds off of magical power. If they get loose and start to breed, they will consume everything magical around them: books, plants, brooms, wands, and even the magical protections that hide a building from the nomaj.”
“I did this,” Sib said, finally realizing what he had done. “That’s what she had me release in Spellhold.”
“You mean the package she had you deliver?” asked Lef.
“Yeah,” he replied. “They’ve been eatin’ Spellhold from the inside for the past month.”
“No time for that now,” Willow reminded him. “We need to get to Ursula.” Sib nodded and pulled open the now rotten door. It opened ‘uphill’, so Sib had to hold it as they passed through into the corridor beyond. It closed with a ‘clang’ as Sib followed the others.
“About halfway down,” he called to Willow. “It’s the one with the thick bars.” He followed them through the hallway and Sib saw that they were stopped, staring inside Ursula’s cell.
“We have a problem,” said Willow. Sib caught up and looked inside the cell. Ursula was a bear. “It’s still the full moon,” she said.
“But it’s settin’,” he responded. “If we wait a couple hours, she should turn back.” The entire prison shuddered and tilted even further over. Several of the cell doors on the ‘uphill’ side swung open, their locks devoured.
“Do we have a couple of hours?” Lef responded.
Sib heard a snuffling noise, like a dog that is hunting for something to eat. It was then that he remembered Larry and Barry. He turned to see that their door was one of those that had swung open. “We got bigger problems,” he said. “There were two werewolves that were here with her, and their cell is wide open.” He pointed toward the now open cell door just as two hulking shapes paced out into the hallway and gazed at the six of them with sickly yellow eyes.
“Is there another way out?” Hye-lin asked, her voice quivering.
“It’s a dead end,” Sib replied. The werewolves were between them and the central corridor. The opposite direction led to a dead end with non-functional lifts. They were all backing up slowly.
They were interrupted by a large, burly, bearded mage who wandered into the hallway behind the werewolves, muttering to himself, his wand held out in front of him. “Still too early…” he was saying. He stopped when he saw them. “What the…” he started and raised his wand. “Did you drink the potion?” he asked the werewolves. Sib saw them nod. “Then go, my friends.” He stepped aside and the two werewolves ran past him toward the central corridor. Sib remembered that they had a wolvesbane potion which let them keep their minds when they transformed. Thank goodness for that.
The bearded man turned back to them, his wand still out. “What are you doing here?” he asked. Sib looked at him. He was a huge hulking man with dark hair, a long, unkempt beard and dark blue robes that were large enough to easily double for a tablecloth.
Knowing that the rest of them couldn’t fight back, Sib looked at the doorknob that was still in his hand and suddenly remembered Quinta’s spell from Thaumaturgy class. “Quinta!” he called, “do your thing!” He tossed the doorknob at Quinta. Without her even trying to catch it, the doorknob bounced off her side and fell to the floor.
“Ow,” she said. “Why did you do that?’
The bearded mage started laughing.
“I thought you would do the charm where you make it fly around the room and then knock him out,” he said.
The mage was doubled over in laughter. “Stop,” he said, still laughing. He stood up and wiped his eyes. “It’s me, Ruluff Hendershot,” he said.
“Mr. Hendershot?” Willow questioned. Sib looked at him. He looked twice as large and ten times as hairy as Mr. Hendershot, who was not a small man to begin with.
“It’s definitely me,” he said, and then called them by name. “You’re Willow, Sib, Incheon, Lef, Hye-lin, and Quinta. I’ve cast an illusion on myself to hide my identity.”
“What were you laughing at?” Willow asked.
“The spell,” he said, still smiling. “The one where I threw the ball at Quinta and she made it zip around the room and blast through the wall.”
“What about it?”
“It was all an illusion,” he said. “I just made it look like she could do those things.”
“Wait, so she can’t really do it?”
“Oh, she can,” he responded. “She just never chooses to.” Sib looked at Quinta who just shrugged her shoulders.
“So what are you doing here?” Willow asked.
“I’m pretty sure the same thing you are,” he responded. “Ursula. I've been trying to help her ever since I overheard from you that she was in trouble.”
“There’s a small problem,” said Willow. She pointed into the cage and Mr. Hendershot came closer and looked inside.
“I figured as much,” he said. “It’s too early.”
“Can’t we wait for the moon to set?” Sib asked.
“No,” he replied. “The prison moves at dawn. We don’t have time.”
“So what do we do?” Sib asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “But while we’re thinking, I’d better disguise the lot of you.” He pointed his wand at Incheon and cast a spell. Incheon immediately transformed into a short, thick woman with spiky blonde hair and a neck tattoo.
“What?” said the woman. “What are you all looking at?”
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“Can you even see yourself?” Hye-lin asked.
The woman looked down at her body and then back at them. “I see myself,” she responded.
“You all will,” Mr. Hendershot responded. “If you touch him, he'll still be Incheon too. It’s only other people who will see you differently.” He cast a spell on the rest of them and Sib found he couldn’t even figure out who was who as they gawked at each other.
“What happens if we just let her out?” an older woman asked. “It looks like her door is unlocked.” She had grey hair that was pulled up into a bun and her green corduroy pants were tattered and fraying at the bottom hem.
“Then Ursula attacks you and you become a were-bear forever,” Mr. Hendershot responded. “She would never forgive me if that happened.”
“Can we knock out the bear?” a chubby Persian man with a thick mustache asked.
“I don’t have a spell that can do that,” he responded. “Unless one of you has a Sweet Stunning Sweet from Three Dubs.” They all turned to the spiky-haired woman with the neck tattoo.
“I don’t,” she said. “I do have a Jelly Jamboree, though.”
