New Orleans, March 1827
I never imagined building a magical school would be an easy or a practical endeavor, but I always hoped that meeting people also passionate about keeping young wizards safe and bestowing them with enough magik skills to thrive would be enough to create the place I have long dreamed of assembling.
Perhaps this is why being rebuffed by Rosalie stung after seeing her small school in action. Maybe it was that she voiced a concern I had tucked away in the far recesses of my mind. While building a school in a hard to reach portion of swampland would insure the safety of all who lived there, was I asking the unthinkable? What parent would send their child off to an inaccessible area with people who united under one idea? There had to be a better way. Parents should have access to their children at any time. I had been relying on the two-way locket mirrors that Francis and I had used while at Uagadou to serve the same purpose with our future pupils. How would we make sure that each family attending our school received them?
But how to insure the protections of the school if its location were compromised? Though parents were likely to sacrifice anything for their child’s wellbeing, what if the school’s location were to one day become this sacrifice? How do we answer the most pressing question: who do we protect? Will the school become a beacon of protection for solely wizard students? Their families? This would be unfair to the Pégik.
Have I been so wrapped up in the intricacies of developing a magical curriculum and security measures for the property that I had neglected the most obvious questions? What else has escaped my notice?
With a whirl, Helene and Francis were back at the old magnolia tree. Still reeling from her feelings during their time at the Sennets’, Helene cast her eyes downward to avoid Francis’ line of sight. It seemed he understood her mood, as he remained a couple of steps behind her as they walked towards the city.
The low afternoon sun set the mood for Helene, who was having a very hard time placing her feelings about Francis after seeing his interactions with Rosalie. While she knew him to be a flirt, he’d never flirted with another woman in front of her. Did this mean that he only saw her as a friend? What was his relationship with Rosalie? Why was she thinking this way?
On the face of it, Francis had only agreed to introduce her to potential teachers. What else had she expected? Better for her to think about the good that came of today’s visit. They now had a teacher on board for a subject she hadn’t thought to include in her original plans. Boaz was very accurate in stating that their specialty in weaving and building were necessary in this stage of school building.
Helene had spent much of her time consumed with searching out the strongest magical protections she could find in Creole and Saint-Domingue traditions, in addition to what she’d learned while at Uagadou. Perhaps she should also tap into wand-inclusive magic and ask Boaz about protections they commonly used for raising and securing structures.
Most of the techniques she’d learned at the Guillory school involved calling upon the ancestors for protections and invoking special protective eples. The problem was these eples had a short range, covering no longer a range than an outhouse. Helene had also considered hougans and mambo protective amulets but had found them wanting.
Deciding on the next course of action could wait for later, however, as Helene and Francis found a curious sight on their approach to the tree line bordering The Square. Marie seemed to be frozen mid-duck behind a wide tree.
When Helene walked up to Marie and touched her shoulder, the girl leapt sideways, obviously disturbed.
“Marie, Marie! What’s wrong?” asked Helene when Marie finally recognized her.
“Uh, Helene,” said Francis, concern hardening his voice, “it’s best if you get her away from here. Take her to your home.”
“What? I still need…”
“Look,” replied Francis pointing in the direction of the market.
Following his gesture, Helene spotted Louis being held, his arms behind his back and pushed into a kneeling position on the ground. While one white man continued to strongarm and berate Louis, another loudly proclaimed that they were “reclaiming a fugitive slave” and that others in Congo Square “should let them pass in peace, lest a similar fate await them.”
Indeed, many booth sellers had closed down their stalls for the day, several shoppers could be seen exiting the square in the opposite direction of these men, but there were a few stubborn souls, seller and shopper alike, who observed the scene from a distance.
Realizing that Marie could be their next target, Helene chose her next movements carefully, signing, “Marie, it’s important you follow me home. Francis and others will assist your father.”
Marie shook her head, adamant, “We can stay and help. Use our magik to save him.”
“You know that we have to keep our magik hidden, we never know when a white wizard will appear on the baver side.”
“We can’t just leave my father,” Marie stomped, exasperated.
Francis jumped into the conversation, “Helene is right. There is nothing you can do in this moment, remaining here not only puts you in danger, it keeps your father from being able to defend himself well.”
Chancing a glance in the direction of the square, Helene noticed that Louis seemed to look in any direction but where his daughter stood. Marie seemed to grasp this as well, as after another look in his direction, looking resigned, she nodded at Helene and Francis, keeping her head low and sad while signing, “Fine. I will go with you until we can save him.”
