|Gargoyles is the property of Disney and Buena Vista Television. Harry
Potter is the property of J.K. Rowling.
Author’s note: In this story, Alex and Nina are around 8-9 years old.
(Convenient as I have their body doubles running around the house!) This
story goes out to Ryan, Paul and Sasha (who is a friend who happens to
be a girl, not a grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrlfriend.)
“‘…but I won’t deny that I am a
“Whoa.” Nina’s eyes were wide
as saucers as she lay on the heaps of pillows next to Alex as his nanny
read to them from the third Harry Potter. “Is he really, Tia Avery? Really?”
Alex snorted. “I knew he was ages
ago,” he said smugly.
Avery raised one eyebrow. “Now,
Alex,” she chided gently, “you know very well that we’ve been reading these
books for months now. Nina is your guest so be nice.”
“I saw the movie though,” Nina
chirped up. “Cassidy took me.”
“I’ve got that on DVD,” Alex boasted.
“Really?” Nina sat up. “You’re
kidding! That’s not going to be on sale until May! They said so on TV!”
“Mom and Dad got an early release
copy,” Alex answered with a shrug as if this happened all the time. He
glanced over at his visitor who was bouncing with excitement. “You wanna
see it later?”
Nina launched herself at him and nearly strangled Alex in an exuberant
hug. Pillows flew in all directions.
“Get OFF me!!” the young Xanatos
protested but without much conviction.
Placing a bookmark in the book,
Avery just shook her head and laughed at the two children rolling around
on the floor. Her visiting niece, Nina, was accustomed to being part of
the huge Bishop clan and treated Alex with the same rough and tumble affection
she gave to any of her cousins. It mortified Owen, who felt Alex should
conduct himself with princely decorum, but Avery knew it was good for Alex
to just be a regular kid from time to time.
“Nina,” Avery said with a no-nonsense
edge to her voice, “let him go. He’s a boy, not a entry in a sheep-wrestling
Alex sat up, his red hair standing
up in static clumps. “You wrestle sheep?”
“Sure!! It’s fun!” At nine years
old, Nina stood just slightly taller than the younger boy and looked all
lanky legs in her blue jeans. “Dad and Uncle George are going to let me
do calf-roping next. I’ve been practicing!”
“I’ll have to get out my old rope
and have you show me your stuff later,” Avery commented. “We’ve got to
keep that championship belt in the family you know.”
“Do you suppose we could have
a pizza and movie night, Avery?” Alex asked earnestly.
“Yeah, like a slumber party!”
Nina chirped up. “I bet Dad and Cassidy wouldn’t mind.”
“You’ve been to a slumber party?”
Alex asked wistfully.
“Yep! Once at my cousin’s house
and twice with just girls from school.” Nina peered at him curiously. “What,
you’ve never been?”
“No.” Alex punched the pillow
next to him. “Too big of a security risk.”
He was trying to put a positive
spin on it but Avery could still hear the disappointment in his voice.
She took a pad of paper from the shelf and turned with pencil poised. “Well
then, it’s high time you had a sleepover of your own. I’ll talk to Dennis
but I’m sure he’ll say yes. What kind of pizza do you want to have? I’ll
make a list right now.”
“Ham and pineapple, double cheese,”
Alex glanced at his guest, “and--”
“Eeeeeeuuuw.” Alex gagged as he
made a face.
“Yum,” Avery commented. “With
extra sour cream and salsa, right?”
“And ice cream floats for after,”
Alex ordered. “Okay?”
“Sounds good,” Avery replied as
she finished writing. “Can you guys entertain yourselves while I run downstairs?
This won’t take very long.”
“No problemo!” Nina gave her aunt
a thumbs up.
Alex was thumbing through the
book that Avery had just finished reading to them. Nina flopped down on
a bean bag chair. “That’s got to be one of my favorite Harry Potter books
so far.” She giggled. “I love it when Daddy reads it – he says that he
can relate to Lupin because his hair went gray early too.”
“Avery says that too,’ Alex agreed.
“It’s a shame that we have to wait until the next book comes out. Even
Dad couldn’t get an advance copy and that’s saying something.”
“I wonder what’s going to happen.”
Nina looked around the room thoughtfully. “I know – let’s pretend that
we’re making up the next Harry Potter book.”
“Isn’t that what the author’s
for?” Alex asked skeptically.
Nina hurled a pillow at him. “Haven’t
you ever played pretend? It’s a lot better than the book sometimes.” She
jumped to her feet and snatched up a pencil decorated with silvery holographic
foil. “I’m Hermione and this is my magic wand!”
“That’s a pencil with a broken
“Oh, hush up!” Nina continued,
snatching up a notebook and gesturing grandly, “And this is my spellbook
that I’m going to write up all of the spells.” She jumped up on the windowseat.
“See? This is Hogwarts Castle – we can pretend to try to get into the forbidden
corridor on the third floor or sneak into the dungeons or whatever we want.
C’mon, Alex – it’ll be fun!!”
“Well…,” Alex was beginning to
get excited in spite of himself. “Avery did say we were to entertain ourselves.”
Nina shrugged and rolled her eyes
innocently. “Can’t get in trouble if you’re doing what you’re told.”
“All right then,” Alex said, clapping
his hands together. “I’ll be Harry.”
“Hey… why do you get to be Harry?”
Alex blinked, thinking quickly.
“Well, I can to do magic, my mom has red hair like Harry’s mom, and my
dad’s hair sticks out just like his dad. That’s three reasons.”
“Everybody’s dad has hair that
sticks out,” Nina pointed out. “That’s why they look so grumpy in the morning.”
