(Follows Secret's Ghost)
Wednesday, November 25, 1998
By the time the Thanksgiving holiday arrived Vin was a bundle of frayed nerves. All the students had just recently taken their pre-midterm exams, which were scary, Hawks Gild had just barely won a nail-biting Hoops game against Spiders Gild this past Sunday, and their homework assignments for the long weekend were nothing short of daunting in the first year's opinion.
But it was the thought of spending four nights and four days at Chris' aunt and uncle's home that had him the most anxious. He wished Kane was coming with him, but the tiny dragon was already off on his own holiday to Who-Knew-Where – which, Mr. Tiny had told him, was somewhere near Romania.
Now, as Vin finished packing his things into his backpack – aided by Nathan, who had shrunk everything for him, Ezra, and JD in order for them to get it all in their packs – he tried to look forward to the vacation. But adults just made him nervous.
"Everybody ready?" Chris called.
"Yep!" Buck said.
"I think so," came Josiah's reply.
"Me, too," Nathan agreed.
"I will be momentarily," Ezra stated.
"I'm done!" JD announced.
"I guess so," Vin added last.
"Okay, everybody gather around," Chris called and they all joined him at the nightstand beside his bed. Lying on it was what looked like an old wrought iron fireplace poker. The blond grinned at Vin and said, "This is a portkey."
"A what?" Vin asked.
"A portkey," Josiah replied. "Portkeys are objects that have been enchanted so anyone who touches it is transported to a specific location."
Vin frowned slightly. "Looks like a poker."
"It is," Nathan explained. "Portkeys are usually normal-lookin' things that mundanes won't pay attention to."
"What do we do with it?" Vin asked.
"Ya just touch it and you'll be at Aunt Kathy's and Uncle Daniel's house," Buck told him. "Watch." He reached out and touched the iron, and disappeared.
"Me, next!" JD squealed in delight, reaching out and touching the poker, and disappearing as well, backpack and all.
Josiah and Nathan went next, then Ezra, leaving Vin and Chris.
"We could've all gone together," he told Vin with a smile. "And don't worry, everything will be great," he assured the boy. "Now, it's our turn."
Vin reached out at the same time as Chris, their fingers brushing the cool metal, and then they was standing in the living room of a house.
Kathy gave each of the boys a hug, but paused when she reached Vin. She could see he looked a little nervous. "Hello, Vin," she said with a smile, "it's nice to finally meet you. You can call me Aunt Kathy, everyone else does."
"Okay," he said a little shyly.
Then she gave him a hug as well, and he grinned and hugged her back.
"And that's my husband, Daniel," she said. "Uncle Daniel is fine for him."
Vin nodded, noting that Daniel look a great deal like his older brother, Matthew Larabee.
"Chris, why don't you take the boys down to the basement," Daniel said. "We've set up some bunk beds for all of you down there."
"Thanks, Uncle Dan," Chris said, then led the way down the stairs to the basement where there were two double bunk beds, and one with three.
Buck and JD claimed one of the doubles, and Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra took the triple, leaving the other double for Chris and Vin.
Vin glanced around the basement, seeing a few magical symbols, but nowhere near as many as in the classrooms and dorms at school. He did check his pillow, though, and discovered it was just an 'ordinary' one – thank goodness!
Each boy tossed his backpack onto the bed he would be using, then they all headed back up the stairs for supper.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Sitting around the big, oval, wood table in the dining room, they talked as they enjoyed a meal of pot roast, roasted potatoes, green beans, applesauce, and rolls. Vin thought it all tasted even better than what they ate at Horsefeathers, and that food was really, really good. Even Ezra asked questions about what kinds of seasoning Aunt Kathy used and she leaned over and whispered something into his ear. His eyes lit up and he smiled, nodding.
And they each even got to make themselves a small sundae for dessert.
As in the basement, Vin didn't notice a lot of magical symbols in the house, although there were some, but nothing he recognized.
Once they were finished eating, the boys clamored down the stairs to the basement to get ready for bed. Daniel came down with them, then said loudly, "Okay, boys, I wanted to let you know what the game plan is for the long weekend."
Chris and Buck moaned, flopping back onto their bottom bunks, but the others looked at the man attentively.
"Tomorrow is Thanksgiving day, so Kathy will be spending the majority of the morning in the kitchen, cooking. So, after breakfast – since we'd just be in the way – I thought we'd go outside and play some Hoops in the backyard until she's ready for us."
"Yay!" several of the boys cheered.
"Then it's food and, after that, we'll watch the big Quidditch match on television," Daniel added. That was met by more cheers.
"Then we get to eat again, right?" Buck asked hopefully.
Daniel nodded, looking nearly as excited as the boy.
"And no homework on Thanksgiving!" Buck crowed.
"No homework?" JD asked, surprised.
"Friday, you can do some," Daniel told the youngest boy, "but Thursday is a day for relaxing and being grateful for all the good things we have in our lives."
The boys, except JD, nodded their agreement.
"So, Friday," Daniel continued, "breakfast and then homework. Then we thought we'd go to the Village so you can do some Christmas shopping. We'll eat lunch there, then you can go shop for a couple of hours."
"Can we go to the Exploding Tuffet?" Buck asked, nearly bouncing with excitement, which made him look a lot like JD.
"Given the results the last time…" Daniel said sternly, "…I'm not sure that would be a good idea."
Buck and Chris both groaned and turned imploring gazes on the man. "Please?" they said in unison.
"But Uncle Daniel, they have the best jokes and pranks!" Buck added in a lament. "Please, please, please…"
Daniel glanced around, making sure his wife wasn't present, then said quietly, "Well, maybe. We'll see…"
"Cool!" Chris and Buck said in unison.
"Thanks, Uncle Daniel!" Buck added.