Flying into action, Helene threw an Invisibility Eple on Marie with a subtle wave and snap. Knowing this change had likely startled Marie, she motioned in her direction, “We’ll go to my parents’ house. They’ll help us come up with a plan. Snap twice when you’re ready to follow me there.”
There was a pause then two soft snaps could be heard.
Gathering her resolve, Helene turned to Francis, “Will you please stick around and determine what, if anything, we can do to help Mr. Louis?”
“Of course, I’ll talk to a few of the sellers and others to figure out what happened here and tail these bavers to see where they take him.”
“Be safe,” Helene said, with concern in her eyes and voice, her frustration with him forgotten in the moment.
“Of course,” Francis repeated, this time giving her a soft shoulder squeeze, “I’ll watch to make sure you’ve made it past Congo Square safely before heading off.”
With a nod, Helene took a deep breath then waved towards the direction she’d last seen Marie for the girl to follow her.
Walking past Congo Square was genuinely uneventful, with Helene keeping her head low and her typical fast pace. Wishing to somehow convey that Louis’ daughter was safe without gaining the attention of the bavers, Helene resolved to get Francis to pass the message.
The walk further into Treme then down the street to her family’s home was easy enough. It seemed the news of Mr. Louis’ abduction had inspired neighbors to act as most of the sellers in the marketplace had – namely, closing up in their houses in hopes of avoiding attention. Finally reaching her own front door, Helene knocked to get the attention of her parents.
Her mother, answering the door with a few pins in the side of her mouth and her sewing glasses on, took in Helene’s hurried state and immediately asked her what was wrong.
“Manman something awful happened with Mr. Louis in Congo Square,” Helene started, catching the door before her mother could close it on an invisible Marie, “so I brought Marie here.”
The door then closed with a soft click, seemingly on its own.
“Ah,” replied her manman, who thankfully seemed only slightly startled by this revelation and action, “I’ll make some tea while you get rid of the illusion.” With that, Carlota replaced the tools she’d answered the door with on her sewing table before heading to the kitchen.
“Right,” Helene muttered, turning towards the doorway, where she figured Marie was still standing, “Revelio!” and with an upward wave from Marie’s feet to her head, the girl’s illusion was taken away.
“Let’s get you settled,” Helene told Marie, leading her to the dining room table and helping her to remove her capelet before taking care of her own, “are you thirsty?”
Marie looked as if she couldn’t quite make heads or tails of herself, which Helene could understand. Luckily, before she could walk into the kitchen, her mother came out bearing a tray for tea, including three glasses of water. Helene took a chair beside the one Marie had selected, and Carlota set the tray onto the table.
Carlota too took a seat and waited for Marie to stir and sip her tea before asking, “What happened to Louis?”
Marie cast her eyes down, avoiding either woman’s eye contact while drinking her tea.
Helene filled in, “By the time Francis and I returned from our trip, it looked as if we caught the end of some bavers taking Mr. Louis away.”
“Oh bonte,” Carlota gasped, “and how did Marie get away?”
“We found her ducking behind a tree and I decided to bring her here once we learned what was happening,” Helene answered, adding, “I’d hoped she’d give us the rest of the story once safe.” She glanced again at Marie, who was still avoiding her gaze.
“Hmm…and what of Francis? Where is he?” asked Carlota, who also noticed Marie’s reticence.
“He stayed behind to learn more about what’s going on. Which reminds me, I want him to give Mr. Louis word that his daughter’s safe and to bring her things here.”
Helene stood up and her mother added, “Would you also summon your father? He should nearly be done with his visits and needs to know what’s going on.”
Judging by the setting sun and the brightness of the lanterns within the house, Helene decided to send Francis a message by Patronus, assuming he’d be outside yet hidden enough that this magic wouldn’t be seen. Summoning the joy she felt when she and Marie were younger and they’d played with magik as well as the happiness of learning that the elders were sending her and Francis to Uagadou, Helene cried “Expecto Patronum!”
When her osprey Patronus appeared in front of her, she bid it to find Francis so that she could share a message. Off it went and she felt its presence moving in her mind. Once she felt it stop in place, she closed then opened her eyes again, seeing Francis’ concerned face.
“Marie is safe. Bring her things.”
With that, Helene closed then opened her eyes again. She knew her connection to the Patronus was broken when she saw the sitting area of her house. Taking a deep settling breath, Helene decided on a less arduous form of communication to her father. Deeming it likely that he was out still visiting patients and near a light source, Helene pulled a brass locket with a large iris on its front, out of her pocket.
Flipping it open in the palm of her hand, Helene marveled at the ingenuity of this device. Where Pégik would only see a miniscule rendering of she and her parents, by shaking the locket, she and any other wizard could also see from the mirror connected to the bearer of the matching mirror. Tapping and holding the edge of the mirror so that her father would be alerted to her request by its warmth, Helene waited to see her father’s face.