“Anyway,” Alex continued, ignoring
her, “who can play the part of Ron?”
“I know!” Nina’s eyes lit up.
“Crim?” Alex wrinkled his nose.
“He’s not red-headed.”
“No, but he’s red.” She grabbed
Alex’s hand and they ran out into the small courtyard just off of the nursery.
Tucked inside its protective walls were the smaller residents of the castle,
the Hatchlings. The four young gargoyles stood on the low wall of a round
flowerbed with Bronx, the clan’s beast frozen in a fierce pose nearby.
Nina came up to the smallest gargoyle and patted him affectionately on
the beak. “Hey, little cuz – wanna come out and play?”
Alex looked up at the sky. “It’s
not going to be sunset for a long time.”
“Crim doesn’t mind. He’s always
been an early bird.”
“He’s too young to play right.”
“But he’s brighter than the rest
of the Hatchlings!”
“He’s still a baby.”
“Aleeeeeeeeeeeeex!” Nina put her
hands on her hips and glared at him. “Then age him up a bit. He’ll think
“Good heavens! Are you a wizard
Rolling his eyes, Alex grumbled
and waved her out of the way. “Oh-kay… let’s see here…” He scrunched up
his face and concentrated the way Owen taught him, visualizing the end
result in his mind. Latin phrases came unbidden to his memory and he began
to mutter them under his breath.
Cracks began to ripple over Crim’s
stone shell, outlined from within with a deep, pulsating glow. Nina threw
her hands over her face and stepped back as bits of stone skin began popping
off of her cousin. There was a sudden burst of light and Crim began to
straighten up from the crouch he’d been sleeping in to stand up…
And still further up until he
was towering over Nina and Alex. Yawning, Crim stretched out both his arms
and his wings, curling his tongue like a dog. Alex’s spell had accelerated
Crim’s growth rate and increased his resemblance to his father Brooklyn;
In addition to his height, Crim’s beak and horn buds had become more prominent
and his soft golden curls had tumbled past his shoulders. He blinked, smacked
his beak, and said, “Gosh, is it time to get up already?”
“Uh… uh…” Nina backed into Alex
and clutched his arm.
Crim frowned at her. “What’s wrong,
“Hoo boy – Owen is going to kill
me,” Alex muttered. With a show of bravado that would have impressed his
father, he plastered a confident grin on his face. “Hey, Crim – Nina and
I are going to play Harry Potter. Would you like to join us?”
“Would I?” An impish smile curled
around Crim’s beak. “Sure!” He jumped off the low wall and teetered on
his toes, falling awkwardly forward. There was a nasty ripping sound as
the T-shirt and jeans he had on popped their seams. “Whoa! What happened?”
“Oh, it’s all my fault!” Nina
burst out, nearly blubbering. “I had Alex wake you up and had him make
you a little older, so you could play Ron.” She held out her hands to help
him up. “I never meant to hurt you, little cuz!”
Crim stood up with Nina’s help,
slapping his tail firmly on the ground to help him balance. He stared into
her eyes in amazement. “Hey!! I’m the same height you are!” He glanced
over at the other Hatchlings still frozen in their stone sleep. “Cool –
Austin and Moraine are still the same, but I’m bigger than Omaha!” Sticking
his tongue out, he called, “Baby this! Nyaaaah!!”
“You’re okay with this?” Alex
asked hopefully. “‘Cause I bet Owen could---”
“Are you kidding? This is great!”
Crim flipped his wings out and made what was left of his shirt drift off
over the garden. A particularly large scrap of fabric fell rakishly over
Bronx’s face. “Um, but I might want to change clothes. These are a little
While Crim rummaged around in
Alex’s closet, Nina and Alex began to plan out their adventure a little
further. “So, do we want to continue on where the book left off or do something
on our own?”
Alex flopped back on his bed.
“I really liked the bits where Harry was finding out about the secret passages.
I wish there were some around here.”
“But there are!” Crim called out,
his voice slightly muffled. “Hudson says there were lots of secret passages
back in the old days.”
“Yeah, but that was then,” Nina
sighed. “Who knows if there’s any left? If any grownups found them, they
probably just filled them in.”
“Wait a minute!!” Alex yelped,
sitting straight up. “I just remembered something! Owen is always popping
up just when you don’t expect it. When I was really little, I remember
him taking me with him. We went behind this tapestry in the Great Hall
and we came out somewhere near his office.”
Crim came out wearing a pair of
Alex’s jeans and a cartoon t-shirt, newly altered for wings and tail. “Do
you remember where?”
“No-o-o-o-o,” Alex drawled. He
snapped his fingers. “But I’ll bet anything that Owen has them on his palm
pilot. He has all the floor plans in there.”
“Right,” Nina made a fist and
smacked it against her palm. “It’ll be just like getting the Marauder’s
Map out of Filch’s office.” She was halfway across the room when she yelled
back, “C’mon, let’s get on with it!”
Crim pounced across the room after
her on all fours, still not quite used to the center of balance in his
bigger body. Alex caught up with them in time to steer them in the right
direction at the next corridor.
“C’mon, Owen’s office is just
off of the Great Hall.”
Sneakers squealed as they slid
around the corner dividing the Xanatos residence from the business areas.
Too late they realized that it was also a very public part of the castle
as they nearly crashed in David Xanatos talking to a group as they made
their way across the Great Hall. Crim made a last minute dive just as Alex’s
dad began to turn and slid behind a sofa, only managing to dislodge some
papers on a neighboring table.
“Dad! How are you?” Alex put on
his biggest ‘I’m-not-up-to-anything’ grin.
