The Sugar Quill
Author: Seldes Katne (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Spirit Song  Chapter: Chapter Three
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Part III.

 

Lucius Malfoy flung Sprout’s office door open and stormed inside.  Seated on a blanket in the middle of the floor, a startled Mara Sagan missed a note in her song, and the beater struck the rim, rather than the middle, of the drum.  “What the --   Who are you?  Haven’t you ever heard of knocking?”

“You’re the American?” Malfoy demanded.  His upper lip curled slightly at the sight of the woman sitting cross-legged, dressed in simple robes over Muggle clothes, a line of white paint arching up both cheeks and across the bridge of her nose.

Sagan looked him up and down.  “What, the accent isn’t a dead giveaway?  You came barging in here to ask me that?”  She glared past him at Sprout and Dumbledore.  “Who is this --” here her gazed flickered up and down Malfoy’s form, “ -- individual?”

Malfoy opened his mouth, but Dumbledore beat him to the answer.  “This is Lucius Malfoy.  His son is one of the boys presently in the weaving.”

“Oh.  That would explain it, then.”

“I demand that you return my son at once!”

Sagan took a deep breath, laid the drum and beater aside, and said in a more reasonable tone, “I’m sorry, Mr. Malfoy, but I’m afraid that’s beyond my abilities.  The best I’m able to do is to send someone into the weaving to retrieve your son, which has already been done.  Right now, I need to concentrate on --”

“That is absolutely unacceptable!” Malfoy snapped.  He was eyeing Sagan disdainfully, including the white lines of paint on her face.  “Paint, feathers, and a drum.  How quaint.  And this is supposed to get my son back?”   He turned away from her and drew his wand.  “This is the weaving the letter mentioned?”

“Yes, Mr. Malfoy,” Sprout began.  “But it’s not a good idea to try spell-casting on it -- Gilderoy Lockhart tried something earlier, and the weaving took him, too.  You’d be better off letting Ms. Sagan handle this.”

“The weaving will see you as a threat,” Sagan warned, still seated on the floor.  “That’s very dangerous.  I know you’re worried about your son, but please, have patience and let us do our jobs.”

Malfoy snorted.  “Modern magic has consistently proven superior to aboriginal superstition.  I am not going to waste time on nonsense.”  He raised his wand.  

A breeze began to blow through the room; Sprout and Sagan exchanged looks, then glanced at the weaving.  The lines were slithering out to the edges of the fabric, leaving the center blank.  “Uh, oh,” the American muttered, and rolled to her feet.  “I’m sorry, Mr. Malfoy, but you need to leave.  Right now.”

“I’m not going anywhere until I have my son back,” Malfoy retorted.  The wind picked up.

“Mr. Malfoy, please come with me,” Sprout added.  “You need to get out of the room im--”

Malfoy turned away from the American and rounded on Sprout.  “Don’t presume to speak to me in that manner, Madam.  You’re in enough trouble as it is.”  He scowled more fiercely.  “And someone close that window!”

The wind was howling around the room.  Sagan leaped forward and shoved Malfoy toward the door.  “Get him out of here -- now!”

Sprout snagged one of Malfoy’s sleeves, but the air was now whirling around the confines of the room, and it lifted Malfoy with it.  His face twisted into a look of surprise, and Sprout grabbed for his other arm.   In the center of the floor, apparently unaffected by the wind, Sagan was gesturing frantically and singing in a soprano voice. 

Sprout felt Malfoy’s sleeves slip through her hands; the wind tore Malfoy free and carried him toward the weaving.  There was a flash.

Malfoy’s wand clattered to the floor, and the wind fell still. 

Everyone flinched at a second flash of light and a burst of air.  Blinking, Sprout found herself staring into the startled face of Gilderoy Lockhart, who was floating in midair, blond hair and garish robes in disarray.   She had just time enough to register his presence before he belly-flopped face down on the floor of her office.

“Ouch,” chorused Sprout, Sagan, and Lockhart at the same moment.

Both Dumbledore and Sprout stepped forward to help Lockhart up off the floor.  “Are you all right, Gilderoy?” Dumbledore asked, as Lockhart began dusting off his robes.

“Of course, of course, never better.”  Lockhart was weaving on his feet, looking a bit dazed.  “Now then, I -- I was just on my way to lunch, wasn’t I?”

“Lunch?” Sprout echoed.  Lunch had been served several hours ago.  Catching Dumbledore’s eye, she quickly gathered her wits.  “Lunch!  Oh, yes, of course you were!  Thank you for stopping by, and, ah, helping us out, Gilderoy.”

“Yes, yes, always happy to help!” Lockhart said, beaming.  “Any time!”  He strode toward the door.  Dumbledore cleared his throat.

“Gilderoy?  I believe this is yours.”  He held out Lockhart’s wand.