Daniel took a deep breath and hoped he didn't regret it. "Anyway," he said, "we'll stop by and see Headmaster Travis for a little bit. He invited us for dinner. Then we'll come back here and you guys can do some more homework before bedtime. Saturday we'll go to Four Corners instead of the Village."
The older boys all nodded excitedly about that.
"What about Sunday?" JD asked.
"Well, if all of you get all your homework done over Friday and Saturday, then on Sunday we'll go up to Wizard's Peak and do some flying. They expect you back at the Academy no later than nine o'clock, so you can get a good night's sleep before classes resume on Monday. But we should be able to get a good flight in, then come back and finish off the Thanksgiving leftovers before you have to go back."
"But we don't have our brooms!" JD said worriedly.
Daniel smiled. "I asked Professor Ko-Jay to send them over; they're all out in the porch stalls."
Vin smiled. He was glad Peso was here, and he was looking forward to going flying. He'd heard some of the other kids talking about Wizard's Peak, where there were obstacles and all kinds of fun things to fly in and around, over and under. He just had to make sure he got all his homework finished by Saturday night.
Thursday, November 26, 1998
The boys slept in an hour longer than they would have at Horsefeathers on a weekend, then took turns in the three bathrooms in the house.
Sitting around the dining room table once more, Vin watched in amazement as the hotcakes made themselves – once Aunt Kathy had set the process in motion with a spell, which he could see parts of, even if he didn't understand how it worked.
The bowl of batter hung in the air above the griddle, a ladle dipping out the thick liquid and pouring it onto the griddle in imaginative patterns. A hotcake turner then turned them at just the right moment, then delivered the finished hotcakes to their plates, one by one.
Vin had no sooner finished one before another one took its place, each of them a different design – a hawk, a buffalo, a fish, a turtle… And then he realized that they were getting hotcakes for each of the five Gilds at Horsefeathers.
By the time they got the last one, a hotcake spider, he was full, but he finished off his milk and orange juice, and ate several of the big strawberries that were sitting in a bowl on the table.
As they rose to head outside, Kathy stopped them at the door, saying, "I think we'll keep your clothes clean." She drew her wand from her apron pocket and pointed it at them, saying, "Vestis Ludus."
A moment later they were all wearing what looked like Hawks Gild Hoops uniforms.
"Cool!" JD shouted, admiring himself as best he could.
"Now, go have fun," she told them. "But save the acrobatics for after your breakfasts have had time to digest!"
The boys streamed out into the backyard where Daniel had just finished setting up some hoops for them. They weren't as tall as they would be in a real match, but they were tall enough to allow the boys to race around the backyard on their brooms, tossing a quaffle and dodging soft bludgers that exploded into white, sticky froth when they struck someone.
Josiah and Nathan took the Beater positions, while Buck and Chris remained Chasers, along with JD. Ezra was given the job of Keeper, and Vin that of Seeker.
Daniel used his Quidditch-Team-in-a-Box to give them opponents to play against, leaving the setting relatively low, since there were several non-players on the boys' team.
Once they were engaged, and beginning to score, he walked back inside to see how Kathy was doing.
"Need any help?" he asked.
"No," she replied, "everything's under control. I love magic." And in the kitchen knives were chopping, spoons stirring, and ingredients hopping into bowls and pans as needed. Kathy kept an eye on things, adding a dash of salt here, and spices there, but otherwise allowing the magic to keep everything in motion.
Daniel watched for a few moments, his admiration for his wife clear, then he shook his head and went back outside. He'd never been able to master Kitchen Magic like she had, and he never would.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
It was close to one o'clock when Vin finally spotted the Golden Snitch. He leaned over Peso's handle and took off after it.
He looped to the left, then to the right, and then turned into a tight corkscrew maneuver as he chased the small, winged-ball, but it remained just out of reach.
Vin stared at the small wings as they beat so fast he could hardly see them. It reminded him of a humming bird's wings. Then he saw them hesitate for a fraction of a second before the Snitch shot straight up in the air. But somehow he'd anticipated the move, pulling Peso up so he was right on top of the Snitch when it changed direction.
Reaching out, he grabbed it.
"Way to go, Vin!" Buck called, doing a backward loop on his broom with a loud, "Whoo-who!"
"Nice!" Nathan enthused.
"An expertly performed maneuver, Vin," Ezra added proudly.
"We won! We won!" JD shrieked as he roared past Vin. "Whoo-who!"
"You've gotta go out for the team next year!" Chris told him as he raced past Vin, doing spirals.
"Hey! You boys hungry yet?" Daniel called out.
"Yeah!" they chorused.
"Okay, then let's get over here," he called, waving them to the back porch.
While they boys flew over and returned their brooms to the stalls, Daniel returned the opposition team to their box, then drew his wand and pointed it at the boys, saying, "Tergo Mundus."
A moment later they were all clean and dressed once more in their regular clothing.
"I do love magic," Ezra stated as he led the way inside, smoothing down his clothing.
Kathy had Buck and Chris set the table by hand while the others began carrying in bowls and plates of food. The doorbell chimed, then a British-accented male voice announced, "Professor Wells and her great-niece, Casey Wells, have arrived."
Hearing the announcement, Vin called, "I'll get it!" and ran to the door to open it. Ms. Nettie smiled down at him as Casey yelled, "Hi, JD!" and rushed inside past him.
"Hi, Ms. Nettie," Vin said, giving the older woman a welcoming hug. "We didn't know you was comin'."
"Were coming," she corrected automatically. "And normally I would be eating with Mrs. Potter, but she's visiting her daughter and son-in-law in California this year to see her new grand-daughter," she explained as she came in and Vin closed the door behind her. "Your aunt was kind enough to invite us to join you."
They walked into the dining room just as Daniel carried in the turkey and set it in the center of the table.
"Everything looks delicious, dear," Ms. Nettie told Kathy.
"Thanks," she replied, grinning. Then, glancing at the boys, she said, "Okay everybody, grab a seat."