“What does that do?” the Persian man asked.
“It turns you into a giant quivering ball of slime.”
“For how long?”
“About a minute.”
“That won’t do,” Mr. Hendershot responded. “We need to knock her out for longer.”
“Wait a minute!” Sib said. He reached into his bag and started digging.
“Who are you and what are you looking for?” the spiky-haired woman asked.
“I’m Sib and I’m lookin’ for those seeds that you planted on me back when we was tryin’ to get rid of my Gramma’s guard.”
“Just accio!” the Persian man said. That must be Lef.
“I forget what they’re called.”
“Accio hollow-stemmed asphodel,” he called, and the seeds leapt into his hand.
“Now how do we get her to eat them?” A lanky red-haired man asked. Sib was pretty sure that was Willow.
“Can we put them inside this?” the old woman asked. She held up an apple.
“Perfect,” said Mr. Hendershot. He took the apple from the old woman and then the seeds from Sib’s outstretched hand.
“How long will she be out?” the old woman asked.
“Long enough to get outside,” he said. He pushed the seeds deep into the apple. “Here goes nothing.” He tossed the apple into the enclosure. The bear shuffled over to it, stumbling over the uneven floor, sniffed the apple and swallowed it in one bite. She dropped almost immediately.
Mr. Hendershot pulled open the door. “Pluma!” he cast on Ursula’s unconscious shape. He ran over and picked her up with one hand, carrying her on his back like a gigantic furry backpack. Her back half and legs dragged on the ground as he climbed back up to the exit of the cell. “We need to hurry,” he told them as he led the way back down the hallway toward the central staircase.
Sib went ahead to hold the door open at the end of the hall. As Mr. Hendershot dragged Ursula through the doorway, a MACUSA mage emerged suddenly from the central stair. “Expelliarmus!” she called and Hendershot’s wand went flying to a far corner. The bear, now freed of its pluma spell, dropped to the ground like a ton of bricks. Mr. Hendershot let out a grunt as he was trapped underneath.
“If any of you move a muscle, I won’t hesitate to kill you,” the MACUSA mage said, leveling her wand right at Sib and Incheon who were standing near the door to the hallway.
Sib froze in place as the mage came into the room. She was short but muscular and was dressed in a form-fitting grey MACUSA robe. She had long black hair and freckles dotting her face. “Hands in the air, you,” she said, pointing to the doorway where Sib was standing. She was slowly working her way towards them on the uneven floor. Incheon - the illusion of him as a spiky-haired woman broken - was right next to Sib and the two of them raised their hands.
“I see you were trying to release these monsters to the wild, huh?” the woman said to Mr. Hendershot, who was struggling to breathe under the weight of the unconscious bear. “I’m sure those two werewolves would be happy running free if I hadn’t stunned them.”
“You,” she said, pointing her wand at someone behind Sib. “Drop that rock, right now.”
Oh, she just made her first mistake.
“Drop my mother?” Quinta’s voice said.
“I won’t ask you again,” the mage threatened.
“What was that, mom?” Quinta said. Sib could picture her holding the rock up to her ear. “Of course.”
“You asked for th…” the dark-haired mage froze in mid-sentence. Sib and Incheon, who had seen Quinta do this before dropped their hands.
“Grab her wand,” said Sib as he pulled out his amulet and cast ‘wingardium leviosa’ on the bear. It lifted and Mr. Hendershot rolled out from underneath, groaning in pain. “Lef!” Sib shouted. “We need you!” She hurried forward and Sib pointed to Mr. Hendershot. “He’s hurt. See what you can do.” Sib set the bear down and turned back to Willow and Hye-lin who were inspecting the frozen MACUSA mage.
“What did you do to her?” Willow asked Quinta.
“She wanted me to drop my mother,” she replied. “And my mother told me not to do that.”
“Did she just get weirder?” Incheon whispered to Sib, chucking the mage's wand back down the hallway.
He nodded. "Yeah, as hard as that is to do."
“Brackium emendo,” said Lef as she cast a healing spell on Mr. Hendershot’s ribcage.
He moved his hands over his chest. “Amazing charm work, Lef,” he said. “That’s as good as Mrs. Praecuro.” He got up, ran to the corner to grab his wand and then looked back at the frozen MACUSA guard.
“What do you want me to do with her?” Quinta asked Mr. Hendershot. “Pull her fingernails out, break her kneecaps, slice her…”
“Stop!” Mr. Hendershot responded. “There’s no time." He cast a spell on the frozen mage and then ran towards Ursula. "I altered her memory," he called. "Just knock her out and come on!” He cast the illusion spells back on all of them and then cast ‘pluma’ on the bear. The guard dropped into unconsciousness and they all raced to the stairway. Sib held Willow back as Quinta and Lef followed Mr. Hendershot. She looked like the lanky red-haired man again, but Sib could feel her real arm under the illusion.
“Get them out,” he told Willow. “I’m goin’ after my pa.” She nodded and moved toward the stairway.
“Since we’re either going to get killed, mauled, or lose these illusions,” Incheon said, now looking like the spiky-haired woman again. “I don’t suppose you’d mind taking off your shirt before you go?”
“Sib,” the old woman with the bun said, passing by. “If you do that, I will murder you myself.”
“What do I look like?” Sib asked, wondering what Hye-lin meant.
Incheon just smiled. “Here,” he said. “Take this.” He pressed a Three Dubs candy into Sib’s hand. “It’s the Jelly Jamboree. Might be useful.” He was dragged away by the old woman and was walking backward toward the stairs.
What the hell. Sib grabbed his shirt and pulled it up. The last he saw of them was the huge ear-to-ear grin on the spiky-haired woman’s face.
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