Diana was right; with a wand, the Apparating Taxi Cab was a much more enjoyable ride. The entire car disappeared with a very loud crack just as the dragon in the apple released a display of fireworks. "Darn it. I love the 7 o' clock show!" Diana whined as she gathered her bags full Muggle clothes.
They had spent two hours in the Underground. Jason had a wand; he felt complete with it tucked safely into his pocket. Diana was prepared for whatever journey Moxie would take them on this summer--though Moxie had protested and said that two large winter jackets were more than enough. But now one thought stung them all in the back of their brains as the taxi cab landed with a thud.
Had the forest regrown? Moxie paid the driver and started up the hill. Jason's heart fluttered when he saw branches full of thick leaves. Hawthorne Forest, of which he knew absolutely nothing, would continue to serve as the States' only purely magical forest.
Moxie gasped, breaking Jason's serenity. Diana dropped her bags and whipped her wand out. Deep in the center of the forest a huge fire was crackling, several figures dancing around it. "Crop Watchers," Moxie hissed, her wand had also found its way into her hand.
The creatures dancing around the billowing flames were wearing green burlap sacks and tired old blue jeans. A few had what looked like straw hats, but upon closer inspection, Jason realized that the hay appeared to be a part of them."What.. what are they?" he asked.
"Terribly stupid things," Diana muttered. "When they're tame, they're harmless. These must be wild though--at least, I've only seen wild ones get this excited about their own flames."
"They breathe fire?" Jason said in awe.
Moxie took a step forward, "Yes; wizarding farmers use them to keep away irritating birds and insects; much like a Muggle farmer's scarecrow. Like Diana said, when they're tame Crop Watchers only use their flames as a last resort. These, however, seem to be enjoying themselves.."
Moxie rose her wand high above her and muttered an incantation. A bubble of water grew from its tip and had quickly engulfed the entire forest, "That'll keep them from starting more. You two work on killing the flames, I'll handle the beasts."
Moxie Disapparated, leaving Diana and Jason to handle the fires. "Those are big flames," Diana said in awe, "And if I remember correctly, a Crop Watcher's flames aren't normal fire; they burn hot and cold, so Aguamenti probably won't do it. But I don't think I know a stronger Charm.."
Jason laughed, "You were doing one just earlier today. Twain couldn't stop complimenting you on it." Diana looked lost. Jason shook his head and pointed his wand at the fire, "Aqua Eructo!"
A huge ball of water shot like a cannon from Jason's wand; Moxie's spell must have been increasing the water elements in the air, because this was far stronger than Jason had expected. The water slammed into some of the smaller flames, dousing them immediately. When one was gone it lifted and fell into another. Together, Diana and Jason's spells had rolled out most of the smaller flames.
"We'll have to tackle the bigger one together!" Diana shouted over the roaring of the water. The Crop Watchers were still dancing around the flames; where had Moxie gone off to? Jason hadn't waited long for the answer, as a pack of wolves ran past Diana and Jason into the clearing.
The Crop Watchers scattered, but the wolves were faster--and maybe weren't real wolves. Jason watched as one wolf leapt into the air and crashed into the bone thin Crop Watcher. In a matter of seconds the wolf dematerialized into a white mist and engulfed the creature, exploding with a loud howling noise.
As magical as they were, the wolves were not invincible. After only a few of their friends had been defeated, the Crop Watchers turned and scorched the wolves in bright blue flames. One Watcher had been chased to the edge of the clearing and turned to face the two teenagers.
It stared at them both with a flame like fury building in its hollowed out eyes. Jason and Diana jointly shivered, as the creepiest thing of the creature was its laugh. Jason felt paralyzed, but Diana seemed unphased. She threw her ball of water into the Crop Watcher, expecting it to snap in half with the impact. However, it merely covered itself in fire, turning the attack into nothing more than steam.
The creature threw the flames at Diana; she blocked them with a watery Shield Charm. "Agh!" Diana hissed, dropping her wand. The flames had boiled her shield and burned her forearms and she fell limply to the ground.
Jason was still paralyzed. When the Watcher ran toward Diana, Jason's mind clicked. He still had his wand. He still had control of the ball of water. Jason's spell threw itself toward the Crop Watcher. Unable to both protect itself and keep hold of Jason for a second time, the creature released Jason's limbs and protected itself in a suit of fire again.