“Fine, thanks.” Xanatos merely
cocked an eyebrow. “You’re in a kind of a hurry, aren’t you?” The businessmen
behind him chuckled.
“I guess so.” Alex scuffed his
shoe on the marble floor. “We just wanted to see if the pizza is here.”
“We’re gonna watch movies,” Nina
chirped up, “and eat pizza and play video games and--”
“Oh, I see,” Xanatos nodded. “Well,
don’t worry about it. I’m sure Ms. Bishop will bring the pizza up as soon
as it gets here. Why don’t you two go play someplace else, okay?”
“Could we wait here?” Nina asked.
“My dad’s supposed to be bringing me my backpack.” She tilted her head
coquettishly and smiled sweetly. “Pleeeeeeeeeeze?”
“Well,” Xanatos re-considered
under the influence of a pair of big brown eyes, “I suppose that will be
all right, but no running around and yelling.”
Smiling, Nina grabbed Alex by
the arm and plopped them both down on the sofa Crim was hiding behind.
“We’ll stay riiiiiiiight here.”
“And no smooching, you two.” Hiding
a grin as his son went into strangled hysterics, Xanatos turned back to
his associates. “Kids… shall we take this down to the conference room in
the labs, gentlemen? This way…”
Alex and Nina sprawled on the
sofa, watching as the grownups went into the elevator. As soon as they
had disappeared, Alex edged carefully away from Nina. “How come he bought
your story but not mine? The minute Dad does that eyebrow thing, I know
Crim spoke up from behind the
coach. “It’s a girl thing. Moraine does the same thing to Hudson.”
Nina ignored them both. “So where’s
“Right over there.” Alex stood
up and looked around. “You’d better stay here, Crim. There’s no telling
who might come through here.”
“No problem – I’ll check these
tapestries behind the couches. There’s one that Bronx always sniffs at
when he comes through here.”
“Probably piddled on it,” Nina
commented sagely like a true country girl.
Alex made a face and quickly led
the way to Owen’s office. He put his hand on the palm lock and the door
clicked open. He caught the question on Nina’s face and answered it. “This
is one of my safety zones if anything happens in the building. That’s why
I’m authorized to come in here, so Owen can protect me.”
“Do you know how weird that sounds?”
“Hey, I think it’s weirder that
you wrestle sheep.” Alex walked around Owen’s polished desk and began pulling
drawers open. He tossed Nina a candy wrapped in silver foil. “Here – Owen
has a drawer full of these. He loves chocolate.”
“Yeah, but where’s his palm pilot?”
“Here!” Alex held it up triumphantly.
He froze in place for a second as his eyes took on a faraway look. He slapped
the drawers shut and barreled around the desk, stuffing the palm pilot
hurriedly in the side pocket of his cargo pants. He handed Nina a fistful
of chocolate. “Act guilty!” he hissed.
The door swung open. “Master Alex,”
Owen Burnett intoned as he stood in the doorway, “what have I told you
about snacking before dinnertime?”
“Yeah, but this is special,” Alex
said guilelessly. “Nina’s sleeping over and Avery’s off ordering pizza
and ice cream. Can’t we have a little snack while we wait?”
Owen looked them both over suspiciously,
his thin nostrils twitching.
Nina smiled up at him and fluttered
Alex acted like he was putting
his arm around her and made faces at Owen to convey a man-to-man message
about impressing girls. He raised his eyebrows pleadingly.
For a brief moment, Puck looked
out from the depths of Owen’s eyes and laughed but Owen himself merely
cleared his throat. “I see.” He stood aside and pointed out the door. “Take
your treats back up to your playroom, Master Alex, and I’ll have healthy
snacks sent up to tide you over until the pizza arrives. Good afternoon,
Nina waited until they were out
of earshot. “How’d you know he was coming?”
“It’s kinda complicated. I just
know how to listen for Owen. He’s sneaky.” Alex shrugged and looked around.
“Crim! Where are you?”
A three-fingered hand crept out
from behind an embroidered scene of battles and swooning maidens and waved
at them from across the room. Casually, Nina and Alex strolled over to
“Crim!” Nina hissed. “How’d you
get all the way over here?”
“Hey, no one was looking!” Crim
hissed back. “I caught a whiff of Bronx’s scent and followed it over here.
There’s some claw marks on it too and guess what’s behind it?” The reddish
gargoyle grinned as he pulled the tapestry back to reveal a stone slab
that was pivoted away to serve as a door.
“Ooooh.” Nina and Alex were quick
to follow him in.
Flipping the palm pilot on, Alex’s
face was lit eerily in its pale teal light. “Okay, let’s see here.” He
took the stylus out and quickly went through its menu.
“Can you really use that thing?”
“Sure, Owen lets me play with
it whenever we’re out doing something boring like the symphony or opening
the stock exchange. He’s got all kinds of things in here.” Alex grinned
suddenly. “Here it is! And look – here’s the Great Hall and here’s an X
where this tunnel is.”
“Where does it go?”
Crim peered over Alex’s shoulder.
“It seems to head over towards the tower.” He squinted into the darkness,
his eyes looking like a pair of glowing white headlights. “That way, I
“Y-you can see in here?” Nina
“Sure!” Crim held out his hand.
“I see great in the dark. You just hold onto me, cuz, and Alex can hold
onto you, and I’ll lead the way.”
The passageway was dank and narrow,
reeking of ancient dust and mildew. Dead bugs crunched under their feet
and live bugs skittered along the walls. Despite growing up on a ranch,
Nina screamed when they turned a corner and nearly walked straight into
a colossal spider’s web. The boys were just glad her high-pitched screech
covered their own yelps of terror.