Vin ended up between Ms. Nettie and Chris, which was right where he wanted to be. Buck was on the other side of Chris, and Casey between her great-aunt and JD, which was right where she wanted to be, too.
JD didn't look all too happy about the arrangements, but the food quickly captured his attention so he wasn't thinking too much about the seating arrangements any more.
Daniel used his wand to put the carving set to work, slicing up the turkey and delivering those slices to each empty plate. Before long they were all eating and talking, although the boys remained on their best behavior with Professor Wells at the table.
Vin tried a little bit of everything – turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry pudding, green beans, and poached pears in cinnamon sauce – and he was stuffed by the time he finished.
Conversation flowed throughout the meal, the boys eventually letting their guard down and talking about classes and Hoops while the adults exchanged bits of conversation in the lulls.
After the meal they all settled in the living room where Chris and Buck broke out a game that the others crowded around to play. It was magically driven, and Vin found he enjoyed just watching the others play, especially when the miniature Knights and Wizards figures – no more than two inches tall – did battle on a three foot square piece of landscape that continually changed as the characters went about their quest.
The three adults retreated to a corner of the living room where they could talk and enjoy their coffee.
After an hour or so, Vin wandered over to where Ms. Nettie was sitting, chatting with the two adults. Kathy glanced over at Vin, then said, "I think I'd better set the dishes to washing," as she rose.
"I'll give you a hand," Daniel offered. He glanced at Professor Wells and asked, "Would you like some more coffee, Professor?"
"That would be wonderful," she agreed.
When the two Larabees had left, Vin climbed up onto the sofa and sat down next to Ms. Nettie.
"Something on your mind, Vin?" she asked him.
"Care to share it with me?"
Vin sighed softly, then looked up at the older woman and said, "I was just thinkin' about m' foster father."
"Not good thoughts, given your expression," she stated.
He shook his head. "D' ya think he's still hurtin' the other kids?" he asked quietly.
She scooted closer to him and put her arm around his shoulders. "No, Vin, he isn't. We reported him to the authorities. There was an investigation, and all of the children in his care were moved to new foster homes."
Vin's shoulder sagged as relief flooded through him. He'd been thinking about Mr. Madden more and more as it got closer to what would have been one year living with the man, but he'd been able to escape in September, when Ms. Nettie had come and got him, sending him to Horsefeathers instead.
"'M glad," he said. "He was really mean."
"Well, he won't be able to hurt any more children," Ms. Nettie promised him. "Now, don't you think it's time you went over and played a little with your friends?"
Vin looked up at her a little shyly and shook his head. "Thought I'd keep y' company 'til Aunt Kathy an' Uncle Daniel come back."
She smiled down at him and gave him a squeeze. "I'd like that," she told him.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
The boys played Knights and Wizards for a couple of hours, then Daniel turned on the Thanksgiving Day Quidditch match between the Southwest Javelinas and the Northeast Werewolves.
The game was actually more exciting than Vin had expected, and he was quickly drawn in, sliding off the sofa and joining the other boys on the floor in front of the big screen television as they cheered on their 'local' team.
Daniel joined the boys on the floor, giving Kathy and Nettie time to chat about the boys, especially Chris, Buck, and Vin.
Nettie told her about Vin's unusual gift of hearing and seeing magic, and about Chris and Vin's trip into the blond's bracelet, where Chris had seen his deceased family.
Kathy gasped softly at that news, but the kids didn't hear her over the noise of the game. "I've always wondered about that bracelet," she said thoughtfully. "I didn't know how it could've survived when everything else was just… gone."
"It was a last ditch attempt to protect themselves, and Chris and Buck," Nettie told her.
"But aren't they stuck there, then?"
Nettie nodded. "They'll realize that too, at some point."
"And when they do?" Kathy asked worriedly.
"I suspect as soon as they're able to convince Chris to let them go, they'll pass over as they should have."
"I hope so," Kathy said quietly, worrying her lower lip.
Seeing the woman's anxiety, Nettie told her, "I doubt there's any chance they could become corrupted."
Kathy nodded, but she was still a little worried. Souls trapped on the earthly plane were often corrupted, becoming evil monsters that preyed on living humans. But she was also sure that Matthew and Rachael had been careful. Still, it was something she and her husband would have to monitor carefully.
"I thought you should know," Nettie added.
"I appreciate it," Kathy replied. "We'll be sure to keep tabs on when Chris uses it, and what happens while he's there. As for Vin seeing magic… I'm not sure there's anything we can do about that."
Nettie smiled. "No, there isn't. But it might lure him into trouble once he starts to figure out what things are."
Kathy giggled. "I can imagine."
When the game came to an end – the Javelinas winning by over three hundred points – Nettie and Casey thanked Kathy and Daniel and headed home.
The boys retreated to the backyard to play some more Hoops, reenacting some of the more spectacular moves they had seen during the game, but luckily none of them broke anything.
As it was getting dark, Daniel called the boys inside to eat a small dinner meal, then they retreated to the basement to talk about the things boys talked about until their bedtime. They were all so full, and so tired from the activities of the day, they fell asleep quickly, even though Chris had wanted to go visit his family and tell them Happy Thanksgiving.
Friday, November 27, 1998
The boys slept in a little on Friday, then got up, dressed, and had breakfast before settling in around the big dining room table to work on their homework.
The three third-years took over one end of the table, and Vin and JD the other. Josiah and Ezra took the open space in-between the two ends, but on opposite sides of the table, so they could spread out their books as much as they wanted.
And they all stayed right there until lunchtime, when Daniel called them over to the fireplace and tossed a green powder into the flames, turning them the same shade. "After you, boys," he said. "Our table is ready."
Chris and Buck grinned at each other and stepped into the hearth, and disappeared.
Vin gasped, his eyes rounding with surprise.