Lockhart stared at it for a moment.  “Well, yes, it is.   Confounded thing wandered off, did it?   Tricky things, wands.”  He accepted the wand and tucked it back into his robes.   Glancing past Dumbledore, he caught sight of Sagan and beamed at her.  “Hello!   I don’t believe we’ve met.”  He seized her hand and pumped it vigorously.   “Gilderoy Lockhart, Order of Merlin, Honorary Member of the Dark Force Defense League, and five-time winner of Witch’s Weekly Most-Charming Smile Award, not to mention best-selling author of Gadding with Ghouls, Break with a Banshee, Holiday with Hags, Year with a Yeti, Travels with Trolls, Wanderings with Werewolves, Voyages with Vampires, and Gilderoy Lockhart’s Guide to Garden Pests!”

Sagan managed to extricate her hand at the end of the introduction.  “And possessor of a superior volume of lung capacity, since you managed to say all that in one breath.  Most impressive.  Pleased to meet you.”  She massaged the palm of her right hand and wiggled the fingers gingerly.  “I think.”

“Ah, American, eh?   My books are selling rather well over there, or so my publisher tells me.  You’ve read them?”

Sagan blinked.  “Uh, I’m afraid I don’t have much time to read --”

“Pity, that.”  Lockhart looked sympathetic.  “I’ll tell you what, I’ll be happy to loan you a few copies, that should solve the problem nicely.”  He clapped his hands together and turned away.  “Well!  Lunch is getting cold!  No time to dally!”   He swept out the door, leaving everyone feeling rather breathless.

“ -- Pulp fiction these days,” Sagan finished.  She uttered something that sounded like a cross between and chuckle and a cough.   “I take it that that was your staff member.”

Sprout rolled her eyes, Snape scowled, and Dumbledore smiled.  “That was Gilderoy Lockhart, our Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.”

“Never heard of him.”   Sagan glanced around at the assorted expressions, which ranged from amusement to disgust, then peered out the door after the retreating wizard.  “Actually, food does sound good right about now.”

“They’ll still be serving dinner in the Great Hall,” Dumbledore assured her.

Sagan grinned.  “Excellent!  I’m sorry, but for me, this whole crisis started at 6:30 in the morning, and I really didn’t have time for much breakfast.”  She dabbed a hand at her face; her fingers came away white.  “Guess I’d better remove this for a while.   Don’t want to encourage the stereotypes.”  She turned and reached for a cloth.

“You’re talking about food when one of our Board of Governors is still trapped in this thing?” Snape demanded, stabbing a finger at the weaving.

Sprout and Dumbledore paused; Sagan cleared her throat.  “Well, frankly, Professor, yes.  For one thing, I’m not going to do him any good by starving myself.  Besides, it’s not like he’s going anywhere -- he’ll still be in there when I get back in an hour or so.”  She wiped her face with the cloth, scrubbing until most of the white paint was gone.  “None the worse for wear.”

“You don’t know that for certain!”

“Well, actually I do.   As you can see, your colleague is just fine.  It appears that the weaving just held him in a form of stasis for a while -- for him, no time has passed, as you saw.  If Mr. Lockhart returned after several hours with no ill effects, Mr. Malfoy should be able to withstand an hour or so with no trouble at all.  Besides, it’s going to take some time to get him out.  You saw how long it took us to get Mr. Lockhart back.   Extricating a person from the weaving is not a simple business, even for my colleague.”

Snape turned away from the weaving and advanced on her, stooping slightly to peer into her face.   “Your colleague.  Where is he, or she, exactly?”

Sagan gazed back serenely.  “He’s around.”

“Around,” Snape echoed softly.  He held her gaze.   “Interesting that none of us have seen this mysterious colleague of yours.  And will he be joining us for dinner?”

“No.”  Sagan’s expression didn’t change.

“No.”  Snape’s eyebrows rose and his voice softened.   “Remarkable.  A colleague who is invisible and who also apparently doesn’t need to eat.”  He stepped back and folded his arms.  “For some reason, Miss Sagan, I get the feeling you’re being evasive.”

“Now, Severus,” Dumbledore repeated.

Sagan held up a hand.   “Well, that’s probably because I am being evasive.”  Snape continued to stare at her.  “But I’m afraid this also falls under the category of ‘Professional Trade Secret’, or, if you prefer, ‘Classified Information’.  I’m sorry, but I can’t discuss it any further.  I can tell you that my colleague is no threat to you or anyone else, that he won’t damage any property, and that you have nothing to fear from him.”

Snape’s eyes flickered.  “I’m afraid, Miss Sagan, that I don’t quite believe you.”

Sagan smiled.  “That’s all right, Professor.  You know the old Italian proverb: Fidarsi è bene, non fidarsi è meglio.  ‘To trust is good.  Not to trust is better’.”  She paused for effect.  “Which has just exhausted my entire Italian vocabulary, except for ‘spaghetti, lasagna,” here she glanced at Dumbledore with a hopeful expression, “ ‘fettuccini’....”