“C-crim?” Alex gulped. “You don’t
see any giant talking spiders up there, do you?”
“No-o-o-o,” Crim answered slowly,
“but thanks for bringing it up. I feel SO much better now.” He sank down
on his haunches and lowered his head until it was almost on the floor.
“I can see some light on the other side of this. We might be able to crawl
“I’ve got a better idea,” Alex
said and handed the palm pilot to Nina. He threw his hands out like a martial
artist from one of his favorite cartoons. "Fulmenos venite!"
Crim yelped and flattened himself
on the floor. The crackling lightning bolt certainly cleared their way
– but the tinder dry webbing caught fire in a spectacular cloud of sparks
that exploded against the ceiling. Fortunately, once everything flammable
was burned up, the fire died out quickly in a shower of feathery ashes.
Crim and Nina were both glaring at Alex when he joined them in the corridor
outside the hidden passage.
“Do you use elephant guns on crickets
TOO?” Nina snapped. “You could have caught the castle on fire!”
Crim was scowling and fingering
the singed hair curling over his brow ridges. “Forget the castle, you nearly
set ME on fire!”
“Well, I didn’t and that’s the
point,” Alex retorted. He took the palm pilot back and checked the map.
“Now where’d we come out?”
“Omigosh – what’s that?” Nina
pointed. There was a large bulging shape in the shadows ahead. As they
got closer, they could tell it was one of the adult gargoyles paused in
mid-step at the stairs at the foot of the tower.
“Oh, that’s just Uncle Broadway,”
Crim snickered. “Auntie Angela has him on a diet but she was out visiting
her mother last night. I’ll bet anything he was on his way back from the
kitchens when the sun caught him.”
“Hmm…” Nina looked at Alex and
found him giving her the same evil look back. “Thinking what I’m thinking?”
Alex grinned and raised one finger,
which already had shimmering sparkles swirling around it. “Pink, it is.”
In less than a heartbeat, the deal was done and they were on their way.
“And that’s the entrance to Gryffindor
Tower,” Alex said, marking it with the stylus. “Guarded by a fat gargoyle.”
Glistening like a freshly painted
Easter egg, Broadway merely stood there, blushing pink in his sleep. Crim
chortled. “Oh, Aunt Angela’s gonna have a cow!” He staggered away after
the two humans, barely controlling his giggles.
“So where to next?” Nina asked
“Is there another secret passage on the map?”
Alex chewed on his lip. “Yeah
– there’s another X at the base of the tower where it meets the big wall--”
“The battlements,” Crim said helpfully.
“That’s what Hudson calls them.”
“Yeah.” Alex skipped down a few
steps and looked out a window to get his bearings. “This way!”
* * * * *
“Okay, kids,” Avery called out
as she came back into the playroom. “The pizzas will be here by sunset,
the ice cream and sodas are in my fridge, and Dennis is on his way with
your stuff, Nina.” She walked through the room straightening things automatically
until she noticed the lack of response. “Nina?” She looked around. “Alex?”
She went into Alex’s room – no
kids but the light was on in the closet. Avery gave it a brief glance and
was reaching for the light switch when a scrap of cloth on the floor caught
her attention. Dropping to one knee, Avery picked it up and looked at it
intently. It was plain white t-shirt material but mildly gritty to the
touch. She sniffed it, closing her eyes for a second. In a flash, her eyes
went from amethyst to scarlet.
Avery bolted outside to the Hatchlings’
courtyard. More bits of t-shirt were blowing around, some caught on plants
and one big scrap hanging from Bronx’s ear. She went around to each of
the sleeping gargoyles and checked them carefully.
“Austin… Moraine… Omaha… no.”
Avery paused at the gap in the circle. “CRIM!!” She gave the walled courtyard
a thoroughly search. Crim frequently did wake up long before the rest of
his rookery but his wake-up cycle never began until the sun was a certain
distance from the horizon. There weren’t any signs of struggle – just odd
scraps of Crim’s clothing and remnants of his stone shell.
“Oh, great – now what?” Avery
muttered as she headed back inside. She spied Owen coming up the corridor.
“Owen!” she called as she ran towards him, “Owen, have you seen the kids?”
“Master Alex and your niece were
just in my office,” Owen replied blandly. “I just spoke to Mr. Xanatos
and it would seem that they were in the Great Hall before that.”
“Was Crim with them?”
Owen frowned. “No – why would
he be with them? It’s far too early for him to be awake, isn’t it?”
“Look!” Avery brandished the scrap
of cloth. “I just came from the courtyard. Crim’s missing and there’s bits
of his shirt all over the place but this I found in Alex’s closet.”
“Oh, dear.” Owen took off his
glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Just a moment – I’ll check.”
He closed his eyes and for a brief moment he seemed blurred, as if two
people were overlaid in one spot. His eyes were pure blue without pupils
when he opened them. “It seems a certain young man is doing unsupervised
magic again. I can sense several hotspots in the castle where he’s been
spellcasting. The fallout is making it difficult to pinpoint actually where
Alex is.” He took the scrap of cloth and stared at it with unfocused eyes.
“Yes, I can see the traces of his spell on this. I think you’re right.
Alex must have woke Crim up.”
Avery let out a deep breath. “Then
that must mean that they’re together.”
“That would seem logical.” Owen
tapped his glasses on his chin. “Whatever they’re up to, it would seem
to be harmless; otherwise I would have switched into Puck by now.”
“But why would Crim’s clothes
be shredded like this?” Avery asked. “And why wake him up? Alex and Nina
were perfectly happy when I left them.”