"Fireplaces in the wizard world are often connected on what we call the Hearth Network," Josiah told the younger boy. "That green stuff is Floo Powder; it connects one fireplace to another."
"It's perfectly safe," Ezra added. "Mother prefers this mode of travel to any other." He reached out and took JD's hand, then they followed after Chris and Buck.
Josiah and Nathan went next.
Kathy stuck her hand out and Vin took it, stepping into the fireplace with her, his eyes starting to squeeze shut as he did. He'd expected it to feel hot, but it didn't and, a moment later – after a trip that looked like the Stargate team traveling between gates – they stepped out of a large fireplace inside a small restaurant. They walked over to join the other boys as Daniel arrived.
"We have your table ready," called a waitress and the group went over and sat down, each boy picking up the menu lying in front of him and looking for what he wanted for lunch.
Vin frowned, having left his glasses on the dining room table.
"I'm gonna get a cheese burger and French fries," Chris said quietly next to him. "They're really good here."
Vin nodded, his expression grateful.
After a few minutes the waitress returned and took their orders, using her wand to deliver their drinks on the spot. Their food flew out of the kitchen on two round serving trays, each plate spinning off and landing right in front of them.
"Wow," Vin breathed.
Kathy smiled. "It is a little different, isn't it?"
Vin nodded. "But it's cool," he added. He was sitting between Chris and Josiah, and he attacked his cheeseburger with youthful abandon, glancing around to see what kinds of magic he could see. There was a lot, but he had no idea what any of it meant, except for a circle of silence around one of the tables in the back.
Once they had all finished, they headed outside, where Vin immediately saw that he was looking at lots more magical symbols than he usually saw at school – except in the Defense building – and on nearly everything he could see.
The Village was a small community, with one main street laid out in a large octagon around a central park area where people in the community could come for meetings and events. The entire octagon was lined with shops and businesses, the homes of residents taking up the rest of the few streets that lay behind the square for a few additional blocks in each direction.
On the far eastern side of town were several traditional hogans, wickiups, and tipis, as well as mud-brick homes, which was where many of the tribal members lived.
Kathy handed each boy a small bag of coins, watching as they opened them and peered inside. "Vin, do you know anything about wizard money?" she asked.
He shook his head.
Daniel grinned. "Well, in many places they use the Galleon, Sickle, Knut system, but here in the US, and in Canada, we use Wands, Swords, Cups, and Pentacles. The symbols come from old cards, and the coins are made of gold, silver, bronze, and copper. We also have what we call Scratch, which is kind of like a mundane penny, but it's made of iron. It's pretty easy to remember the conversions, too. Ten iron Scratch is a copper Pentacle. Ten Pentacles make a bronze Cup; ten Cups is a silver Sword, and ten Swords is a gold Wand."
"In England, Europe, and some of South America the system is more complicated. There, twenty-nine bronze Knuts make a silver Sickle, and seventeen Sickles make a single gold Galleon," Kathy told him.
"But that way is way more complicated," Buck told Vin. "Stick to our currency, then nobody can cheat you."
Vin nodded, already more than a little confused.
"It's even worse in Asia where they mix the two systems with their own historical one," Josiah muttered.
"So, you all have your stipends or allowances. We'll meet back at the bronze basilisk in the park in three hours," Daniel told them. "I suggest that you stay together in pairs or small groups as much as possible. With the holidays approaching, there will be a lot of pickpockets out and about."
The boys nodded and headed off, chatting excitedly amongst themselves.
Kathy and Daniel watched them go, then she glanced at her husband and frowned. "Daniel, you didn't tell them to stay out of the Exploding Tuffet…"
"Oh," he replied, trying to sound like he was surprised that he hadn't remembered to do that. "Uh, I guess I forgot…"
Her light brown eyes narrowed. "Mmm-hmm," she said, shaking her head, sending her shoulder-length brown hair dancing around her face. "Fine, but you're going to clean up all the pranks this year."
"Okay," he said rather guilty, then grinned. "Hopefully there won't be a bubbling mud moat in the basement this year."
She rolled her eyes. "Boys," she moaned.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
As Vin made his way toward the bronze basilisk at the center of the park with Chris and Buck, he smiled. He had found presents for two of his friends, as well as ones for Ms. Nettie, Mrs. Potter, Mr. Tiny, and Chris' aunt and uncle. They were all in the same small bag that held what was left of his stipend. The bag, Chris had told him, was a bag of holding, so they could keep their purchases safe and secret until Christmas. And all he had to do to get the money out was put his hand in the bag and desire the amount he needed. It appeared in his hand.
Vin hadn't noticed at first that each bag had their name embroidered on it in gold and silver thread, but he'd seen that when he'd fished into his bag for coins to pay for his first gift. So now, when Kathy asked for their bags, he wasn't worried that they'd get lost or confused when she placed them all into her handbag, which had to be a handbag of holding, too, given that all their bags fit easily into it.
The more he learned about magic the better he thought it was.
"Okay, boys, we're off to visit Headmaster Travis," Daniel told them, leading the way out of the park and down a street that had several large Victorian homes spaced along it, all of them surrounded by big yards and trees. Vin knew this had to be the rich part of town and he felt a little out of place being there.
They turned and started up the walk toward one of the largest homes on the street. But before they reached the front door, it was opened by Mary, who smiled and waved at them, calling, "Hi! Come inside!"
Josiah hurried ahead, holding the door open for the rest of them as he stood beside the pretty blonde girl. Inside, Headmaster Travis waited for them. He smiled as he said, "Welcome, and happy Thanksgiving."
"Happy Thanksgiving, Headmaster," the boys chorused back.
"Why don't we head out to the backyard? Dinner ought to be waiting for us, along with some entertaining history."
The boys exchanged glances, none of them sure what he meant by 'entertaining history.' But once they stepped outside, into a protected bubble of light and warmth, they saw what Travis had been referring to. There was a long table, laden with food, and nearby an old, gnarled tree with a kindly face. Spread out at the base of the trees was an abundance of fruits and vegetables.
