The Sugar Quill
Author: Seldes Katne (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Spirit Song  Chapter: Chapter One
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Part I.

“But it’s my fault,” whispered Neville Longbottom, staring at the woven rectangle of Native American designs.

“Don’t blame yourself, Neville.”  Professor Sprout leaned forward and touched Neville on the shoulder.  “I doubt very much that you caused what happened.”  She too glanced at the wall hanging.  “I certainly didn’t know that it could do that, and it’s been in my family for years.”

Teacher and student stood in Sprout’s office.  Behind her desk, next to a photograph of her father, hung a weaving with a navy blue background that sported a red, white, and black line design of something that looked vaguely human, but with a misshapen body and long hair.  Neville stared at it and shivered.

Sprout herself felt no less unnerved.  For as long as she could remember, the weaving had shown a set of lines and ovals forming what her father had called a bear.  Now the picture was completely different.

She and Neville turned at the knock on the office door.  Headmaster Albus Dumbledore entered.  “Sylvana, I thought you should know that I’ve sent for a specialist in the area of magical items,” he told Sprout.  “Considering the origin of this weaving, I contacted the American embassy to ask for assistance.  Their top diplomatic witch assures me that their government has someone who specializes in magical Native American artifacts, and that he or she can be here later today.”  He smiled reassuringly at Neville.  “Mr. Longbottom, before this government agent arrives, why don’t you tell me what happened?”

“Yes, sir,” Neville responded in a voice that was barely more than a whisper.

Professor Sprout stopped short outside the door to Greenhouse Two.  “I’ve forgotten my gloves,” she remarked, shaking her head.  “Honestly, I thought I had everything.... Neville, are you going back up to the castle?  Would you mind fetching my gardening gloves, please?  Here’s the key; the gloves are probably somewhere on my bookshelf.  Thank you.”

Neville had returned to the castle, let himself into Sprout’s office, and had begun peering at the items on the shelves.  A few moments later, the door creaked behind him.  “Careful, Longbottom,” came Draco Malfoy’s voice.  “You’re going to break something -- as usual.”

Neville turned to look over his shoulder; Malfoy lounged against the doorframe, arms folded and mouth drawn into a sneer.  Neville went back to searching the shelves for Professor Sprout's gloves.  “You shouldn’t be in here, Malfoy.”

“Door’s open,” Malfoy replied, stepping into the room.  “You plan on making me leave, Longbottom?”

The gloves were sitting on top of a stack of papers.  Neville picked them up, snagged his sleeve on the papers, and promptly spilled the pile onto the floor.  “Professor Sprout didn’t tell you to come in, Malfoy,” he warned, stooping to pick up the papers.

Behind the two boys, the lines on the weaving began to slither like snakes, forming and unforming a series of pictures.  A breeze began to stir in the office.

Malfoy’s eyes darted back and forth as he looked around for the source of the wind.  “All right, Longbottom, what are you doing?” he snapped.  “Better stop -- it’s bound to backfire on you.”

“I’m not doing anything,” Neville protested.  “I think -- I think it’s coming from over there.”  He straightened up and pointed to the weaving behind Malfoy.  The other boy sneered.

“Oh, of course, I’m going to fall for that,” he drawled.  “Honestly, Longbottom, can’t you come up with --”

The breeze was strengthening; the papers on the office floor whirled up into a funnel.  The lines on the weaving were merging to form one large shape.  Malfoy finally turned and froze for a moment; then he began backing away from the weaving, hand reaching for his wand.

The wind began to howl, but now the only things moving in the rush of air were Malfoy’s hair and clothing.  He was shouting, the wind was lifting him off the floor, drawing him toward the weaving -- and with a flash, Malfoy vanished.  His wand clattered to the floor, the wind suddenly ceased, and the lines on the weaving stopped moving.  Neville stood alone in Sprout’s office, staring at the rectangular picture on the wall.

***

“And of course Neville came to find me,” Sprout added at the end of Neville’s narrative.  She had drawn up chairs for the three of them.

Dumbledore glanced at the weaving.  “This has never happened before, as far as you know?”

“Never,” Sprout replied.  “This artifact has been in my family for years.  It belonged to my father.  If I had had any idea that it could do anything like this, I would never have brought it to Hogwarts.”

“Of course not,” Dumbledore assured her.  He rose.  “I think it best to inform Professor Snape and Professor McGonagall of what has happened.  And I’ll need to send a note to Lucius Malfoy as well.  Neville, stay here, please -- I’ll see that lunch is sent up for you.  I’d like everyone available when the American specialist arrives.  If you’ll excuse me....”