“What had you been doing with
“Well, just reading Harry Potter.
We’d just got to the bit about the werewolf in the Shrieking Shack and
Alex told Nina that he had an advance copy of the Sorceror’s Stone movie.
They were going to watch it later once the pizza got here.”
“I knew there was a reason why
I should have read those books.” Owen sighed and put on his glasses. “No
time like the present.”
* * * * *
“Crim, stop eating those bugs.”
The adobe-colored gargoyle picked
another tidbit off the ivy and popped it in his mouth. “They’re not bugs,”
he mumbled, “they’re snails, and besides they’re breakfast.”
Nina wrinkled her nose. “That’s
“Not so,” Alex commented as he
continued digging through the ivy that had grown over the entrance indicated
on the map. “I had snails when we went to Paris. You eat ‘em with a fork
and a pair of pliers.”
“What? You don’t eat the shells?”
Crim was appalled. “That’s the best part – nice and crunchy.” He twisted
his face around, sucking at something stuck in his teeth.
“Yuck!” Nina took a swing at Crim,
who laughed and dodged nimbly out of the way. “You’d better stop talking
about that or I’m gonna throw uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhp!!!” She lost her balance
on the second swing and fell into the ivy – and kept going.
Alex and Crim eagerly dove through
the hanging vegetation after her. Nina was looking up at them from the
dirty floor with a very disgruntled expression on her face. “Found it,”
she said grumpily.
“Atta girl, cuz,” Crim said cheerfully
as he helped her up.
“Hmm, this is interesting.” Alex
had brought the palm pilot back out and was checking their position. “Owen
has some notes on the tower. They’re dated from when Dad had it brought
over from Scotland.”
“Yeah?” Nina looked over his shoulder.
“What’s it say?”
“Apparently, there were some parts
of the tower that they couldn’t take apart so they brought it over in big
chunks. Owen says here that the Magus and those that came before him had
hidden rooms where they performed magic.”
Alex showed her the view screen.
“See? It says so right there.”
“Hudson said the Magus was the
one that made them all sleep for a thousand years. I asked Dad and he said
the Magus wasn’t all that bad, just kinda scared,” Crim said as he walked
into the shadows and looked up. “There’s a staircase here. Do you think
it goes all the way up?”
“Let’s find out.”
* * * * *
It was the most singularly fascinating
thing Avery had ever seen Owen do. She’d been watching as Owen sat in her
rocking chair devouring all four Harry Potter books. He was turning the
pages so fast that it was a wonder that they didn’t catch fire from the
friction. She wasn’t sure if Owen had blinked or much less breathed in
the past half-hour. As it was, she’d had time to change out of her nanny
outfit of navy slacks and jacket to jeans and a wing-friendly shirt – just
The phone rang. Avery lifted it
to her ear to hear Xanatos say, “Anything?”
“Nothing yet,” she said reluctantly.
“Anything on your end?”
When told that his errant son
was wandering the castle casting spells, David Xanatos took a more practical
approach. He’d had security seal off the castle from the rest of the building
and was having people carefully screened and searched on the lower levels.
“The lobby cops haven’t turned
up anything. Alex knows better than to go downstairs without one of us
along, especially when he has a guest over.” He sighed bitterly. “I haven’t
told Fox yet. She’s been taking bed rest pretty badly these days and the
last thing she needs is this.”
“Well, Owen hasn’t gone Puck on
us yet so wherever the kids have gotten off to, they’re still okay. We’ll
Avery jumped at the sound of Owen’s
“What is it?” Xanatos demanded
in her ear.
Owen stood up. “I think I may
know what they’ve been up to,” he said calmly. “Tell Mr. Xanatos to meet
us in the Great Hall.”
* * * * *
“You know,” Crim said thoughtfully,
“I’ve never been up in this part of the tower. Hudson and Goliath always
make us go up the outside.”
“Me neither,” Alex said. He studied
the map on the palm pilot and clicked on it with the stylus. “The layout
for this level is mostly blank except for the stairwell. Weird.”
“There’s a lot of dust on the
floor,” Nina observed. “Do you suppose nobody’s been in here ever?”
Crim made his voice sound spooky
by resonating it against the high arch of his beak. “Nobody but us ghosts!”
Nina whapped him.
Ignoring the battling Bishop cousins,
Alex walked along the inner wall with his hands, feeling around for another
hidden door but unlike before, there didn’t seem to be any obvious openings.
The hidden stairway had led them far up into the tower. From time to time,
they could see out through open chinks in the outer wall so they knew that
they were nearly to the top when they reached a barren antechamber at the
top of the stairs.
The hair on the back of Alex’s
neck tingled. There was something here – something familiar and yet otherworldly.
He closed his eyes as Puck had taught him and focused his energies on that
feeling. Warmth spread from his shoulders down to his fingertips as they
brushed against the rough stones. Like a magnet on a string, Alex felt
himself being drawn away from the outer wall, traveling widderskins to
the center of the tower.
“Alex?” Crim said softly. “What--?”
He caught the movement of a taloned
hand out of the corner of his eye and snapped, “Don’t touch me!” He took
a deep breath. “It’s okay – I think I’m on to something.”
From his other side, Nina asked
softly, “What is that thing glowing on the wall?”
“I’m not sure,” Alex answered.
“It’s definitely feels magical, but very, very old.” He closed his eyes
against. “It’s like – like a puzzle, or a knot.”
“A lock?” Nina suggested.
“What would a sorcerer want to
keep locked in a tower?” Crim wondered. There was an audible silence as
the two cousins looked at each other. “Alex, wait!”
But it was too late.