“What is it renmen?” her father asked, looking weary, a few seconds later.
“Oh, Papa! There’s so much happening, Mr. Louis was taken and we need you here. Could you come home?”
“He’s been what?” her father asked, startled, “yes, bebe, I’ll finish packing up and will see you soon.”
After her father disappeared from the mirror’s range, Helene closed her locket and put it back in her pocket.
“Well,” she said turning back towards the dining room, “Papa says he’ll be here soon.”
Her mother nodded and stood up from the table taking the empty cups and tray, “I should get dinner started.”
“Sounds good,” Helene was suddenly feeling very hungry, “need any help?”
“Not today, cher, but I will remember your offer when I next need you in the kitchen,” she winked.
Grateful for the opportunity to sit down for a beat, Helene returned to her chair at the dining room table.
“I’d say it’s time we learned how exactly we got here, wouldn’t you?” she signed to Marie.
After giving a great sigh and shrug, Marie nodded then began: “Papa thinks—”
A knock at the door set all the women into movement. Marie shuddered and shook.
Helene brought up her left hand in her usual defensive eple position. The pans Carlota held thumped onto the kitchen counter, all but the cast iron skillet she kept clutched in her hand as she made her way to the front door, motioning the other two to hide.
“Who is here at this hour?”
There was no answer. Instead, the door opened, and in swept Antoine and Francis.
“Ack!” yelled Carlota, gripping the skillet she held over her shoulder, ready to launch. “You can’t just come in here unannounced. Look at us!”
After taking in the state of the room’s occupants, the men’s faces grew comforting. Antoine went to his wife, loosening her hold on the cooking utensil and rubbing her back.
“It’s alright, now. Well…actually it’s not.”
With an exasperated sigh, Antoine set his satchel atop a nearby bookcase and gestured for everyone to follow him. Walking into the kitchen and shooing everyone else to the dining table, he moved along the dinner his wife had started with a bit of magik.
Within minutes, steaming plates of shrimp jambalaya had whisked themselves in front of each diner. Helene and Francis had just finished distributing dining utensils and glasses of water around the table when Helene’s father joined the group.
“As I was saying, all is not well.”
“We were just about to hear Marie’s tale when you walked in,” Helene prompted.
Everyone turned expectantly to the girl, who took a slow gulp of water before sharing how it had been a typical day at the market when a group of bavers appeared near the east entrance to the square about an hour after she’d spoken to Helene and Francis. She had been helping Miss Henrietta adjust her display of flowers, which had been knocked awry by a strong gust of wind, when they noticed some vendors furtively closing shop. Her father stood no chance, as he’d just finished a sale with a customer when the bavers walked up to him. Marie lost track of the conversation when Miss Henrietta first bade her to hide inside the shadows of her stall, then closed shop and motioned Marie to walk out of the marketplace with her. After they were out, Marie fretted about not seeing her father and wandered into the nearby park to try to see where he’d gone. That was when Helene and Francis had found her.
“It was as if they were searching for someone. Searching for Papa,” Helene translated, “Do you think they’ll search for me?”
“Afraid so,” started Francis, who began his own tale about following Mr. Louis.
“After yall left they shackled Mr. Louis and put him in a solo cell in the old auction building near the docks. I caused a little magik distraction by the waterside and snuck in to speak to him.”
Seeing the twinkle in his eye as he said ‘magik distraction,’ Helene noted this as something to return to later.
“He was happy to hear that Marie is safe for the time being but said they would be after her. He said he’ll never give up where she is or ever be on a plantation again,” Francis paused, avoiding Marie’s gaze. “He said…he’d rather die first.”
“Papa wouldn’t. He’d never leave me!” Marie signed, determination and disbelief shaping her small face, slamming her fists down on either side of her half finished plate, then standing up abruptly.
“I believe it’s time we get you settled,” said Carlota, leading the girl towards Helene’s room. “Let’s make you a pallet. You can use some of Helene’s old things for the night.”
“When can I get my own things?” asked Marie with a frown.
“That, cherie, is a worry that one of these three can take care of tomorrow. For now, let your concerns be ours,” Carlota reassured Marie with a wink. Resigned and tired, Marie told them all good night and allowed herself to be ushered away.
Watching that the door to the bedroom had closed behind them, Francis continued, “I didn’t want to share this in front of Marie, but I think there’s magik involved in Mr. Louis’ arrest.”
“Do you mean, one of us…?”