Vin stopped dead in his tracks, staring at the smiling tree, who met his eyes and smiled wider. "Hello, young man," the old tree said, his voice a little creaky with age.
"Uh, h-hello," Vin stuttered in reply.
"Come on," Chris said, taking Vin's arm and leading him to the table, which was laid out so they were all facing the old Tree Man, who had the entire other side of the table to himself. And he needed it, too; he was huge.
After they were all seated, Travis said a blessing and they began to eat, the Tree Man occasionally popping a whole pumpkin into his mouth, or a handful of apples.
Travis waited until the boys were settled and eating before he said, "It's important that we hear and understand the story of the first Thanksgiving, which took place a long, long time ago, in what we now call New England. "Hickory, would you do us the honor?"
The Tree Man nodded. "It will be my pleasure," he replied in the same creaky voice. "I don't know if this is just the way it happened, but I do know this story is true… In the long, long ago, new men and women came to these shores from England and other places in Europe and the world. They had learned to do things in their own particular ways, based on the places that they had come from, and they tried to do the same things here…
"But this was a new land, and the Land here did not know the ways of these new men and women…
"They tried and they tried, and they failed and they failed, again and again. And, as Autumn began to give way to her brother, Winter, these newcomers began to realize that they would likely starve, as the Land had not yielded her bounty for them.
"They had not been able to grow enough food to survive the winter, even though some of the people living in this Land had tried to show them the proper ways to plant, but they had dismissed them…"
The boys continued to eat, but their attention stayed focused on the Tree Man and his story.
"But the peoples here knew the truth. They had become good friends of the Land. They did not want to see the newcomers die, although some among them thought this might be for the best…
"The people here knew that there were some among these strange-looking newcomers who were magical folks, just as they were. They reached out to these people, revealing to them the wisdom of the animals, and of my people, and of the Land herself, which we had taught them in the longer long, long ago…
"Now, Old Man Winter did not like this, as he had hoped to kill many of them as he could. He did not like the way they treated his Mother, you see…
"The peoples here heard him muttering his plans to himself, and they knew that when the pale-skinned ones felt the first cramps of hunger, and the first real bite of Winter's cold, they would be more willing to listen to what they had to say, and so they waited…
"And when that time finally came, as they knew it would, they carried baskets full of their harvest into the villages of the newcomers, who were much amazed by the bounty set before them.
"Some among them realized that they had been wrong not to listen, and they took the food and they prepared it, inviting those who had brought it to them to join them. And the people did.
"And those among the magical folk came as well, and they all gave thanks together for the bounty of their Mother, the Land, and for friendship, and for the gifts and talents each of us carry, and, of course, for magic…
"But over the years since the long, long ago the story has changed, and those who had been helped began to think that they were the ones who had known the truth all along, that they had helped those who lived here first, but they are wrong.
"It was the wisdom of the Land, and the cooperation of the people who saved those pale-faced settlers that cold winter in the long, long ago. And so we come together here, now, to celebrate that ancient wisdom, kept alive now by the wizards and the witches, and the mundanes who have the wisdom and the open hearts to hear it and know it as their own.
"This is the way it happened, in the long, long ago, when we all sat down together as one family. Keep it in your hearts, and feast on it, and you will grow in wisdom."
"Thank you, Hickory," Headmaster Travis said, bowing his head to the old Tree Man.
Hickory smiled and dipped his head in reply, then popped another pumpkin in his mouth and crunched it happily.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
After they had finished eating, Headmaster Travis and the two adults went inside for hot, spiced cider while the boys stayed outside to play with Hickory, who used his twig-like fingers to grab them and toss them into the air, catching them again before they hit the ground.
When it grew dark, they used the big fireplace in Headmaster Travis' home to return home on the Hearth Network.
Once there, the boys settled in around the dining room table once again, working on more of their homework before being sent off to bed.
Saturday, November 28, 1998
Like the day before, the boys slept in an extra hour, then got up, ate, and worked on their homework. JD and Josiah both finished all of theirs before they used the Hearth Network to go to a restaurant in Four Corners.
Vin followed Chris' lead once again, this time getting a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, with a bowl of tomato soup and a cup of hot chocolate.
After they ate, they walked out and waited for a magical taxi to pick them up. Vin thought it looked more like a minivan made up to look like a taxi, but it was covered with magical symbols and able to weave in and out of traffic, unseen by mundane drivers.
Daniel had the driver, an older Native American man, give them a quick tour of the small city, which included them taking off and flying over most of it.
Vin thought that was the best part of all, and he wondered which of the many symbols on the taxi was responsible for that ability. He hoped he would know that one day.
At the end of the tour, the taxi touched down the far northern edge of town, stopping to let them out at the entrance to what looked like a strange, smallish, multi-sided, but almost circular wood building. There was what seemed to be a cap on the top of it, and it was slightly crooked.
Daniel paid the driver, then led the way to the structure and entered, crossing the space to an elaborate design painted on the wall. He touched several places on the painting, and a second door appeared. When they stepped past that door they were in what looked like a cul de sac neighborhood, but it was lined with shops with names like Wand World, Bangup's Broom Barn, The Enchanted Loom Ladies Apparel, and Lady Cynthia's Candy Emporium. Vin stared at it all, his mouth slightly open.
Buck giggled and punched his arm. "You're catchin' flies, Vin."
The younger boy quickly snapped his mouth shut as he continued to take it all in. There were even a few Tree People, like Hickory – one of them apparently taking a nap – and several other kinds if magical folk Vin recognized from his books, and many more that he didn't recognize at all.
"What is this place?" he breathed.