* * * * *
The elevator doors opened and Dennis
Bishop stepped out into the Great Hall in a comfortable slouching amble
like he’d just returned from a day in the fields back home in Texas. He
changed a lot in the past five years – his brown hair was heavily shot
with silver but he had regained the health he’d lost during his bout with
leukemia. Swinging a brightly-colored backpack from one hand, he took a
few moments to get his bearings as he walked across the marble floor. As
result, he was right there when everything happened.
Owen and Avery came out from the
east corridor at exactly the same time that Xanatos came out of the express
elevator behind Dennis. Startled, the Texas musician swiveled to look at
them and opened his mouth to speak but that was far as he got.
“Owen!” Xanatos demanded. “What
did you find out?”
“Just a moment, sir,” Owen replied,
striding to a tapestry across the room and twitching it aside. “Yes – Ms.
Bishop, can you confirm this? Could these footsteps belong to Master Alex
and Miss Nina?”
“What?” Dennis’s eyebrows shot
up to his hairline.
Avery dropped down to her knees
and examined the floor carefully. “Yes, Alex’s new sneakers have a slash/dot
pattern like this. Nina’s, I’m not so sure. Dennis, what kind of shoes
was she wearing?”
Xanatos pulled a picture off the
wall and opened the palm lock on the panel hidden behind it. “You think
that the kids have gone exploring?”
“Yes, Mr. Xanatos. I believe that
Alex, Nina and Crim are acting out events in the Harry Potter books. Earlier,
I caught Alex and Nina in my office and when I checked just now, I discovered
my palm pilot missing, not unlike the Marauder’s Map in Filch’s office.”
“And Crim was with them,” Avery
added tensely. “Here’s a set of talons and the tail trailing through the
“What does your office have to
do with Harry Potter?” Xanatos came up with a high-powered flashlight and
a lethal-looking handgun. “Why would Alex do this?”
Tired of feeling like a spectator
at a tennis match, Dennis finally stuck his fingers in his mouth and gave
an ear-splitting whistle. “HEY!! WOULD YOU PEOPLE CALM DOWN!?!”
Xanatos, Owen, and Avery all looked
at him like he was insane.
“Look, let’s not sweat the details,”
Dennis continued calmly. “I don’t know what’s going on but there’s no point
in wondering why the kids did whatever they did. Let’s just find them and
Clearing his throat, Xanatos gave
Owen a meaningful look. “He’s got a point.”
“Hey, I’ve been a dad longer than
any of you. Find ‘em now, panic later.” Dennis tossed Nina’s backpack onto
a sofa and peered into the hidden tunnel. “I don’t hear anything. Where’s
this come out?”
Owen raised an eyebrow. “Somewhere
near the kitchens, I believe.”
“I called down to the kitchens,”
Avery said quickly. “They weren’t there.”
“Are there any more hidden passages?”
Xanatos asked. “I remember we discovered several of them when we moved
the castle to New York.”
“Yes,” Owen replied slowly. “There’s
several on the battlements, one that went down to the old rookery, and
one in the tower but it doesn’t go anywhere.”
“All right then,” Xanatos said
decisively. “I’ll take the one in the old rookery –it’s been turned into
a storage facility for the Steel Clan robots and I’ve got the security
codes. Owen, you and Dennis take the battlements, and Avery, I’d like you
to follow their trail.” He glanced into the dark tunnel. “There’s always
the chance that they may have gotten hurt or stuck in there and you can
get through there a lot faster than the rest of us.” He handed her the
“Right,” Avery agreed grimly.
She nodded at Dennis. “See you on the other side.” She tucked her wings
tightly around her and disappeared into the bowels of the castle.
Leaving in different directions,
Dennis found himself trotting along behind Owen. “So what was the deal
with Harry Potter?” he asked the stoic majordomo. “The kids go off playing
make believe or something?”
“I suspect so, yes.”
His answer was curt and unemotional
but Dennis thought Owen looked more haggard than he'd been in the past.
“How are you holding up, Owen?” he asked mildly. “I was sorry to
hear about Natty.”
“Thank you.” True to form, Owen’s
expression gave nothing away. “I … am coping with my loss.”
“No, you’re not – I should know,
I’ve been there,” Dennis said sagely. “But you will be.”
Owen refused to comment.
* * * * *
Dimly, Alex could hear the voices
of his friends like he was deep underwater but whatever they were saying
was unimportant. All of his attention was focused on the golden pattern
of energy coiled on the wall like an elaborate Celtic seal. Glowing lines
of force curled and circled around each other, one ring inside another
and inside another. As he watched, they repeated the pattern and subconsciously
his hands began to trace their motion.
The patterns on the outer rim
of the design began to change, forming words. Alex’s eyes widened and without
knowing why, he began to speak with an eerie double echo to his voice.
“Expedio… acerbus… latitas… ferocitas!”
Winds swept past Alex, whipping
his hair and his clothes around him. Crim had just enough forethought to
grab Nina as they both were knocked to the floor. The young gargoyle dug
his talons into the floor to anchor them in the roaring gale that followed.
“What’s he doing?” Nina screamed.
“Is he nuts?”
“I don’t know,” Crim yelled back.
“Alex, wake up!”
With those words, the outer ring
spun to a stop and the edge of the design flared in a brilliant white light
to rival the sun. It washed over them in a blast wave that grew and spread
with each passing second. Magical energy hit the wall and passed between
the stones to the castle beyond.
* * * * *
They’d just reached the top of
the battlements when Owen stopped in his tracks. Dennis passed him, realized
he was running alone, and skidded to a stop.
“Hey! What’s up?”