Neville sat, shoulders slumped.  “I’m sorry, Professor.”

“It's all right,” Sprout told him.  She glanced at the weaving, then cautiously drew her wand.  With a few waves and some murmured words, she conjured a glass of pumpkin juice and a mug of tea.  The weaving didn’t change.  “If anything, I should apologize to you.  I had no idea you or Malfoy were at risk from that weaving.”

“Malfoy’s father is going to be angry,” Neville remarked.

Sprout nodded.  “I’m afraid so --” she began, but broke off at the sound of a voice in the hall.  “Oh, no, that’s all we need.”

“Well, well, well,” exclaimed Gilderoy Lockhart, pushing the door open and striding into the office.  This morning he was dressed in baby-blue robes; the trim on the sleeves and neck bore tiny stones that seemed to be winking when the light caught them just right.  “One of my students mentioned you were having a bit of trouble here.” 

Sprout sighed wearily and closed her eyes for a moment.  “Hello, Gilderoy.  What can I do for you?”

“I’ve come to help, of course.”  Beaming, Lockhart looked around the office and his gaze came to rest on the weaving.  “That’s the problem tapestry, is it?  You know, I once had a go-round with a rather frisky carpet in Baghdad.  This looks to be the same sort of thing.  Now, you and Nelson here should move back -- very unpredictable, these primitive artifacts.”

“Gilderoy, I don’t think --” Sprout began.  Lockhart waved his hand.

“Now, Sophie, my dear, I’ve handled cases like this before.”  He drew his wand.  “Just need to show it who’s in charge, that’s all.”

The lines on the weaving were beginning to move again, and a light breeze began to move through the room.  Neville edged closer to Sprout.  “Professor, that’s what it was doing when Malfoy disappeared.”

Sprout rose to stand next to Lockhart.  “Gilderoy,” she said in a firmer tone, “the Headmaster has already sent for a specialist.  Come away from that before you make the situation worse.”

“Nonsense.  Just a quick Revealer Spell and we’ll have everything under control.  Our missing student will be back in no time.”  Lockhart reached forward to tap the weaving with his wand.  The wand’s tip touched the weaving and stuck in place.  Lockhart reached up to grasp it with both hands.  “Oops.  Seems to be caught on something....”

By this time a stiff wind was blowing Lockhart’s robes.  Sprout reached over to grasp his sleeve.  “Gilderoy, don’t --”

Once again the light flashed.  Lockhart vanished.  Sprout managed to catch his wand in midair.  Neville jumped to his feet, sending his chair crashing over backwards, and stood staring at the weaving, wide-eyed.

“ --touch that,” Sprout finished.  She and Neville watched the lines of the weaving slither to the sides of the rectangle, leaving the middle a blank navy blue.  Sprout shook her head and sighed in exasperation.    “Well!  As if we didn’t have troubles enough....”

***

The American specialist, Mara Sagan, certainly didn't look Native American.  She had dark hair, but it was curly rather than straight, and she wore it short instead of in the braids Neville had expected.  She was tanned and dark-eyed, and not particularly tall.  She was actually dressed in Muggle clothing -- black trousers and an embroidered blouse -- with an open robe over them.  The trim of the robes and the blouse bore geometric designs that might have been Native American symbols.

She had presented her credentials to Dumbledore, been introduced to Professors McGonagall and Snape, and politely shaken hands all around with everyone, even Neville.  Both Sprout and Neville had again recounted their experiences with the weaving.  Now the American stood in silence, gazing at the weaving with an awed look on her face.

“This is incredible,” she murmured finally, moving closer to the rectangle on the wall.  “I’m aware of only two other artifacts like this one.  One is a remnant that was confiscated by our government during the 1870s; the original spell was dismantled, of course, so it doesn’t work any more.  The other is in the possession of a museum in Seattle, Washington.  A team of witches and wizards finally figured out how to put a Warding Spell on it so that it didn’t trap anyone.  Ideally, we’re trying to get the museum to give or sell it back to the original tribe, because it’s anyone’s guess how long the Ward will hold, and we’ve managed to convince the management not to put it on display, but it really should be in the hands of a certified Medicine Man or Woman.”  She shook her head, then turned to Sprout.  “What can you tell me about the history on this?”