Dumbledore chuckled and motioned toward the door.  “Dinner is being served this way.”

“Bless you, sir,” Sagan intoned as she followed him out.

 

 

***

 

Neville blinked in surprise at the sight of Basket Woman’s “hut”.  He was used to the idea of Hagrid’s hut at Hogwarts, a small, one-room wooden house with a plain exterior.  Basket Woman’s home was a palace by comparison.  The outside was plank wood, painted with symbols like the ones on Singer of Memories’s canoe.  A wide, circular opening formed the door.  If six or seven of Hagrid’s huts were laid in a line, they would almost equal the size of the house in the clearing.

Now that the moment had come to start his plans, Neville found his feet rooted to the ground.  He checked the pouch one more time.  All his special ingredients were in place.   His disguise was perfect; his own gran probably wouldn’t recognize him.  He knew his song by heart, or at least hoped he did.  All he had to do was persuade his feet to move forward.

“It’s all right to be nervous or afraid,” he reminded himself.  “It’ll keep me from getting myself killed.”  He opened his eyes.  “That’s because I’m so scared I’m going to stand here forever,” he told himself in disgust.  “The Sorting Hat put me in Gryffindor.  Gryffindor has the bravest students in the school.  I can do this.  I have to do this, because there’s no one else who can.”  For some reason that didn’t make him feel much braver, but it did set his feet in motion.

He stopped outside the door; the blackness inside reminded him forcefully of a mouth.  I wish I hadn’t thought of that, he grumbled inwardly.  Then he raised a fist and knocked at the wall.  “Hello?   Um, excuse me, is anyone home?”

For a moment there was silence.  Maybe she’s not here, Neville thought in sudden relief.  Maybe she’s gone to gather firewood or something, and I can just walk in and find Malfoy and --

Floorboards creaked inside as someone walked.  “Who’s there?” came Basket Woman’s rough voice.  “Who’s come to disturb an old woman’s rest?”

Neville’s breathing speeded up, and he took two deep breaths to calm himself.  “I’m, uh, kind of lost, and I’d like some help, please,” he called into the darkness.  “Could you maybe, um, give me some directions?”

The huge woman stepped into the doorway and gazed down at him.  “Ah, you poor child,” she murmured.  “Lost in the woods?”  Neville nodded, hoping he looked innocently lost, but in actuality too scared to trust his voice.  “Well, I think I can remember the way back to the nearest village,” Basket Woman continued.   “Still, it’s been a long time since I was there, and you look hungry.  Why don’t you come in, and I’ll make you something to eat before we go?  I was just thinking of turtle stew.”

“Y-Yes, please.”   Neville had been thinking of turtle stew, too, but not in anticipation.  The ogress stepped aside to let him in.

He stepped onto a wide, raised platform that ran all the way around the interior of the room.  From the platform it was a single step down to the dirt floor of the house; in the center of the room a small fire flickered.  Baskets, herbs, tanned hides, and lamp bowls hung from the rafters.

Basket Woman pulled down one of the hides and tied a thin rope to each of the four corners.  Then she set up a tripod of wooden sticks over the fire and seated herself on the ground.  “First, we’ll need water,” she told Neville in a voice that he would have found kindly if he hadn’t seen what she’d done to Malfoy.  “Would you fetch some from that pot over there?”  She handed him the hide, which now opened into a kind of pouch.

“O-Of course, um, ma’am,” Neville stammered, and carried the hide, which was almost as big as he was, over to dip it into the water jar.  On the way back he had to be careful not to slip off the step; walking in sandals was difficult.  He stumbled on the ground on the way to the fire, and some of the water slopped over the edge of the hide.

“Careful, careful,” Basket Woman told him.  But in the midst of his familiar clumsiness, Neville suddenly had an idea.

“I’m sorry,” he said to the giant woman, who smiled at him and tied the pouch to the tripod legs.   “I’m just very hungry right now.  Um, can we put potatoes in our stew?  I really like those.”

“Of course, of course,” she replied.  “I have some in that basket by the wall.  They’re already peeled and cut up -- just bring six or seven.”

Neville peered into the basket.  The potatoes were indeed cut into chunks.  While he had his back to Basket Woman, he reached into the pouch at his waist and pulled out the packet of the first ingredient of his sleeping potion.  “ ‘First potatoes, round and white, and a handful of red in water bright’,” he murmured to himself.  Then he gathered up the potatoes, clutching the packet in one hand, and carried them back to Basket Woman.

This time, he stumbled right next to the giant woman, and the potatoes rolled around on the floor.   “Be more careful!” Basket Woman warned.   “We certainly don’t want dirt in our food.”

“No, ma’am.  I’m sorry,” Neville said weakly.  As the huge woman twisted around to pick up the potato chunks, Neville emptied the packet into the water in the hide.  Then he added the potatoes one by one.  “Please, ma’am, maybe some celery?  That goes good with stew.”