“Oh no, I doubt anyone from our community or even New Orleans is involved. The magik was too unfamiliar.”
“First, the shackles they forced Mr. Louis into couldn’t be removed by any of the common unlocking or removal eples I tried. I even used Pégik methods to no avail.”
At this Antoine frowned, rubbing the short hairs of his beard absentmindedly, his usual display of disquiet. Helene braced for what she could tell would only be worse news.
“Well, that explains why you couldn’t immediately break him out, but I hope you left him with something.”
“Funny you say that, as it brings up the other reasons I believe magic is at play. To buy myself some time I’d set off a small whirlpool in the waters where nearby ships were docked. My trick should’ve bought me all the time I needed. Instead, I had barely a half hour to get into the cell, attempt and fail to free Mr. Louis, and get out without being detected.”
Helene’s dad was clearly troubled by this news. He looked down, holding the bridge of his nose and forehead, contemplating Francis’ words.
“Louis is out there without any magik protections against someone we suspect has use of it?”
“I didn’t say that,” answered Francis with a smile. “While it’s not quite a protection, I did work a Heartbeat eple on him.”
“Knowing his location is well and all but…”
“It was the best I could do at the time, especially given that we don’t know if detection eples were in place on his person or in his cell,” sighed Francis.
“I’m inclined to assume there were some undetectable eples given all the magik you mentioned,” interjected Antoine, “What came of your whirlpool?”
Francis shook his head exasperated, “It was gone with no trace when I made my way out of the building. If I hadn’t been invisible I would’ve been caught by the guards stopping people there. It was as if they expected to find someone at fault for the whirlpool instead of being unknowing Pégik.”
Carlota walked back into the room to find the trio silent, each of them musing on what Francis’ observations could mean.
“I’ve got Marie washed up and down for the night. What have we accomplished here?” she asked, looking around at the used dishes still on the table and quirking up an eyebrow.
“Just words, maman. Words and thoughts,” shared Helene. “But you’re right, we need action.”
She whisked the dishes from the table with a wave and floated them ahead of her into the kitchen.
“Let me help you,” offered Francis, following her from the dining room.
Helene soaped up the washing tub as Francis scraped off the dishes and sent them softly into it with a low “plunk.”
She’d started scrubbing a few dishes down when he said, “Is there something we need to talk about?”
She sighed in response, “I don’t know, you tell me.”
He let out a low groan, “Look, I wasn’t in the best mood today after another morning of my dad heading out with no explanation and my mother ignoring it all yet being angry and sad.” He finished scraping plates and conjured up a towel that began drying off clean dishes mid-air. “So when I gave you that jewelry and you put it away in front of the whole square, I…”
“Thought I rejected your gift?”
“…thought you didn’t care about it, about me.”
Setting the final fork from the wash basin on the counter, Helene looked up at Francis, trying to read his face for sincerity, “Surely, you couldn’t believe that.”
Francis shrugged, “When we’re together we’re always talking about the school, about our studies, about what’s next. You always have these brilliant ideas that I want to be a part of, but sometimes I feel like I’m not seeing all of you.”
Helene was taken aback. Was Francis finally sharing real feelings with her? How was she to respond with her head gone dizzy and her heart in a tizzy? Unsure about trusting anyone’s feelings in this moment, she replied, “Honestly, it seems like you never want to talk about feelings when you’re with me. At Uagadou, even here, we always avoid it. I’m never quite sure how I should feel because being around you makes me feel so many things. Admiration for how people are always willing to help you and the way you work on anything that excites you, but I’m always afraid to talk with you about deeper feelings because they seemed tied to your father and you clam up.”
They gazed at each other, both hopeful and unsure.
“I…I think I stick to work with you because it’s the most sure I am about anything with you. And even then there’s days like this and what happened with Rosalie…” Helene broached.
“You don’t have to worry about that,” Francis interjected, looking determined as he swatted Rosalie’s name out of the air as if it were a fly. “It’s enough to know that we feel similarly.”
Before Helene could probe at this statement or let her true feelings about Francis’ flirtations come to light, her mother stepped into the kitchen, looking to refill the water pitcher.
“If you’re done here, I believe your father has something to share.”
“Yes, mam, we’re all done,” Francis said hurriedly, dismissing the dish towel and turning to enter the living space.
“Thanks, maman,” Helene muttered, getting her mother’s knowing nod in return.
Her father began once they had all assembled around him. “Hearing Marie and her father’s story today supports some of what the council of elders and I have been worried about. Seers in Treme and on Bayou Teche have Seen great strife and triumph to come, with the bavers right in the middle of it. I’m afraid Louis’ fate is tied to that.”