Sprout shifted in her chair.  “It belonged to my father,” she said.  “He traveled all over the world, cataloging magical plants, and I know that he was friends with a American Indian who was interested in the same things.  He gave this to my father at some sort of a pot party back in the 1920s.”

Dumbledore’s eyebrows rose.  “Pot party?”

Sprout looked uncertain.  “Well, it was something like that.”

“Do you mean a potlatch?” Sagan asked.

Sprout thought for a moment.  “That might be it.”

Sagan nodded.  “A potlatch is a Native American ritual practiced among tribes on the west coast of Canada and the southwestern coastal area of Alaska and the state of Washington.  Basically, a potlatch serves as a combination of celebration and legal contract.  For example, if a person is being instated as a chief of a tribe, his family will throw a potlatch and invite friends, relatives and dignitaries.  During the festivities, gifts are given by the new chief’s family to the guests.  If the gifts are accepted, it means, among other things, that the receiver agrees to honor the man’s claim that he is now the new chief.”  She waved a hand.  “I’m over-simplifying, but you get the idea.”  Gesturing at the weaving, she continued.  “Your father received this as a gift, right?”

“Yes.”

“So the weaving would acknowledge him as its legitimate owner.  Because you’re his daughter and a member of his family, it would also see you as a legitimate heir.”  Sagan’s gaze turned to Neville.  “And Mr. Longbottom here has been in your office before?”

“Several times,” Sprout said.  “He’s one of my best students.”

Sagan smiled.  “I don’t doubt that.”  She looked back at the weaving.  “And that would explain why the weaving did what it did, I think.  I’m going to have to consult with a colleague about this.  Would it be possible for me to use this office without being disturbed for a while?”

***

Nearly an hour later, the small group met again in Sprout's office.

“I believe I now know what’s happened and why.”  Sagan crossed one knee over the other and leaned back in her chair.  “To understand what’s going on here, you need to know a little bit of American history.  Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, the United States government passed a series of laws that did a lot to destroy the ways of life of most of the Native American people.  Traditional ceremonies were outlawed.  Native children were taken from their parents and placed in boarding schools and forced to speak English and dress like the so-called mainstream Americans.  Because of this, those members of the Native American community who had magical abilities looked for a way to continue their traditional ways of life without arousing the suspicions of the government.”

She pointed to the weaving.  “This is one such method.  It was woven by a very powerful Medicine Man or Woman, probably during the late 1800s.  Using this weaving, a young man or woman can be sent on a Spirit Quest, which is a Coming-of-Age ceremony in many Native cultures.  The youth enters the weaving and is transported to another world.  He or she then undergoes a period of communing with the spirits.  The youth is out of sight of the government officials and is not technically performing the Spirit Quest in the United States, and so is not in violation of any laws.  Quite clever, really.”

“So this weaving is attuned especially to young people?” McGonagall asked.

“For the most part.  And therein lies the problem,” Sagan said.  “None of the adults in this room can enter the weaving to do anything for Mr. -- Malfoy, is it?”  Dumbledore nodded, and Sagan continued.  “The weaving is designed to test youths entering adulthood.  Once you’ve actually become an adult, the weaving has no particular use for you.  It will recognize its owner,” here she nodded at Sprout, “or a certified Medicine Man or Woman, but beyond that all bets are off.”

“What about Gilderoy Lockhart?” asked Dumbledore.

“According to my colleague, Professor Lockhart is in there and being held in storage, so to speak.  There are stories of some -- shall we say ‘less-than-friendly’ -- members of the military and various government agencies who tried to harm the Native people and who just mysteriously vanished.”  She folded her arms and stared at the weaving.  “What little information we have on this type of artifact suggests that it can double as a protection for its owner and/or his tribe.  Not everything that goes in there necessarily comes back out.”

“So how do we get Malfoy out?” Snape asked.

Sagan sighed.  “Well, technically, we shouldn’t do anything to get Mr. Malfoy out.  He has, after all, gone on a Spirit Quest.”  She waved a hand.  “However, he’s in there without any training, and without preparation of the weaving by a Medicine Man or Woman.  The weaving might not let him out, no matter what he does in there.  My colleague and I both agree that our best bet is to send in someone who hasn’t yet attained adult status.”

Neville’s eyes darted back and forth between the professors, but only Dumbledore and Sagan looked at him.  Before either of them could speak, McGonagall remarked, “Perhaps we could approach one of the Prefects about doing this.”

Neville opened his mouth.  “Professor,” he said in a small voice.  He cleared his throat.