Kathy smiled and patted his back. "This is Huta Raputa Circle, Vin," she said. "This is where you'll come to pick up all the things you need for school next year, as well as normal magical supply needs. If it's magical, it's here," she told him, then looked around at the other boys, seeing that JD was just as amazed as Vin was. The others she knew, had all been here several times before, most commonly with her and Daniel.
She fished into her handbag and handed out the boys' bags of holding, then said, "Okay, off you go. We'll meet you at the Mer Soda Shop in three hours, okay?"
There were nods and "yes, ma'am" replies before the boys drifted off to finish their Christmas shopping.
"And stay out of the Jantar Jadu shop!" Daniel called after them.
"We will!" Buck called back.
"Do you think they'll be safe?" Kathy asked her husband.
"Of course," he replied, but he didn't sound completely convinced. Things were changing, and he could feel the aura tension that hung over the marketplace as well as his wife could. "Well, maybe we ought to keep an eye on them…"
Kathy nodded. "Come on, I know an easy way."
She led her husband along the street until she spotted what she wanted. A Merman was standing, leaning back against a tree, watching the people as they went about their business. She walked up to him and smiled.
"Hail and welcome," he said to them with a smile. "What can I do for you, pretty lady?"
"Can you by chance blow a Knowing Bubble?" she asked him.
He inclined his head. "I can."
"We'd like to keep track of a group of boys here from Horsefeathers," Daniel told him.
"Hold them in your thoughts, dear people," he instructed, then lifted his wooden blow pipe and slowly began to blow a glass bubble. It grew in size until it was about six inches in diameter, then it pinched off and floated up in the air. Inside the bubble they could see each of the boys as they shopped.
Daniel smiled and dug into his pocket for a Wand, which he handed to the Merman.
"Kind, and generous as well," he said, pleased. "It has been my pleasure."
"Thank you," Kathy said, reaching out to capture the glass bubble. She carried it in her hands as they made their way to the Soda Shop, finding a table to wait at and keeping tabs on the boys in the bubble while they chatted to pass the time.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Vin glanced over at Chris and asked, "What's Jantar Jadu?"
"It's a dark magic shop," Chris said, glancing down at his bracelet.
That surprised the younger boy. "Dark wizards have shops?"
"While the practice of dark magic is frowned upon in polite society, many wizards and witches use aspects of it to enhance their looks, further their own personal gain, or rise in status," Ezra explained.
"Normal people?" Vin asked.
"Yeah," Chris said, but he didn't sound happy about it. "Anybody can be a dark wizard, they don't get in trouble unless they break the law."
"Who makes the laws?" JD wanted to know.
"The BMA," Buck answered.
"Huh?" JD asked.
"The Bureau of Magical Affairs," Josiah told him, "which is the law-making and enforcing arm of magical government. And the OML – the Office of Magical Life – is the governing body of wizards and witches, with a president, a vice-president, and lots and lots of directors who are kind of like mundane senators and representatives."
"Wow," JD said. "When do we learn about all that?"
"In your History and Theory of Magic classes," the older boy told him.
The boys began to break off to do their shopping, but they stayed in pairs or larger groups so no one was ever by himself.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
In Cyncarrabba's Crystal Emporium Vin found the perfect Christmas gift for Kane – a tiny pewter dragon whose tail was wound around a tiny pillar on top of which sat a small, round, multi-faceted crystal, that reflected the sunlight streaming into the shop into hundreds of tiny rainbows. The dragon had his wings open, looking as if he were protecting his crystal. It even kind of looked like Kane.
"How much is that one?" Vin asked the shop keeper, pointing to the dragon.
"Two Swords," the older woman said, smiling down at Vin, "but for you, sweetheart, one Sword and seven Cups."
"Okay," Vin said, opening his bag and thinking about the coins he needed. A moment later he felt them in his hand. Handing them to the woman he asked, "Do ya wrap?"
"I can," she said, taking the dragon from the case and setting it on the countertop. Taking her wand she pointed it at the little statue and said, "Obvolvo," and it was immediately covered in festive green paper with a red bow.
"Cool," Vin breathed, then looked up at the woman and smiled. "Thank you, ma'am."
"You are very welcome, young man," she said, handing him the gift.
Vin took it and added it to his bag, then turned to look for Josiah, who was there getting a gift for Ezra. The only gift Vin had left to get was one for Chris, but he wasn't at all sure what he should get his 'brother.' He'd managed to ask Buck about it, but he hadn't been much help, telling Vin that Chris hadn't really liked Christmas before, because it reminded him too much of his family.
But that was different this year, now that Chris could go visit them once a month.
Josiah, Nathan, JD, and Ezra hadn't been able to help him either. He he was now thinking that he should have asked Aunt Kathy and Uncle Daniel.
"You all done?" Josiah asked as he came up to join Vin.
Vin nodded. "I need t' find Aunt Kathy an' Uncle Daniel."
"Why?" Josiah asked, looking worried.
"Maybe they know what I can get Chris."
"Ah, okay," Josiah said, nodding his understanding. "Well, they're probably in the Soda Shop, waiting on us. Come on, I know where it is."
They hurried along the street toward the shop, finding the couple right where they had been waiting since they had come in.
"You boys all finished?" Daniel asked them, surprised.
"I am," Josiah said, "but Vin doesn't know what to get Chris."
"D'ya know what I can get 'im?" Vin asked them hopefully.
The couple exchanged glances and Kathy said, "Well, anything we come up with is going to be… well, stuff from an adult's point of view. You should get him something that feels right to you, something that comes from your heart."
Vin frowned a little as he thought about that, but then he nodded slowly. He would just have to keep looking until he found something. "Okay," he said.
The two boys headed back out, Josiah to keep Vin company on his quest.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Kathy and Daniel watched them go, then smiled at each other. "He's a real sweetheart," she said.
Daniel smiled again, knowing his wife had just added another lost sheep to her growing herd. He glanced down at glass bubble, checking on each of the boys.
