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Sib started climbing the central staircase, but since the tower had shifted even more, he found the uphill sections almost impossible without scrambling up with his hands.

 

This is too slow.  He stopped and opened his Stor-All, reached inside and grabbed the Firebird.  Incheon’s spell had worn off, and the broom blazed into light when he removed it from his bag, but he didn’t care.  He even noticed that the light from the broom helped him see.  He hopped on and started to fly up in a corkscrew toward the top where he knew his father was.

 

He was starting to get dizzy when he noticed that there was more light in the stairway.  He rounded one last corner and emerged into a large circular room.  The stairs kept climbing, but Sib flew out into the room, which was brightened by the pre-dawn light through a few small porthole-sized windows.

 

Gotta figure out where I am.  Besides, I’m smellin’ more smoke the higher I climb.  He landed and stepped off his broom, went over to the door and touched the handle.  It was cool, so he cracked it open.  Bingo.  He recognized the entry area to the Max where he had been so many times before - although never by this route.  After confirming the guards were nowhere to be seen, he walked into the room and began to crawl up the steep incline toward the table where the guards usually sat.  The box where he was supposed to put magical items was still securely fastened in place on the table, but the chairs had tumbled away back behind where Sib had come into the room.

 

He went past the table and stopped at the sniffer door.  It wasn’t workin’ last time, so here’s hopin’.  He stepped through and nothing held him back.  He climbed inside and went to the tables where he usually talked to his father.  He put his hand up to check if the barrier was there and his hand passed right through.  Feeling lucky, he vaulted over the table and headed toward the door where his dad always emerged.  

 

He entered and found a long corridor with cells along either side.  He scrambled along, his calves starting to burn from the constant uphill climb.  He passed one empty cell after another.  Maybe he already got out.  He reached a junction and there were three more corridors branching out.  The prison shuddered heavily and shifted again.  He had to crouch down to avoid losing his balance, but he still ended up sliding back the way he had climbed by a few feet.  I ain’t got much time.

 

“Pa!” he called.  

 

“Hey, over here!” came a voice from the central corridor.  Sib rushed toward the sound and saw his father inside a cell with his hands gripping the still-closed door.  

 

“Pa!” Sib cried as he saw him.  “Man, am I glad to see you.”

 

“Who are you?” he asked.

 

“Pa,” he replied, confused. “It’s me, Sib.”

 

“Look, miss,” he said.  “I don’t know what you’re tryin’ to pull.  Are you MACUSA?”

 

The disguise!  “Pa,” he said.  “It’s an illusion.”

 

“Okay, then,” he replied, clearly disbelieving. “What did your Uncle get you for your birthday?” he asked.

 

“Uncle Andy ain’t never gotten me nothing,” he responded. 

 

“What’s your brother’s favorite spell?” 

 

“Pa, he’s a squib.”

 

“What does your ma make better than anyone?”

 

“Foot-long mad dogs,” he said.  “Pa, it’s really me.”

 

His father just stared at him up and down.  “Son,” he replied.  “That is an amazin’ illusion.”   

 

“It ain’t mine,” he responded.  “Now let’s get you out of there.”

 

His dad shook his head.  “These doors didn’t open like the others,” he said.  “Nothin’ I’ve tried is movin’ ‘em.”

 

Sib tried ‘alohomora’ and even tried to look around for a devourer to put on the lock, but they must not have reached this wing yet.  “Where’s everyone else?” 

 

“Their locks opened and they bugged out, but I’ve been alone in this wing the whole time.”

 

“Why didn’t they help you out?”

 

“It’s the Max, Sib,” he replied.  “Typically, there ain’t nice people stayin’ in here.”

 

“Well, somethin’s gotta work, pa.”

 

“Not unless you can turn me into smoke.”

 

Or jelly!  “I got one better.  Here,” he said, reaching into his bag, and then passing the Jelly Jamboree through the bars.  “Eat this.”

 

“What is it?” his dad said, unwrapping it.

 

“It’s your ticket out.  Now hurry.”  His dad looked at the candy, shrugged and popped it in his mouth.  The instant it hit his tongue, he turned into a giant cube of jiggling yellow pudding that started sliding along the sloped floor to the left side of his cell.  