“What has been Seen, Papa? And why is this the first you’ve shared on this?” She shuddered at the thought that the bavers involved with Mr. Louis’ imprisonment could have more dire intentions for her community.
“Not much has been shared because there simply is not much known. What little the Seers have told us has been muddled, as if there is an obstruction to their visions.”
“An obstruction? I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of this happening before,” mumbled Francis, deep in thought.
“It is precisely this obstruction and the ill it forebodes that has the elders shaken up. They don’t know what to advise, other than taking greater care to maintain the secrecy of magik.”
“But Papa, do you truly believe that our household eples and protections will be enough to hide us from anyone strong enough to evade the Seers?”
“Now that’s what I want to talk to all of you about,” Antoine said gesturing towards each person in the group. “The elders have asked that we all are on alert for any strange magik, mainly boundary and protection eples. They suspect, as we do for Louis’ imprisonment, that outside magic is interfering with the Seer’s visions and who knows what else.”
The rest of the group shifted in their seats, clearly uneasy with a magic user outside of their community wreaking havoc in their city.
Francis was the first to break the tension, “Well, that would explain the trouble I ran into trying to get Marie’s things. The place appeared empty when I arrived but something felt off. I probed the house for magik protections, thinking maybe Marie had guardian plants but found that someone had detection eples around their house.”
“That means Louis was right, the bavers are looking for Marie. They know she’d want to return home.”
Carlota shuddered, “That they have been so close to Treme without anyone here speaking of seeing them is scary. We must take extra care with Marie. Is there any way to retrieve her things without being caught in those detections?”
“Maybe,” Francis answered. “It will take some assessment. Would you like to help me tomorrow, Helene?”
Helene shook her head, “The elders’ warnings, Marie’s dad, the detections. I’m worried about how much the bavers want to find Marie. How much do they know about her magik? Why put all this effort into finding such a young girl? It’s time I figure out stronger protections for the school – there may soon be a time when more young people need it.”
Her father nodded in agreement, “We need to think of defenses that can fool even those with magik. Perhaps, you should speak with the pastor of the Pégik congregation. His family once held sermons in the bayou and evaded plenty bavers using no magik at all.”
“Well, as we all have much to do tomorrow, I’ll head home now,” Francis said, standing up to go. “One word of warning though, Helene, you may find that Pégik pastor harsh. My mother has had to deal with him a bit recruiting Pégik-born students and she’s never had good words for him.”
He smiled at Helene’s frown, then bowed to both of her parents who walked him to the door. “Good night, I’ll stop by once I have Marie’s things.”
Even though he had just left, Helene could already feel the change of energy in the room – like there was something missing. Rather than dwell on this feeling she said, “I’d always known Mr. Louis was hiding something, but thought most of his shiftiness was because he lost his wife. Do you think it has anything to do with the bavers knowing of Marie’s magik?”
“With bavers you can never tell,” started Carlota, moving to sit beside Helene on their settee, “I once had a friend that could craft animal hides so well there were rumors he did so through magik. But Joe was just as Pégik as me. That didn’t stop the bavers though, even when I begged my…the man responsible for my birth, they hounded Joe til the very end.”
Helene rubbed her mother’s shoulder, knowing how much of a toll recounting stories of her life before she was freed took on the woman she loved most. “So you’re saying bavers are always interested in our magik? That they won’t stop as long as they think they can get it?”
Carlota nodded her head solemnly, “Which is why we must take care of Marie as best we can.”
“Of course, I just wish her father told us more about their circumstances. He was always so…close-mouthed. Like he was too miserable to ask for help.”
“Well, I don’t know about Louis’ misery but I trust losing his wife has made him a more private man. I know you and Francis may have similar issues with him keeping stuff at home to himself.”
“Yes, but he’s not walking around with a chip on his shoulder like Mr. Louis does.”
“Bebe, while you and I think it’s common sense to lay everything on the table when asking for help, common sense isn’t a flower that grows in everyone’s garden.”
Hearing her parents compare Francis, someone Helene thought so highly of, to Mr. Louis, who she’d always had her suspicions about, made her head spin. Was she so distracted with building the school that she didn’t see Francis’ struggle with his father’s cheating? Had this made a difference in the work they were trying to do with the school?
After a very long day, these questions made all of the hours she’d spent worried about the school and Marie catch up with her. “I hear you Manman and Papa. I just…I just need to sleep on it.”
“It’s ok bebe, go get some rest.”
Helene nodded good night to each of her parents in turn, then slunk off to her bedroom. She tried not to let the deep look they exchanged in her periphery stir up feelings she’d rather ignore.