Basket Woman said, “I have plant stalks in that basket under the lamp.”  Neville tripped going up the step this time, and bruised his knee.   As he pulled out stalks and laid them on the platform floor, he pulled out the bundle of leaves and tucked it into the pile.  Second add the green leaves gleaming, drop them into water steaming.  Then he carried them down the step.  He pushed the pile into the hide with the roots, leaves and all.  The water was already beginning to steam.

The ogress was smiling at him.  “Much better,” she said.  “Almost ready, we are.  Just need to add the meat.”

Neville froze.  He still had one packet of ground herbs to add.  Without it, the sleeping powder wouldn’t work.

“Excuse me,” he managed.  “But this, um, this doesn’t look, uh, ready yet.  Don’t we need some, uh, things to give it more flavor?  You know, the powdery stuff you put in food?”

Basket Woman peered into the hide.  “Hmmm.  Yes, yes, some seasoning would be good.”

She sent Neville back to the shelf for a wooden box and two smaller baskets.  The baskets contained seasoning herbs, and the box opened to reveal white salt granules.  His back to Basket Woman, Neville carefully pulled the last of his packets out of his pouch, and emptied it into one of the herb baskets.  Lastly, season with golden down, sprinkle this when water’s brown.  He handed the salt and one basket to the giant woman, and held onto the other.  “There’s, uh, not much left in this one,” he said.  “I’ll just dump it all in.”

The last of the potion ingredients went into the water, along with some salt and some tiny leaves from the other basket.  Neville held his breath as Basket Woman scooped up a spoonful and tasted it.

She smiled and smacked her lips.  “Now for the meat,” she said, and stood up to pull down a basket from the rafters.  Finally, Neville thought, there’s Malfoy.  The ogress smiled.   “Now, where’s my carving knife?  I haven’t used it for a while.”

“I’ll look for it, if you like, ma’am,” Neville offered.  “Only --” he peered into the bubbling brown of the stew, “--are you sure this is ready?  It looks like it’s not done yet.”  He used the spoon to scoop up more of the stew.  “Maybe you should check.”

Basket Woman took the spoon and sipped again.  “Mmm.   Well, it’s still cooking, but by the time we’ve gotten the turtle cut up, it’ll be ready.  Why don’t you watch it while I find my knife?”

Neville forced himself to smile.  “All right.”

The ogress padded around her home, shaking baskets and opening wooden containers.  Neville kept stirring the stew.  “Um, this still looks kind of pale,” he called, and the giant woman stopped to try another spoonful.  Neville watched her rub her forehead absently; she stumbled a bit going up the step.  He risked a quick look into the basket she had brought down from the rafters.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t tell if it really was Malfoy or not -- all turtles looked alike to him.

Basket Woman pulled the stone knife out of a wooden box on the other side of the room.  “Ah.  Now we’re ready.”  She came back to the fire.

Neville stood up, feeling the nervous fluttering of his stomach.  “Here, y-you look tired,” he stammered.  “Uh, w-why don’t I get the turtle out for you while you check the stew one more time?”

“Such a thoughtful boy,” the ogress murmured, and sat down.  She swallowed another spoonful as Neville tipped the basket on its side so he could crawl in after the turtle.  Suddenly the basket was pushed upright, with Neville still inside.  The sides were too high to climb over, and he crouched in the bottom.  “Now,” Basket Woman said, her face appearing in the basket’s opening, “I have a second turtle for my soup!”  She turned away, presumably to get her knife -- and vanished from Neville’s sight.   A moment later he heard the unmistakable sound of snoring.

For several long breaths he huddled in the bottom of the basket, weak with relief.  The plan had worked!  At last he stood up and leaned against the woven side.  The basket tipped slightly.  He threw himself against the side again, and the basket tilted.  A second shove, and the basket toppled, spilling him onto the floor next to Basket Woman.

He stared at her, more to make sure she was asleep than for any other reason.  Then he crawled into the basket and pulled Malfoy the turtle out.  “I guess we should have found a way to turn you back first,” Neville remarked.  He glanced around the room, noticing the knife lying beside the sleeping ogress.  Neville shuddered; that had almost been used on him.  The sooner they were out of here, the better.

He paused long enough to pick up a small carrying basket and slip Malfoy into it, closing the lid.  Then he left the house, heading back to the wooded place where he had first entered from the weaving.

He had hoped that somewhere along the way he would find his wand, but no amount of looking turned it up.  Finally, afraid to stay too long and risk having Basket Woman come after them, he stepped into the little clearing in which he had arrived.  Thin black lines began to form a pattern of plaid against the green of the bushes; quickly the green disappeared as the black expanded, and Neville stepped into the “woven” doorway.

 

***

 

The red, black and white lines on the weaving suddenly began to wriggle out of their patterns and to form a series of borders around the outside of the fabric.  Sagan looked up and blinked at it for a moment, then glanced down at her watch; it was nearly midnight.  “Looks like something’s happening,” she warned her companions.