 

Here goes nothin’.  Sib held out his amulet.  “Accio jelly!”  The globular mass shuddered and then moved toward Sib, pressing itself against the bars.  At first, Sib thought it wouldn’t work as the jelly just bulged its way against the barrier, but then it split and started to ooze through, cutting around the bars like butter pushed through a screen door. 

 

It dropped into a pile on the near side and the shredded bits of jelly tumbled over themselves on the way to stop by Sib’s feet.  Seconds later, his dad reappeared where the pile of jelly had been.

 

“Whoa,” he said, slowly getting to his feet.  “What was that?”

 

“A Jelly Jamboree from Three Dubs,” said Sib.  “Now come on.”  He led the way - back downhill this time - to the visitors area.  They jumped the visitor’s desk, jogged through the sniffer and the guard area and reached the stairway again.  

 

“Up or down?” Sib asked.

 

“Unless you got wings, we gotta go down,” his dad replied.  They started that way, but got no further than two turns of the spiral staircase before they heard voices below.

 

“No good, Pa,” Sib whispered as they turned around.  “We gotta go up.”

 

“Ain’t there another staircase?”

 

“Not that I know about,” he replied. “We’ll be okay.  Come on.”  They climbed back up, Sib and his father both helping each other up the tricky uphill parts of the staircase until they were at the top.  It ended at a landing with a single door.  There was nowhere else to go.

 

Sib’s dad opened the door, which swung down and away from them. The area outside was bathed in morning sunlight.  They were looking downhill at an angle toward the ground.  Sib held onto the door and eased himself out.  They were in a stone-cobbled courtyard and there was a fire burning in a structure over to Sib’s left.  Ahead, the wall and floor had crumbled, leaving a sheer drop to the ground a hundred feet below.  To the right was a parapet wall and Sib scrambled sideways across the slope to look over the side.  

 

What happened to the trees?  

 

“The prison moved,” his father observed as he came to stand next to him, and then he looked at the sun.  “Looks like we’re still on the west coast though.”

 

“I don’t see another way down,” Sib said, looking at the ruins of the lifts outside of the burning building on the other side of the courtyard.

 

“We could try gettin’ past those guards who are comin’ up the stairs,” his dad suggested.  “I know a couple’a spells I could try if you let me borrow Gramma’s wand.”

 

He’s going to get us killed.  Sib glanced at his ring.  No, he’s going to get himself killed.  Wait a minute…  “Pa, we gotta jump.”

 

“Unless you got a Three Dubs candy that’s gonna turn me into a goose, that ain’t gonna work.”  

 

Sib reached in his bag and pulled his Firebird back out.  “We’ll be okay,” he said.  “I have this.”  

 

His father took it from Sib’s outstretched hands and admired it.  “It’s a beauty,” he said.  “But ain’t there a no-fly zone around the prison?” 

 

“It won’t be there,” Sib replied.

 

“And how do you know that?”

 

“Because I’m wearin’ Grandpa’s ring,” he said, flashing it at his dad.  

 

“And I’m supposed to put all my faith in that no-luck piece of…”  He was cut off as a spell flashed at them and hit the parapet nearby.  Bits of shattered rock flew past them.  Sib looked back toward the central staircase and saw two mages getting ready to shoot more spells at them from the stairway door.  

 

Without warning, Sib’s dad grabbed him, picked him up, and threw him over the parapet.  Sib started falling to the ground without his broom.  Sib looked back toward his dad.  His father had vaulted over the side and was plummeting after him on the broom as a bolt of green light shot by his head.

 

Sib turned back to the ground which was approaching faster and faster.  This is gonna hurt.  Suddenly, he felt a yank on the back of his pants slowing him.  He looked up and saw that his father had one hand on the Firebird and the other on the back of Sib’s belt, they pulled up and - like what had happened earlier that morning - Sib felt the grass flit by on his shoes as his face and body hovered a foot from the ground.  His dad kept going until they were into the surrounding forest and then he halted the broom and set Sib down.  

 

“I guess my ring works,” said Sib, dusting himself off.