“Oh, no…” Owen’s pupils suddenly
became a clear, robin’s egg blue as he stared up at the tower. “No, Alex!
There was no time to react – in
one second, all the stones of the tower were outlined in a brilliant white-gold
light and in the next, a invisible force wave swept over them, hurling
them head over heels along the flagstones. Owen rolled up into a ball that
uncurled into his true form.
“Oh, yeah,” Puck muttered. “That
did it. What has that fool boy gone and done now?”
Dennis moaned. Puck spared him
a backward glance as his feet left the ground and what he saw made him
hover in place to take a second look. The shirt on Dennis’s back was in
tatters and a pair of steel blue wings were slowly unfolding. He struggled
to his feet, swaying with the effort of keeping his balance and looked
up with glowing white eyes.
“W-what th’ devil are yeuw lookin’
at?” Dennis growled. “Go take care of that! If one hair on my daughter’s
head is hurt, I’m gonna kick yer scrawny butt.”
“Manners, manners,” Puck
chided but he knew where his priorities lay as he turned and shot off towards
the tower. “Interesting spell – I must get the recipe.”
* * * * *
“Oh, this is just swell,” Avery
grumbled to herself as she followed the trail of sneaker prints along the
suffocating confines of the passageway. “When I find those kids, I’m giving
them SUCH a time out!”
A hot wind rushed through, knocking
Avery down in a billow of dust. Choking and coughing, she covered her mouth
and nose with her shirt and tried to see where she was going but it was
no use. The flashlight just reflected off all the particles in the air.
She cast the beam up to see if the dust was starting to settle and froze.
A cluster of tiny red eyes glittered
at her from the shadows and began to scuttle down the wall.
* * * * *
The second ring of the pattern
began to rotate counterclockwise, slowly at first but spinning faster and
faster. As it spun, it became apparent to Alex that parts of the second
ring were designed to match up with the first. Eagerly, he reached for
it with both his hands and his mind, twisting it this way and that, trying
to make it fit.
“Alex!!” Nina screamed as she clung
to Crim’s back as he fought to keep his grip on the floor. “Whatever you’re
doing, you’ve got to stop!! Something’s wrong!”
“He’s not listening!” Crim threw
an arm out and pulled them a little closer to their friend. “I think we’ve
found something that we should have left alone.”
“What can we do?”
“There!” Alex cried out in fierce
satisfaction as the pattern fit into place. More words came into being
and he was compelled to say them.
“Quick, cuz!!” Crim clawed his
way up the floor to Alex’s sneaker clad feet. “Grab him quick! You’ve got
to make him break eye contact with it, now!!”
“Oh-h-h-h!!” Nina scrambled over
Crim and tackled Alex, throwing both her arms and legs around him as she
toppled him to the floor.
“Shut UP, Alex!!” Nina whimpered
and clamped a hand over his mouth.
The gold design on the wall stopped
spinning. The wind died.
Crim raised up cautiously. “Do
Blood red light burst from the
center of the mystic seal, smashing through the back wall. The dying sun
cast shadows in strange colors. Silvery mist began to seep from the edges
of the design, coalescing into a vague, humanoid form.
Nina looked into Alex’s panic-stricken
eyes. “Are you okay?” she whispered. He nodded and she took her hand away
from his mouth. “What did you DO?”
“I’m not sure,” he said numbly.
“It was like it was hypnotizing me or something, making me say the spell.”
“Um, guys?” Crim hissed urgently.
They looked up.
The bearded figure before them
stretched out one gnarled finger and beckoned to Alex. “Come here, boy,”
it said silkily. “You aren’t finished yet.”
* * * * *
Dennis loped to Brooklyn’s roost
just as the last rays of the setting sun dropped below the horizon. The
red gargoyle had just time enough to gape at the musician’s new transformation
before Dennis grabbed him and pointed up at the tower. “Quick, you’ve got
to get up there! The kids are in trouble!”
Brooklyn blinked. “What, Crim
“Yeah, Alex and Nina got it into
their heads to wake him up.”
The demi-gargoyle rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, yeah, I got wings, I don’t know why, and if I knew how to fly, I
wouldn’t be yapping at you.” He stuck his chin out stubbornly. “Can
we go? Please?”
“Geez, you’re nearly as bad-tempered
as my wife,” Brooklyn quipped. He cupped his hands and bellowed to Hudson.
“Trouble in the tower! Get Goliath and Broadway!” He held a hand out to
Dennis and hauled him up to his perch. “The fastest way to get up there
is to catch the thermals.”
“Like flying an ultralight.”
“Something like that.” Brooklyn
shifted, turning his beak this way and that as he tested the air currents.
“Ah… here we go. Just follow me.” Without saying another word, the red
gargoyle dived off the side of the building, swooped and soared back up
“I must be outta my mind,” Dennis
muttered and threw himself off into the air, half-expecting to smack into
the Eyrie Building on the way down. Without thinking and acting on instinct,
his wings spread and caught the air, just like they did in the hallucinatory
dream he’d had when he’d been hospitalized for leukemia. He yelped when
the thermals tossed him upwards. Unlike Brooklyn, Dennis flew like a drunken
seagull and he was relieved that Avery was not around to see it.
* * * * *
“Come here, boy.”
Alex gulped and backed into Nina
who in turn backed into Crim. All three children were staring in dismay
at the ethereal figure standing before them.
“I-is that Voldemort?” Nina whispered
in Alex’s ear.
“I think,” Alex gulped, “that
it’s someone much worse.”
“Clever, clever boy,” the specter
crooned. “I knew you would be of use to me when I first felt your magic.”
He gestured and Alex found himself suddenly rising into the air.