The American started to get up off the blanket, but before she was more than halfway there, a boy suddenly stepped through the weaving.  Since it was almost three feet to the floor, he promptly misstepped and stumbled into her; she sprawled back into a sitting position.  The boy managed to remain standing, but not by much.

Behind her, Sprout caught Snape’s mutter of “Longbottom!” and grinned.  “Well, it does look a little like Neville,” she remarked.

Neville’s face suddenly broke into a broad grin and he unslung the basket he had been carrying over his shoulder.  “We made it!”

“We?” Sprout echoed.   “Where is Mr. Malfoy?”

“Oh!”  Neville hastily turned and unfastened the lid of the basket, reached in, and pulled out a turtle.  For a few moments everyone stared at it; then Snape made a strangled noise.  He rose from his chair and moved forward to peer at the turtle.  Then he scowled at Neville.

“Is this some kind of joke, Longbottom?”

Neville, despite the dark coloration of his skin, blanched.  “Uh, no, sir.  This is Malfoy.   There was this woman ogress, and she turned him into a turtle, and she was going to eat us and--” he broke off at the look on Snape’s face.  Sprout was staring at him in stunned surprise.  Dumbledore’s eyebrows rose.

“Hm, Northwest Coast, ogress.... that would be Basket Woman, I think.”  Sagan picked herself up rather stiffly off the floor and dusted off the seat of her robes.  “Although I’ve never heard of her turning anyone into a turtle before.  Still,” she continued, ignoring the look of fury on Snape’s face and the look of disbelief on Sprout’s, “it is a useful way to make sure your victims don’t wander off on you.”  She took the turtle out of Neville’s hands and studied it carefully.  “Hmmm.  Shape-changing’s always a bit tricky at this age....  I think I’d rather pass this to someone else.”

Both Snape and Sprout glanced at Dumbledore.  “Headmaster Dumbledore was the Transfiguration teacher here at Hogwarts for many years,” Sprout told her.

When Sagan offered him the turtle, Dumbledore held up a hand to forestall her.  “Thank you, Ms. Sagan, but I think I’d prefer you to do it.”

Sagan shook her head.   “I’d honestly rather not, Professor.   Because of the nature of tribal magic, my abilities here are limited.  Tribal magic is strongly linked to the land, to nature.  I can do a great deal in North America, a lesser amount in Central and South America, but very little here.  And I don’t have enough practice with modern Transfiguration techniques that I’d be willing to put this boy at risk.”

“I would prefer that you at least try,” Dumbledore replied.  “Apparently tribal magic is what has turned Mr. Malfoy into a turtle.   I know very little of such practices, but what happened to Lucius Malfoy suggests that our modern method of reverse Transfiguration could just make the problem worse.”

“Good point,” Sagan remarked.  Setting the turtle on Sprout’s desk, she stared at him, tapping a forefinger against her mouth.  Then she slowly turned her gaze to the weaving, eying it thoughtfully.  “I might be able to draw on some of the magic in there....”   Her wand appeared in her hand again; she hummed softly, eyes closed, free hand held with the palm facing the weaving. 

The tip of the wand moved in a circle, and a tendril of light snaked out of the center of the weaving.  The light trailed along in the wake of the wand’s tip, and solidified into a wooden hoop.  Sagan caught the hoop in midair and laid her wand on the desk.

Another pinch of tobacco was added to the fire.  Sagan picked up both turtle and hoop and began to sing softly, her feet moving in simple one-two dance steps.  She passed the turtle through the hoop four times, then placed the hoop on the floor and carefully set the turtle in the middle of it.  Again her hands moved in signs.  Stooping, she firmly grasped the upper part of the turtle’s shell with one hand, and the turtle’s neck with the other, and pulled in opposite directions.  There was a flash, and Draco Malfoy was standing in the middle of the room, once again in human form.  A relieved look passed across Sagan’s face; Neville let out the breath he’d been holding, and noticed that both Sprout and Snape had done the same. 

Dumbledore smiled, eyes gleaming as he looked Malfoy over.  “Mr. Malfoy, how do you feel?”

Malfoy looked shaken and even paler than usual, but otherwise unharmed.  “I -- I’m all right, sir.”

Dumbledore nodded and glanced at Snape.  “Best have Madam Pomfrey look him over.  And we’ll have someone bring up dinner -- ” 

At that moment the head and shoulders of a giant woman erupted out of the weaving.  Neville gasped and stepped backward.  Both Snape and Sprout suddenly had wands in their hands; Snape had pushed Draco behind him.

“Everyone stop!” the American commanded, throwing both arms out in a warning to her companions.  Basket Woman glared at Neville for a moment, then began to jabber at Sagan in a strange language; she punctuated her remarks with the same sign language that Sagan had been using in spell casting.  The American nodded, then turned to Neville.  “Mr. Longbottom, apparently you have something that belongs to her?”