He spotted Buck and Chris in Eggelburpt's Magical Games Shop, the two of them carefully studying a display that the man couldn't quite make out, but he did spot a shifty older man in the near distance, watching the two boys.
Daniel stood abruptly and headed for the exit, Kathy scrambling to grab the bubble and follow him. She caught up to him outside as Daniel lifted his arm and whistled sharply.
A taxi and a messenger rushed to where they stood.
"Sorry," Daniel told the taxi driver, "I need an instant message sent."
The taxi driver grumbled as he pulled away from the curb, but the messenger smiled broadly and asked, "What can I do for you?"
"I need to send an instant public notice," Daniel said.
"Eggelburpt's Magical Games Shop."
The messenger pulled what looked like a Snitch from the leather bag he carried over his shoulder and pressed it to Daniel's forehead. "Just think your message, please."
Daniel did so and the wings on the small metallic ball began to flutter.
The messenger took his wand and pointed it at the metallic ball and said, "Mitte ad Harry Vetch, Eggelburpt's Magical Games Shop," and the ball immediately disappeared.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Chris and Buck were still studying the newest version of Knights and Wizards when a loud shrieking sound announced the arrival of an instant public message. They looked up, worried that it might be aimed at them, but the rocketing, winged metal ball stopped in front of an older man who had been slowly inching his way closer to the two boys.
Daniel's voice roared, "Take one more step closer to those boys, Harry Vetch, and I'll turn you into a river toad where you stand!"
Chris' eyes went wide and Buck nearly doubled over, laughing.
Harry Vetch's face turned beet red and he slunk quickly from the store.
Its message delivered, the winged-ball headed back to its owner.
"Who was Uncle Daniel pissed at?" Chris asked Buck.
"I don't know," the boy replied, wiping tears from his eyes, "but whoever he is, Uncle Daniel sure doesn't like him!"
The two boys went back to their shopping.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
The ball flew back to the messenger and announced, "Message delivered."
Daniel paid the man six Pentacles, and added three more as a tip.
"A pleasure," the messenger said, tipping his cap and walking off to see if he could find other customers.
"Care to explain?" Kathy asked, and Daniel told her who he'd seen.
"I thought Harry had moved to Idaho," Kathy said, remembering the tricky boy she and Daniel had gone to school with. Harry had rarely applied himself to anything, except stealing, and even there he'd been too lazy to get really good at it. The last she'd heard, he'd been picking pockets in Boise.
The couple returned to the Soda Shop to wait for the boys to return.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
A little over an hour later, all of the boys had made it to the Soda Shop where they were now enjoying a drink of their choice. Most had opted for the Shop's famous "Volcano," a float made with orange sherbet in ginger ale, with a touch of magical fireworks.
Everyone had finished their Christmas shopping, except Vin, who still hadn't found Chris something. He had been a little worried about that until Josiah had told him he would have a chance to do a little shopping before Christmas, since their Christmas break was two weeks long – from Monday, December 21st to Friday, January 1st.
After they finished their drinks, the family took a taxi home, the boys – especially Vin – enjoying the rollicking ride that was half on the ground and half in the air.
When they got home, the boys put their bags of holding up and then gathered around the dining room table to work on their homework again, JD helping Vin and Josiah helping the others so that they were all finished with everything by the time dinner was ready.
"We're all done, Uncle Daniel!" Buck announced as they tucked in to eat more of the Thanksgiving leftovers.
"You are?" he asked, seeing seven heads nodding in reply. "Well then, I guess a trip to Wizard's Peak is called for."
The boys cheered.
Sunday, November 29, 1998
The boys woke earlier than usual, all of them excited about the upcoming trip. They made sure they had all their things packed, and made their beds before heading to the bathrooms to get ready for the day.
After an extra-large breakfast, they grabbed their brooms and gathered on the back porch where Kathy had set a pitcher on a small wooden table. The pitcher was another portkey, and they all crowded around to touch it at the same time.
A moment later they were standing just outside the entrance to Wizard's Peak, an amusement park for wizards and witches. Daniel paid for their tickets to enter and they hurried in, all of the boys ready to have some fun.
Vin quickly discovered that Wizard's Peak reminded him a lot of Wonderland Amusement Park, a place his grandfather had taken him the year he'd died. There were roller-coasters and other rides, as well as places to eat, and even magical animals performing tricks. But the main attraction was the huge obstacle course that had been set up on the sides and peak of the mountain. Individuals and groups were spelled as they entered, ensuring that their brooms stayed within the designated confines of the course, but each person raced through the course at the speed of their choice.
Kathy let Daniel and the boys run the course first at 'breakneck speed,' then she did it with them at 'insanity speed,' which was even faster. All of the boys had a new respect for the woman when they had finished that particular run.
They took breaks from the obstacle course to ride other attractions and grab snacks. And after ten times around the course, they called it a day, returning home where the boys showered and changed, then ate dinner.
They spent the last couple of hours of their vacation relaxing in the living room until it was time for them to return to the Academy.
Kathy gave each of them a hug and a kiss, and Daniel a high-five, before they touched the pitcher and headed back to school. Chris and Vin were the last to go, and Vin smiled up at Kathy and said, "I had a lot 'a fun… Thanks fer lettin' me come."
"You're welcome any time, Vin," she told her. "And we'll see you again at Christmas."
"Really?" he said.
"Of course!" she replied, giving him his hug and kiss. "You boys will all be here four days, just like this time, or longer, if you want to."
"I'll see what we want to do and let you know," Chris told her.
"Okay, but you know they're all welcome for the whole vacation, if you want."
"I know," Chris said, giving his aunt a hug back.
Then he and Vin reached out together and touched the pitcher, finding themselves back in the circle of the beds. They took a few minutes to unpack and get ready for classes the next day, then went off to get ready for bed.