 

“I reckon so,” his father replied, his hands shaking.  “But it sure didn’t seem like it.”  His dad handed him back the broom.

 

“Are you alright, pa?”

 

“That killin’ curse,” he said.  “It wasn’t but a hair’s breadth from hittin’ me.  Even a graze from that curse is enough to kill a full grown man.”  He took a deep breath. “Let’s get movin’.  They’ll be followin’ any second now.”  

 

Sib mounted the broom and his dad climbed on behind him.  Sib kicked off and leaned forward, trying to get as much distance between them and Spellhold as he could.  After flying for a half hour through the forest he pulled up so that they could get above the treetops and fly in a straight line.

 

“Where do we go now, pa?” he asked. 

 

“We just need to find a MINSAR station.”

 

“MINSAR?” 

 

“Stands for Mage in Need Search and Rescue,” he said.  “They come callin’ if any mage gets into trouble by jumpin’ where they shouldn’t or havin’ their wand broken when they’re out and about.”

 

“So how do we find one?”

 

“It sets off a signal,” he said.  “You just gotta know what to look for.”

 

They flew on for another fifteen minutes before his dad poked him on the shoulder.  “There,” he said, pointing to a hill in the distance.  “Do you see how the sky kinda’ wavers above that hill, like air above a hot tin roof?”

 

Sib squinted where his father was pointing.  “The sky...is it wobblin’?”

 

“It looks that way,” he replied.  “Let’s go.”  Sib turned toward the hill and leaned forward.  The broom didn’t accelerate.  He leaned forward again and the broom started dropping.

 

“What’s wrong?” his dad asked.

 

“I don’t know,” Sib replied.  “It won’t do what it’s supposed to.”  He tried getting it to speed up, but it was now sputtering and jerking haphazardly.  

 

“Is it supposed to be smokin’?” 

 

Sib turned around and saw the broom was leaving a trail of dirty black smoke back the way they had come.  Without warning, the broom stopped working, sending the two of them into a tumbling free fall.  Sib barely had time to look down before he hit a series of vines which slowed his speed.  As they snapped, he dropped and landed in a stinking slime-filled bog.

 

He dragged himself out - unhurt - but soaked and covered in rotten-smelling ooze.  He saw the remains of his broom sticking out of the ground and he went back to grab it.  

 

It was stuck in the ground like a tiki torch, but the flames had sputtered out.  As he touched it, the broom disintegrated into a pile of splinters and ash.  He watched as a small pink bug crawled from the wreckage of his prized possession.  His blood boiled.  You will die for this.  With as much force as he could muster, Sib crushed the bug under his shoe, grinding it into the ground underneath.  A smear of pink and green was all that remained when he removed his foot.  He brushed through the pile of debris to be sure there weren’t any others and then he scraped a hole in the soft forest floor next to the pile, pushed the remains of his broom in and covered it again.

 

I gotta find pa.  He started walking through the forest in the direction that they had been traveling.  He was pretty sure his dad had landed further along the path than he did.  “Pa!” he called as he pushed through the shrubs and vines.

 

“Here, Sib,” came a weak call. 

 

Sib hurried toward it to find his father lying face-down on the ground.  He wasn’t moving.  “Pa!” Sib ran to him and put his hand on his father’s back.  

 

His dad inhaled sharply. “Careful,” he said weakly.  “I’m pretty sure I busted a couple‘a ribs.”  He coughed and winced in pain.  Sib saw bloody spit trickle from his dad’s mouth.

 

“I can fix it.  Hold on.” He tried to remember the spell that Lef had used.  God, was that only an hour ago?   It feels like a week.  He grabbed his amulet.  “Brackium emendo.” he called.  His father inhaled sharply again and Sib saw his body shift.  “Are you okay?”

 

His father rolled over onto his back, breathing deeply.  He used his hands to feel his side.  “I’m better,” he said.  “Thanks, son.” He put out his hand.  “I need to sit up.”  Sib pulled him to a sitting position and then helped him get propped up against a tree. His dad pressed his eyes closed as another wave of pain hit him.  “You got your ma’s gift for healin’ bones,” he said.