Neville froze for a moment.  “Oh!  Yes!”  He stooped to pick up the basket and gingerly held it out to her.

The ogress grasped the basket and pulled her arm back into the weaving.  She gabbled something to Sagan, glanced at Neville, and tilted her head to eye Malfoy.  Grinning, she ran her tongue around her lips and withdrew completely into the weaving.  The red, black and white markings again slithered into shapes on the weaving’s surface and froze in place.

The American gazed thoughtfully at the weaving.  Then she glanced around at the rest of the people in the room.  “I hope that’s all the action for tonight.”

“I trust not,” Snape remarked, tucking his wand back in place.  “There’s still the matter of the boy’s father.”  He glanced at Draco; the boy looked as dazed as Lockhart had earlier.

Sagan turned back to the weaving.  “Oh, yes, Mr. Malfoy.”  She glanced at Dumbledore with a mischievous look on her face.  “You’re certain you want him back?  We could just leave him there for a while.”

“I’m afraid I have to insist,” Dumbledore said mildly.  “He is a member of the Board of Governors, after all.”

“All right.  Let’s see if we’ve got him yet.”  She held up both hands, palms toward the weaving, and sang in a soprano voice, her hands moving in signs.  Once again the wind began to move gently through the room, but this time the weaving itself began to glow.

The glow coalesced into an indistinct shape about the size of a large dog.  As they watched, a hand and sleeve emerged from the fabric, as though the shape were dragging the person into the room.  A shoulder, then a neck, followed the sleeve; Lucius Malfoy’s blond head emerged, his eyes closed.  With a surge, the rest of his body appeared.  When his feet had cleared the fabric, he hung in the air for a moment; then, like Lockhart, he dropped to the floor.

Snape was glancing rapidly between Draco and his father, as if debating which one he should help.   Sagan stepped forward and bent over Lucius Malfoy, who stirred and sat up with a groan.  “Thank you, Elder Brother,” she said to the shape, which was hovering next to the weaving.  The shape bobbed once, then shimmered and vanished.  “My mysterious colleague,” she remarked to Snape.

“What exactly is he?” Snape asked.

Sagan smiled.  “Sorry.  Professional secret.”

Sprout and Dumbledore each put a hand under Malfoy’s elbows to help him up.  “Ah.  What -- what happened?”  Lucius Malfoy was blinking rapidly.

“It’s very late, Lucius,” Dumbledore told him.  “Perhaps we should finish your tour tomorrow.”

“Tour....” Malfoy’s voice trailed off, and he looked around Sprout’s office in bewilderment.

“Yes, your tour of the school,” Dumbledore continued smoothly.  “On behalf of the Board of Governors.”

“Oh.  Yes, of course.”  Malfoy squared his shoulders and turned to where Snape and Draco stood by the door.

“You’ll just have time for a late supper,” Dumbledore told them.  “And you’re welcome to spend the night, of course.  I’ll have a room prepared.  Severus, if you’d be so kind?”

Snape looked as though he wanted to protest, then caught Dumbledore’s eye and stopped.  “Yes, Headmaster.”  Snape inclined his head slightly.  “This way, gentlemen.”  The Malfoys preceded him out the door.  Snape paused, gave Sagan an appraising look, and followed them out.

Sprout watched them go.  “Have they really forgotten everything?”

Sagan shrugged.  “So it would appear.  I’m not surprised, though -- the weaving is probably designed to do just that.  Blurring the memory of unfriendly people who’ve come in contact with it would preserve its secret.”

“Headmaster -- their wands!” Sprout exclaimed.

Dumbledore smiled.   “Severus has Draco’s, and Lucius will find his on his bedside table when he awakens tomorrow morning.”  He glanced thoughtfully over his shoulder at the weaving, then turned his reassuring smile on Neville.  “And speaking of wands, I believe this is yours.”  Neville’s wand appeared in Dumbledore’s hand.   “Apparently the weaving doesn’t let anyone’s wand pass within….  Welcome back, Mr. Longbottom.”

“Thank you, sir.”   Neville grinned in relief.  “I thought I’d lost it.”  He added sheepishly, “Again.”

Sagan looked Neville up and down.  “Well, that’s quite the disguise you’ve got there.  May I?”  As Sprout and Dumbledore watched, the American unfastened the cloak and drew it away from Neville’s shoulders.  A moment later he was dressed again in his school robes and shoes, but his hair and face were still much darker than usual.

“Will that coloring come off?” Sprout asked.

Sagan nodded.  “A good, hot shower and soap and shampoo should do it.  In the meantime, though, I don’t know about anyone else, but I suspect Neville is probably hungry, and I wouldn’t mind getting something to drink.  And I think we should talk about what happened.” 

 

 

***

 

Over a very large plate of waffles, eggs, and toast, Neville told his story to the four adults.   Sagan, who was working her way through a plate of cinnamon toast, let him talk.  Her companions, who had settled on tea (Sprout and McGonagall) and hot cocoa (Dumbledore), seemed content to let Neville relate his tale in peace.