Once the lights went off, Chris tiptoed over to Vin's bed and climbed in. He had already asked Vin while they had been at Wizard's Peak if he wanted to go with him to visit his family that night, and Vin had said yes.
A moment later, Buck climbed in with them as well, which made Chris jump a little in surprise.
"I think I know how t' get Buck there, too," Vin explained to his 'big brother.'
Chris grinned. "Really?"
"I'll try," Vin promised.
"What do I do?" Buck said, a little nervous about the upcoming trip.
"Uh, just think purple," Vin told him.
"Purple?" Buck echoed.
"Okay," he replied as he lay down with his head toward Vin's trunk, and his feet between Vin and Chris' heads, dangling off Vin's pillow. But that position allowed him hold on to each of their hands, and he closed his eyes and tried to think purple.
Vin closed his eyes, too, thinking about the bracelet, Chris' family, the stones, and the purple path. He felt the familiar tingle and, a moment later they were all three standing on the purple path, surrounded by purple flowers that curled among the bushes growing under the pines.
Buck glanced around. "Hey, I know this place!"
"It's exactly like it was… before," Chris said.
They started to walk along the path, but as they did, Buck began to slowly fade.
"Hey, what's happening?" he yelped, a little disconcerted that he would see through himself.
Chris and Vin stopped.
"I don't know," Vin replied, glancing around worriedly.
"Maybe you have to go with Vin," Chris said.
Vin reached out and took Buck's hand and they started off again, but after a few more steps the older boy faded more.
"I know!" Vin said, turning his back to Buck. "Ya gotta go piggyback!"
"But I'm too big for you to carry," he said.
"Try," Chris told him.
Buck wrapped his arms around Vin's shoulders and hopped up, wrapping his legs around the smaller boy's middle. Vin bent over nearly double, but he was able to waddle forward slowly, carrying Buck on his back the rest of the way to the house.
When they reached the door, Chris knocked and Rachael opened it. "Chris!" she said, gathering him into a hug. Then she saw Buck.
"Buck! How did you get here?" she asked, giving him a hug as well.
"Vin carried me piggyback!" he said, hugging her back.
"Brilliant!" Sarah shouted as she slipped past her mom and grabbed Vin's hands and swung him around. "You're a very smart boy!"
"But how'd it work?" Chris asked, but a moment later Matthew and Adam where there as well, the man quickly herding the boys into the house and closing the door behind them. Chris frowned, noting the worried expression that had crossed his father's face.
"What's wrong, Dad?"
Matthew shot a look at his wife, but said, "Nothing, son, we're just glad to see you boys. Smart thinking, Vin."
"How'd it work?" Vin asked, thinking Chris had asked a good question.
Matthew thought for a moment, then said, "Well, we made the purple path for a single person, so when you carried Buck here, the path couldn't tell that it was you carrying Buck, it just registered a single person, which is what it expects. Once you're in the house you're all safe."
The three boys visited for a while, Buck playing pony for Adam, who sat on his back, laughing. They told the others about their vacation, and Sarah sighed loudly and flopped back against the sofa. "Oh, I miss Wizard's Peak! You have to run the course at triple-insanity-speed one of these times, it's amazing!"
Rachael nodded her agreement.
"Which is two speeds too fast for me," Matthew admitted.
"I only liked it because I was playing Hoops professionally," Rachael told him, then she glanced at the clock on the wall. "Oh, dear, it's time you boys headed back."
"But it hasn't been an hour," Chris nearly wailed.
"It'll take you a little longer to get back with there being three of you," Rachael told him, then glanced at Vin and added, "Thank you, Vin, for bringing Buck."
"Yeah," Buck said, tickling Adam, "this is great! Can I come back again next month at Christmas?"
"If Vin can get you here," Sarah told him.
"I'll do m' best," Vin promised.
The boys got hugs from everyone, then headed back, Buck once again riding piggyback on Vin. "This'll get easier as you get bigger," he told the first year.
"Not if y' get bigger, too!" Vin huffed. "Think 'bout Horsefeathers," he told the other two and, a few moments later, they opened their eyes to find themselves lying on Vin's bed.
The first year moaned, "You're heavy, Buck!"
"Sorry," he said, sitting up and smiling. "That was cool!"
"Yeah," Chris replied, "but something felt… wrong." He glanced over at Vin. "Did you feel it?"
"I think so," he replied.
"It seemed great to me," Buck said. "I sure have missed 'em, too."
"I know," Chris said. "And I'm glad you can go, but it was different this time."
"We better get back to our beds," Buck said. "Thanks, Vin."
"'Night, Buck," Vin replied as the boy slid off the bed and returned to his own. "Whatdaya think's wrong?" he asked Chris, who didn't seem inclined to leave. He settled against the older boy, his arm flung over Chris' chest.
"I don't know for sure, but I know something's wrong. Dad looked kind of worried."
"Maybe we can find out next month."
"Maybe," Chris said, knowing he was going to worry over it until then.
"That was a great Thanksgiving," Vin said, giving Chris a squeeze. "'M glad I could go."
"Yeah, it was," Chris agreed, closing his eyes and accepting the comfort Vin was offering. "Just wait 'til Christmas…"
"Why aren't we spending the whole vacation there?"
"Me and Buck probably will," Chris said, sounding more than a little disappointed about that. "But it's really cool here when we're on vacation and still on campus. You can do whatever you want, and there's lots of cool magical creatures who come to visit, and the library's open, and—"
"Can't ya ask yer aunt an' uncle if y' can stay this year?"
"I guess so," Chris said. "Maybe they'll let us… They just like to have time with just the two of us, too, but we're not little kids anymore…"
"I will," Chris promised, turning his head so it was pressed up against Vin's. "'Night, Vin."
"'Night, Chris," Vin mumbled, sleep pulling both boys into dreams where they were racing around huge Christmas trees on their brooms… But in Chris' dreams a shadow hung in the corners of his awareness, slowly creeping closer.
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