Snape was continuing, “I don’t want to put any more of my students at risk --”

“Professor,” Neville said again in a louder voice.

“Perhaps Ms. Sagan could suggest someone--” McGonagall remarked.

Sagan’s eyebrows rose.  “Well, actually --”

Neville stood up.  “Professor McGonagall, I’ll go!”

McGonagall and Snape both turned to look at him.  Sagan nodded.  “Ah.  That was going to be my suggestion.”  She began rummaging around in the bag she had brought.

“Neville, I’m not sure that’s such a good idea,” Sprout began.

Snape gave a snort of derision.  “Longbottom to the rescue?  This is enough of a disaster already.”

“Now see here --” McGonagall responded hotly.

“That will do!”  Dumbledore's tone silenced both professors.  He turned to Neville.  “Mr. Longbottom.  Are you certain you want to do this?”

Snape opened his mouth; the Headmaster silenced him with a glance.  Neville looked down at the floor for a moment, then back up at Dumbledore.  “No, sir.  But I think I have to.  It’s my fault Malfoy’s gone.  And Professor Lockhart.”

“What happened to Professor Lockhart is no one’s fault but his own,” Sprout exclaimed firmly.  “I warned him to leave it alone.”  She turned to Sagan.  “Can anything be done for him?”

Sagan was pulling various items out of her bag.  A drum and beater, as well as a bundle of grey leaves and a set of small jars were already sitting on Sprout's desk.  “I believe so.  My colleague and I will have to deal with him.”  She straightened up and smiled at Neville.  “But I think it falls to Mr. Longbottom here to rescue his fellow student.  And --Neville, right? -- Neville, what happened to this other boy is not your fault.  It is right of you, however, to take responsibility for him.  I’ll give you whatever help I can.”

She turned her gaze to the weaving.  “Come here.”  She and boy approached Sprout’s office fireplace.  Sagan reached into a pouch, drew out a pinch of tobacco and sprinkled it into the flames.  Then she picked up the small bundle of grey sage leaves, lit it, and, using a raven’s feather, began wafting the smoke toward the weaving on the wall.  Turning to Neville, she instructed, “Put the palm of your left hand on the weaving.”

Neville hesitated.  Sagan smiled reassuringly.  “It’s all right.  I’m fairly certain it’s not going to hurt you.”  Cautiously, Neville complied.  For a moment, nothing happened.  Then the black, red, and white colors began to slither around the weaving, forming a series of symbols, until they solidified into the shapes of creatures that looked like strangely shaped birds.

“Mm.  The symbols are still moving,” Sagan remarked thoughtfully.  “All right, Neville, the weaving accepts you.  Listen to me very carefully.  Usually, when someone is ready to step into the weaving, he or she has had weeks, sometimes months, of instruction from a qualified Medicine Man or Woman.  You’re going to have to do without that, I’m afraid.  This is what I can tell you.

“In Native American magic, animals, plants, and other parts of nature are considered to be the equal of humans.  Don’t be surprised if some of these things talk to you.  If they do, remember your manners.  Older beings are often referred to as ‘Grandfather’ or ‘Grandmother’; that’s a sign of respect.  Don’t turn down a sincere offer of help, no matter how unlikely the being who’s offering it.”  She turned away from the weaving and began wafting the sage’s smoke toward Neville.  “It’s all right to be nervous or frightened -- it’ll keep you from doing something that will get you killed, as long as you keep it under control.  Control is one of the differences between courage and foolishness.  And don’t be afraid to find your own solutions to problems -- there’s often more than one way to achieve a goal.”  She put the sage down on a fireplace and made a series of signs with her hands.

“Yes, Miss.”  Neville checked the wand tucked into his belt.  “What do I do now?”

Sagan drew her own wand, a thin elm branch whose handle had been bent and tied into a circle; a small piece of animal hide, bearing the silhouette of a canine of some sort, was bound into the circle, and a black raven’s feather hung from the circle’s bottom.  She sketched a symbol in the air with the wand’s tip, made a gesture of putting something into her mouth, and suddenly a leather pouch appeared in midair.  She caught it and handed it to Neville.  “Take this -- it contains enough food for a few days.”  She slid the wand into the back of her belt, and nodded toward the weaving.  “Step over here.  Ready?”  She took Neville by the arm.  “You’ll need to jump into the weaving.  One, two....”

Neville took two steps forward and managed to jump without tangling himself in his robes.  There was a brief sensation of fabric against his face and hands, and the next thing he knew, he landed in a stumble on uneven ground.

//
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