“Alex!!” Nina grabbed his legs
and dug her heels into the floor. Crim growled and bounded forward, swiping
his talons through the ghostly wizard’s arm.
“Foolish children.” The specter
extended his arms and gale force winds blew out of his voluminous sleeves.
Crim tumbled head over heels out of the gaping hole in the tower. Nina
shrieked and tightened her grip on Alex.
“Well, well – what do we have
Floating in mid-air, Puck’s expression
was less than merry as he leaned forward to study the apparition. His eyes
followed the Celtic patterns on the wall. “The first thing to do, good
sir, is to release these two precocious imps.” He snapped his fingers and
Alex and Nina fell back to the ground.
“P-puck?” Alex stammered. “Who
is this guy?”
“No idea,” the fey trickster answered,
“but whoever he is, we’ve got to put him back wherever he came from.” He
uncrossed his legs and stood up next to Alex.
The ghostly wizard’s face distorted,
becoming more inhuman. “You’ll find that easier said than done, elf!” He
raised his arms and lightning crackled around the edges of the seal.
“I think not.” Puck narrowed his
eyes and threw up a ward to shield them from the lightning. “You’re just
the spirit of an ancient mage, someone who was so nasty in real life that
your successor felt it was necessary to bind you body and soul to this
He stepped forward and forced
the specter to back into the Celtic design on the wall.
“No!!” the spirit bellowed. “I
won’t go!” He glared at Alex. “Free me, boy!”
A cold chill went through Alex
but then he felt Puck’s hands on his shoulders.
“Don’t listen to that old windbag,”
Puck said firmly. “What we need to do is to reverse the spell that freed
him. I want you to concentrate on that, all right?”
“This is human magic and it’ll
take a human to cast it. I will be with you all of the way though, blocking
out his influence.” A steely tone entered Puck’s voice. “We can do this,
“I don’t remember how.”
“Think of it as a puzzle, Alex,”
Nina spoke up behind them. “I was watching. Everything you made things
match up, something happened. Just toss it all back in the box and shake
Taking a deep breath, Alex took
a magical grip on the Celtic circle and gave it an enormous push, forcing
the rings to spin clockwise and jumbling the pattern. A tremendous pull
began to draw power back into the seal. The specter wailed as wisps of
his body became sucked back into the mystic pattern. Alex slumped to the
Crim clawed his way back into
the room. “Nina! You’ll never guess what happened!”
“Everybody all right in here?”
Brooklyn called. He pulled Dennis into the room, his shirt in tatters.
“Daddy!” Nina rushed over and
hugged him. She pulled back and made a face. “What happened to you?”
“Darned if I know,” Dennis answered.
“One minute, I sprouted gargoyle wings, the next I’m dropping to the ground
like a rock. Luckily, your uncle was around to catch me.”
“Just as well,” Crim giggled.
“He flies like a lead duck.”
Brooklyn was giving his son a
hard look. “Is it just me,” he asked finally, “or has he grown?”
Crim and Nina both looked at Alex.
He sighed. “I am SO grounded.”
“Indeed you are,” said Owen crisply,
“but for now, I think we should all go downstairs and re-group. Mr. Xanatos
and Ms. Bishop will be anxious to see that you’re all right.”
Xanatos met them in the ivy-covered
courtyard at the foot of the tower. He initially had them in the sights
of his blaster but he tossed that aside when he saw Alex. As he swept Alex
into a big hug, he shot a meaningful look at Owen, who merely gave a small
smile and nodded.
“Son,” Xanatos said solemnly,
“the next time you want to impress a girl, I’d rather you’d borrow the
A bedraggled figure staggered out
of the castle. Dusty and battleworn, Avery was dragging an enormous dead
spider nearly half her size. She threw it down at Xanatos’s feet and blew
her bangs out of her eyes as she glared at him. “You need to call an exterminator.”
There was a scarlet glint in her eyes that brooked no-nonsense.
Xanatos nodded slowly. “Right
away, Ms. Bishop.”
She nodded curtly and turned her
attention to Alex, checking him and then Nina for injuries.
“Boy, Mom sure looks mad.” Crim
stuck his thumb under the hook of his beak and leaned against his father.
“I’ve never seen her like that, have you, Dad?”
A deep rumble like the purr of
a giant cat answered him.
Crim looked up curiously at his
father. “Dad? Why are you growling like that?”
“I’ll explain it when you’re older,
“Oh, no!” Avery gasped and seized
Crim by his rounded cheeks. “What happened to you?” She turned his head
this way and that. “You’re— you’re--”
“Mom?” Crim said in a muffled
voice. “Mom, you’re hurting my head!”
“Avery…” Brooklyn reached over
and gently pried his wife’s hands loose. “He’s okay, babe. We’ll find a
way to fix it.”
“I don’t wanna be fixed!!” Crim
protested. “I wanna be the same size all the other Hatchlings are!”
“Um, excuse me,” Broadway spoke
up from the shadows, “but what’s going on?”
Everyone turned to look and burst
into hysterics. It seems that Alex’s paint job wasn’t stone skin deep –
Broadway looked like he had overdosed on strawberry milkshakes, he was
“What?” Broadway made a face at
Brooklyn wiped his eyes. “Oh,
man – wait until I tell Lex!”
Owen raised an eyebrow at Alex.
“The Fat Lady of Gryffindor Tower?” he asked dryly.
Sheepishly, Alex nodded -- but
not without exchanging a knowing smirk with his two playmates.
Sighing, Owen shook his head.
“I can see that I need to drop a note to this Rowling person or these Harry
Potter books will be the death of me.”