“And it never occurred to you to leave Malfoy there?” Sagan asked over her own cup of hot cocoa.

Neville blushed and looked down at his nearly empty plate.  “Well, once, when I was outside Basket Woman’s hut, I couldn’t -- I mean, I almost....”  He trailed off.

“But you didn’t abandon him,” McGonagall finished firmly.

“Well done, Neville,” Sprout added softly, and Neville turned pink again.

Dumbledore nodded.   “Very well done, indeed.  I think this extraordinary feat of courage deserves at least two hundred points awarded to Gryffindor, wouldn’t you agree, Professor McGonagall?”

“Definitely, Headmaster!”  McGonagall gave Neville a proud smile.

Neville’s mouth fell open.  Two hundred points!  He was so busy trying to stammer his thanks that he almost missed Dumbledore’s next question.

“About this man who assisted Neville.  Is he what I think he is?”

Sagan pushed her empty plate aside and drew her mug toward her.  “It depends on what you think.  In Native American magic, there’s almost no difference between humans and animals.  In fact, the Northwest Coast people, which is the mythology Neville encountered,” here she gave Neville a wink, “claim that many of their families are descended from an animal ancestor.  At some point in the distant past, the animal decided to take off its fur or feathers or scales and become human.  He or she married, had children, and founded a family.  In addition, humans often take on animal form in many Native American stories.   Neville has, in a sense, been adopted.”   She took a sip from her mug.  “That’s a great honor -- whales are renowned for their memories.  Their songs supposedly convey the knowledge of the ages, all the way back to Creation.”  She looked over at Neville.  “Do you still hear the songs they were singing when you visited their village?”

Neville closed his eyes and listened.  Finally he answered, “It’s very faint, and I don’t know what any of it means.”

The American smiled.   “It’s all right.  Humans weren’t meant to have that kind of knowledge.  But if I were you, I wouldn’t be surprised to find strange memories and information popping up when you least expect it.”   She rummaged in her bag for a moment, and drew out a rectangular card.  On one side was neatly printed her name and address, with a symbol of a black-tipped eagle feather in a circle.  The symbol seemed to float above the card.  The name and address appeared on the other side as well, but the symbol was printed directly on the paper, and there were two extra lines of print.  “Telephone number and e-mail address,” Sagan explained, tapping the lines with a finger.  “This side’s for non-Magical folks.  I hate the term ‘Muggle’.  Sounds insulting.”  She handed the card to Neville.  “If you find you’re dreaming about whales or whale song, contact me.”

“Is that likely to happen?” McGonagall asked.

Sagan thought for a moment.  “Well, I don’t know, honestly.  Since Neville isn’t a Native American youth, and he doesn’t live on American soil, it may not.   Still, my Spirit Companion talks to me, no matter where I go, so I guess it’s possible.  If it does happen, it’s important to examine the dream.  It’s not a good idea to ignore your Spirit Companion.”

Dumbledore nodded.   “I’ve found it’s wise to listen to good advisors.  Well, I believe a good long sleep is in order for everyone.  Perhaps we’ll see you at lunch, Mr. Longbottom.”

In the corridor leading to Gryffindor Tower, Sagan held the cloak out to Neville.  “Would you like to keep this?  Singer of Memories did give it to you, after all.”

“Thanks.”  Neville folded the cloak over his arm and stood looking down at it thoughtfully.  “Miss Sagan?  Did you mean what you told Professor Dumbledore?  Was I really adopted by a whale?”

“Well, by a whale spirit, anyway,” Sagan replied.  “Since the vast majority of Native American cultures never developed a written language, they had no books or libraries.  They didn’t need them.  One of the things a Spirit Companion does is pass on information.  Spirits, as far as we know, are immortal.   Their knowledge goes back further than the most ancient of recorded human histories.  More practically, since my Spirit Companion is one who appears in many cultures, he can advise me on the proper ceremonies and practices of different Native American tribes.  Very handy.”

“So Singer of Memories will talk to me?”

“It’s possible.  Whales rarely forget anything, and I doubt he’ll forget about you.”  She paused.  “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you -- both of you -- not to discuss this with anyone.   For one thing, the existence of Spirit Companions is something the Native American community doesn’t want becoming public knowledge.   Our relationships with them are very personal; the last thing we need is a bunch of researchers trying to study one, well, scientifically, for lack of a better word.  Besides, tribal magical practices are sneered at in most parts of the world -- too primitive and backwards for most folks.  People wouldn’t believe your story anyway.”

She held out a hand to Neville.  “Mr. Longbottom, it was a pleasure to work with you.  Good luck with your studies.  Contact me whenever you like.”

Neville took her hand and shook it.  It was a giddy feeling, being treated like an adult.  “I will.  Thank you, Miss.   For everything.”  The American smiled warmly.