 

“But she stinks at it,” Sib replied.  His father looked up at him and smiled.  “Oh,” he realized.  “Sorry.” 

 

His dad closed his eyes again for a moment.  "It's alright.  Nobody in this family is good at healin' magic."  He glanced at the soaking mess that was Sib’s outfit.  “Could you uh….cover yourself up, son?”

 

“What?  Why?”

 

“You’re wearin’ a wet tee shirt.”

 

“I don’t understand,” he said, looking down at it.  It was soaked and clinging to his chest.

 

His dad looked away and shook his head.  “Who did you say did this illusion?”

 

“My Thaumaturgy teacher, Mr. Hendershot.”

 

“That man needs to get himself a girlfriend.”

 

Sib was confused.  “I know I’m a girl because Incheon asked me to pull up my shirt.”

 

“Let’s just say you look like a very well-endowed young lady.”

 

“You mean I look rich?”

 

His dad turned back to look him in the face.  “When your friend looked at your chest he got an eyeful.  Is that clear enough for you?”

 

“Oh,” he said.  “I think I got an old shirt in my bag.” He pulled his Stor-All off of his back, wiped the slime from the water-proof flap, and dug through, finding a long-sleeved tee that he had worn the previous summer.  It had big slash marks across the back where the harpy had tried to claw him.  He had hidden it in his bag so his mom wouldn’t ask questions.  He reached down and started to pull off his shirt to change.

 

“Don’t take it off here!” His dad said, bringing his hands up to his eyes.  “Go over yonder behind them bushes…  I don’t need that image noodlin’ around in my brain.”

 

Sib walked away from his dad, cast ‘reparo’ on his old shirt to fix the slashes and then changed.  As he pulled on the clean shirt, he found the sleeves were an inch too short.  I didn’t realize I grew that much.

 

He returned to find his dad hadn’t moved.  “Do you think you can walk, pa?”

 

“Not well and not far,” he replied.  “I think I just need to rest here for a while.”  

 

“What about the trace?” asked Sib. “Ain’t they gonna find us?"

 

“They’re probably busy roundin’ up the others who have it.  Even so, I know we gotta get movin’ soon since it’s only a matter of time before they come for me...  Just gimme a sec.”  He closed his eyes and Sib found a log nearby to lean against.  Soon his father’s breathing had deepened and become regular, letting Sib know his dad had passed out.  

 

Sib rubbed the knot in his neck again and thought about their situation.  We ain’t got no food, no money, and no transportation.  We got one wand between us and we’re three thousand miles from home with half of MACUSA on our tail.  My pa’s hurt and he’s gonna be attacked by a manticore.  My favorite possession in the world is a pile of ash and scrap that I buried like it was related to me. He smiled ruefully. If this ain’t the deepest pickle I ever been in, I don’t know what is.

 

He looked down at the ring on his finger.  This is now the only thing I own in the world that’s worth havin’.  He took it off and carefully slipped it on his father’s pinky finger.  But you need it now more than I do.

 

*******

 

Sib had dozed off himself and was awoken by his father coughing and sputtering.  “Are you alright, pa?”  He crawled over to kneel next to him.

 

“Yeah, I’m feelin’ tons better,” he said, and then looked at Sib.  “I see you’re back to lookin’ normal too. I just had these stupid leaves blow into my mouth.” He had spit them out into his hand and was holding them up to the light.  “Well I’ll be…”

 

“What?” Sib asked.

 

“It’s motherwort,” he replied, putting it back in his mouth and chewing.  He swallowed.  “It’s a healin’ plant, but it ain’t supposed to grow west of the Appalachian Mountains.  What are the odds of findin’ it here?”

 

About one in one, since you’re wearin’ that ring.  “Come on, pa.  Let’s get up and movin’.”  Sib helped his dad up, but as soon as he was standing, he noticed the ring on his finger.

 

“Why’d you give me this?” his dad said, taking it off.

 

“You can’t be hurt if you’re wearin’ it.”

 

He held it out to Sib.  “You mom would never forgive me if something happened to you.”

 

“Pa, I need you to know that I have grandma’s gift...her visions.”