As Sagan and Sprout continued on down the hall, Sagan’s voice drifted back to Neville, “.....Professor -- ah, Sylvana, sorry -- I’d like to make arrangements for my department to borrow your weaving sometime soon so we can study it a bit....”

Neville turned up the stairs to the tower, the cloak still folded over his arm and Sagan’s card clutched in one hand.  He was suddenly looking forward to seeing Singer of Memories again, in dreams accompanied by whale song.

 

 

***

 

“All plants are our brothers and sisters.  They talk to us, and if we listen, we can hear them.”

Inunaina (Arapaho) proverb

 

 

________________

 

Author’s note: As most people are no doubt aware, Neville Longbottom, Professor (Sylvana) Sprout, Draco and Lucius Malfoy, Albus Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall, Severus Snape, Gilderoy Lockhart, and other characters from the Harry Potter novels, as well as the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, are actually the property of J.K. Rowling.  I can take no credit for their existence.

If anyone were to ask her, I suspect Basket Woman would say she belongs to no one but herself; however, she does appear in a number of legends and stories told by various Native American people of the Northwest Coast (which includes western Canada and the states of Alaska and Washington).  The first place in which I encountered her was in an adaptation of one such story, entitled Clamshell Boy: a Makah Legend, written and adapted by Terri Cohlene and illustrated by Charles Reasoner.  This book also contains information on the Makah people and their traditional way of life.  A different version of the story is found in Chief Lelooska’s Echoes of the Elders, a collection of Northwest Coast Native American stories that features Chief Lelooska’s original artwork.

Speaking of artwork: examples of the unique and distinctive native art of the region can be found in any good book about the Northwest Coast.  Chief Lelooska’s book provides excellent examples, as does the art in the book Storm Boy, adapted and illustrated by Paul Owen Lewis.  The whales in Mr. Lewis’s book are orca, not the humpback variety represented by Singer of Memories and his clan.   For those with Internet access, examples of Northwest Coast art can be found at http://www.nativeonline.com/tour.htm (Pages 1 and 4 offer the best views.  Stick with the thumbnail size pictures – the larger ones seem to blur);  also at http://tribalarts.com/feature/northwest/index.html and http://www.mala.bc.ca/www/discover/educate/posters/hend1.htm    

Of course, the best way to view Northwest Coast art is to go to Alaska or Canada and look at it there.   I had the opportunity to do that back in 1997.  Two places to visit: the Sheldon Museum in Sitka, and the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.  The town of Haines, Alaska also houses a fine collection of Native American art.

Singer of Memories is based on the belief in animal spirits that span most Native American cultures.  These spirits could take on human form if they chose, just as angels can in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  During my trip to Alaska, I had the opportunity to spend over an hour in the midst of a group of humpback whales, along with the rest of our ship's passengers.   The whales came so close to the ship that we could almost have touched them.  It's one of those experiences that you just don't forget.

About the only thing for which I can take any credit at all is the American Tribal Magic Specialist Mara Sagan and some of her magical items.  However, many of these items are based on tools and practices that have been used by various Native American people, and so are not particularly original ideas on my part.

The idea of improving Neville’s memorization techniques through music and song is not a new concept, either.  Many people in the education field now acknowledge that children learn in a variety of ways; music is one alternative to our lecture-based education system in the United States.  I’ve often felt that Neville would benefit from a different form of instruction, or at least a little more personal attention from his teachers.  Apparently Professor Lupin thought so as well (see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban).  For some reason, the idea of remediation appears to be a lost concept at Hogwarts.

Sagan’s comments on the treatment of Native American people over the last two centuries are, sadly, fairly accurate.  Thankfully, Native American culture is now seeing a renewed interest, not only by the People themselves, but also by others outside their ethnic groups.  This renewal has been a long time coming.  Keep in mind that not all Native American cultures and practices are alike.  I know that many people still think that all “Indians” ride horses and live in tipis.  The people of the Northwest Coast lived in cedar plank houses, carved totem poles, and made their living from the sea and forests, not the buffalo.  Today most of the Native American people live and work and dress the way the rest of “mainstream” Americans do.  

There are many, many good books that explore the cultures of Native American people, both past and present.  A good place to start, besides those publications already mentioned, are the works of Joseph Bruchac, a noted author who has adapted a number of Native American stories, and who has also written original works featuring Native American characters.  You may also want to look for Fur Magic, by Andre Norton, which is one of my favorite Native American-based stories of all time.  It was recently re-released in hardcover, so it might still be available from your local public library.

Anyone looking for information on the potlatch ceremony can check here:

http://www.schoolnet.ca/aboriginal/umista2/potlatch-e.html

As usual, I owe many thanks to my editor, Zsenya, who is also the webmistress at Sugarquill.net.  Her efforts and encouragement are greatly appreciated.  Any lingering errors in the story are entirely the fault of the author, and should not be blamed on either my editor or the characters.

//
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