 

“I know that,” he said.  “Your Gramma let us know long ago.”

 

Sib was surprised for a moment.  “You need it more than me.”

 

“Take it, son.”

 

“Pa, you’re gonna be attacked by a manticore,” Sib replied.  “I saw it happen and I need you to wear the ring.  I ain’t losin’ you.”

 

His father looked down at the ring.  “Attacked by a manticore, am I?”

 

“I’m not movin' 'til you put it on.”

 

“Alright,” he said.  “But as soon as we get away from that manticore, you’re puttin’ it on again.  Deal?”

 

“Deal.”

 

It was only afterwards that Sib noticed how much time had passed; they must have slept for hours.  The sun was past its zenith when they started walking in the direction of the hill with the MINSAR station.  After an hour of hiking they had made it nearly to their destination.  As they were climbing the last rise, Sib asked his dad about the stations.  “So how does this MINSAR thing work?”

 

“If a mage needs help anywhere in the US, they ain’t never more than a day’s hike to the nearest MINSAR station.  They put ‘em all over and they can be used whenever somebody needs to be found or rescued.”

 

“Why couldn’t the person just use magic?”

 

“Well, what if their wand was busted?” he replied.  “I don’t know anyone who ever had that happen…”

 

I guess pa knows that Arc busted my wand back in August. “Heard about that, huh?”  

 

He smiled.  “Anyways,” he continued, “search and rescue teams can jump from a couple of central locations across the country to any one of these stations in seconds.”

 

“So it’s like the firejump network?” 

 

“Yeah, except they don’t have to worry about disguisin’ a fireplace in the middle of nowhere, ‘cause MINSAR stations look like trees.  And you don’t have to worry if you don’t have a pocket of floo powder on ya, either.”

 

“So how do you know which tree is the MINSAR station?”

 

“Cause it looks like that,” his dad replied, pointing to a lone white-trunked tree on the peak of the hill just ahead.  

 

“I seen a tree like that before,” said Sib.  “It was a white birch on the top of a hill outside of Nanty Glo.”

 

“Was the sky waverin’ above it?”

 

“Yeah,” he replied.  “Now that I think about it, it was.  I thought I was seein’ a mirage or somethin’.”

 

They approached the white poplar and his father put his hands on the trunk next to a low branch.  “Now what you’re supposed to do is to pull down this low branch and then MINSAR will jump to this location.”

 

“But we ain’t gonna do that are we?” Sib guessed.

 

“Nope, ‘cause there’s no doubt that the only people jumpin’ here will be MACUSA agents.  Instead we can use the link to jump to the MINSAR hub when they jump here.”

 

“What good’s that do us?”

 

“‘Cause the MINSAR we jump to is connected to every other MINSAR across the country.  We’ll just make a quarter-second pit stop before we keep goin’.”

 

“Where do we stop?”

 

“We’ll jump to the MINSAR station near Gampton,” he said.  “I know a place on the island where I can lay low for a while.”

 

“What about your trace?” 

 

“Maybe the bugs ate it, I dunno.”  He didn’t sound convinced and Sib wasn’t either.  “You ever side-along apparate before?” he asked.

 

“Yeah,” Sib replied.  “Ma took me.”

 

“Good, so you know what to expect.  This time instead of landin’ you’re gonna skip.  It’s a touch and go.  Are you ready?”

 

Sib nodded and he grabbed his father’s arm.  His dad pushed down the branch and twisted.  Sib saw shapes emerge on the hilltop a split second before the world went black and the universal pressure of apparition took hold.  Like his dad described, he touched down long enough to see an equipment-filled room before he felt his father’s arm pull him again into the blackness.  There wasn’t enough time to take a breath.  He felt like he was running out of air and he was struggling to breathe.  He kicked his feet in a basic survival reaction.  He was dying…  

 

Suddenly the pressure released.  Sib collapsed into a heap on the ground, gasping for breath as his father leaned over and put his hands on his knees.  “I ain’t never apparated three thousand miles before,” his dad said, catching his breath.  “And I don’t never want to again.”  He put his hand out to help Sib up. “You alright?”  Sib nodded and took his father’s hand.  

 

Looking around, Sib saw that they were standing next to a lone white birch tree on the top of a wooded hill.  The sun was lower in the sky and the woods looked familiar in that he could identify the trees and plants around him.  “Let’s head that way,” his dad said, pointing north.

 

They traveled for a while to the north through thick woods.  Sib could hear the sound of the rapids and the falls in the far distance, so he knew they were somewhere near Gampton Hall even though he couldn’t see it through the trees.

 

“Ow!” he exclaimed.

 

“What happened?” his father asked, coming back toward him.

 

Sib pointed to a nettle bush.  “I pricked myself.”

 

His dad smirked.  “Want me to take you to the hospital?” 

 

“No, it’s just…”  Sib thought about when the last time was that he got injured.  The manticore?  “I’ve had that ring on so long that I forgot what it felt like to hurt.”

 

“Want me to punch you on the arm so you keep rememberin’?” his dad joked.  “Or can we keep movin’?”  Sib nodded and they hiked on.  

 

After about a half hour, they came to a road.  His dad looked puzzled and then remembered something.  “I forgot there was nomaj in the kitchens,” he said.  “I guess they use this road.”

 

“It’s Saturday, pa.  We should be good.”  They checked all around them just in case and jogged into the woods on the far side, not stopping until the road was out of sight and they had crossed the path that led to the docks where the first-years arrive on their very first school day.

 

“Do you know where you’re headed, pa?” Sib asked after another quarter-hour of bushwacking through the overgrown trees and shrubs.  His hands were covered with scratches and scrapes that were starting to itch.  At least there’s no sign of the manticore...

 

“Up towards the four brothers,” his dad replied.  “We’re almost there.  We just gotta cut across this ravine.”  He pointed to their path ahead.

 

There were a series of popping noises all around them and Sib turned to see figures moving through the woods; all wearing the grey robes of MACUSA.  “Go, pa!” he yelled.  “Run!”  Sib turned and chased his father toward the embankment that led down into the ravine.  One of the MACUSA mages cast a spell and Sib’s father jumped over the edge of the ravine and disappeared from sight as a green jet of light burst on a tree next to him.  

 

Sib raced after him but an arm reached out from behind a tree and held him back.  He clawed at the arm, trying to get loose.  He saw his father bounding up the far side of the ravine, using his hands and legs to climb faster.  Sib saw a flash of orange off to his right in the branches, but he turned to the left as a female mage yelled a spell practically in his ear.

 

“Avada Kedavra!” she shouted and a green flash burst right in front of Sib’s eyes, blinding him.  He pulled his hands up to rub them clear when he heard the scream of the manticore.  But the manticore ain’t here!

 

He blinked to clear his vision and saw that it was his father roaring in pain.  It wasn’t the manticore I heard at all!  It was the most horrifying sound he ever heard.

 

“Sib, you have to stay away,” the man holding him said, but Sib just stomped down on his foot as hard as he could.  The mage’s grip loosened and he swore.  Sib pushed the mage’s arm away and broke free, running toward his father. 

 

He leapt down into the ravine, sliding to the bottom, jumped up and then ran full out to get to where his dad was standing.  “Pa!” he screamed, “Run!”

 

“Hit him again!” called a female voice.

 

“Petrificus totalus!” came another voice and Sib felt the spell hit him squarely in the back.  He froze completely, but his forward momentum carried him partly up the slope toward his father.  His muscles were frozen, but he could still see as three more green bolts hit his father; once...twice...three times.  His father let out a last pitiful sound that was more animal than human and Sib could see the fear and anger and confusion on his face...and then he collapsed.  His body went limp and slid down the hill, stopping only when it came to rest against a tree trunk.  If Sib could have moved, he would have been able to reach out and touch his father’s hand.

 

More mages ran to where Sib and his father were lying.  Most in the grey robes of MACUSA, but there were four in the navy blue of NNMC.

 

“Well?” A female voice asked from behind Sib's field of vision.  

 

The medics from NNMC were huddled around his father’s body.  One of them turned to look up at her.  “He’s dead.”

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