"Protego!" Jason shouted as he fell backwards. The flames the Crop Watcher threw were absorbed like water in a sponge, but the Shield immediately melted away.
There was a loud crack and Moxie was standing several yards to his right. "Don't look into its eyes!" she shouted fiercely, a jet of light shooting into the even larger fire. The flames froze in time and were quickly covered in a layer of ice.
Jason looked to Moxie; she was covered in soot and the trim of her dress was still smoking. "Get Diana... go to Matilda... tell her I need help," Moxie instructed, shooting more rays of light at the Crop Watcher and the quickly melting iced fire, "Now!"
Jason sprinted for Diana, grabbed her shoulder and Apparated with a short snap. Jason felt particularly squeezed this time; he had not been the one in charge of Side Along Apparation before, and he prayed that Diana did not get splinched.
The two of them landed with a thump in the middle of a wide room. Jason's senses first picked up the chirping of many birds; Grandma's atrium. When his eyes finally adjusted he looked up, greeted by the face of his grandmother--looking bitter as ever. "Now what?" Matilda hissed, but her face softened when she caught sight of Diana.
"Moxie... Hawthorne Forest... help!" Jason pleaded between breaths. He still felt like he was being pushed on from all sides.
Matilda pulled her wand out of her night robes and nodded curtly, "Dittany's in the cupboard." There was another deafening crack as Matilda Disapparated. The birds continued to chirp from their cages as Jason stumbled to his feet to find the Potion cupboard. He tried to Summon it, but found that he could not take a breath deep enough to speak anymore.
Everything became a labor as Jason threw open the last cupboard and pulled out a vial of brown liquid. He opened his mouth and spilled a few drops onto his tongue, immediately feeling a burning in his chest. Had he splinched a lung? He fell next to Diana and dripped the liquid over Diana's arms.
Once they had finished healing, she woke with a start. "Where are we? What happened?" she questioned, sitting bolt upright, "Your hair."
Jason ran a finger through his hair; it was still there. He stood and found a mirror, shocked by what he found. The tips of all of his hair seemed to be dyed a silverish color. "What did it do to you?" Diana questioned again, walking up behind him. Jason couldn't honestly answer. He told her about being paralyzed, and shielding against the flames.
"Oh no," Diana sighed, "You didn't use a normal Shield Charm, did you? Don't you know? Well, I would suppose not. Crop Watchers aren't natrual in England, so I don't suppose they'd teach you about them." Jason was bewildered.
"The flames they breathe steal magical energy," Diana explained, "Without them, they wouldn't be able to summon the flames. That's why I used water to shield myself--yes, I got a little burned, but I effectively shut myself off as an option for power. They hate water, Crop Watchers, that's probably why that one went so berzerk.
"But I can only imagine how powerful that Shield Charm was if it actually aged you," Diana muttered, poking at Jason's new silver hair. There was a crack, the squealing of some birds, and Moxie was standing behind them. "Incoming," she said with mild disgust.
Another sharp crack and Matilda was standing in the room, "How dare you do that to them! You had to know when you arrived in the forest! Why didn't you just call the professionals?" She threw Diana's bags and wand to the ground, and continued to shout, "This is the last straw, Vivian!"
"Last straw, that's a good one given the situation, Matilda," Moxie cooed. Moxie and Matilda were covered in burn marks, their hair was filled with black soot. Jason tossed Moxie the Dittany and Matilda began screaming again.
"He's just a boy! I would bet my life that he gets into all the trouble he does because of your upbringing! A Death Eater almost killing in a duel at Hogwarts--I told you he should go to the Institute, he's safer there..."
"Yes, he would be safer there under my eyes."
"That is not my point, Vivian! I'm not surprised Dumbledore is dead--yes, I said it, don't give me that look! He's always welcoming problems into that school. First the werewolf teaching classes, then the Ex-Auror. That building actually saw some stability under the Umbridge lady," Matilda was red as a tomato.
Jason slammed his fist onto a table, his knuckles white, "Grandmother, I thought we'd discussed this already."
"You are done telling me what to do, young man. I don't care what your mother wrote, your father would have wanted me to take care of you, it's only natural!" Matilda hissed, turning on Jason. She was much larger than he was and he had to back away for fear of being squished.
Moxie cleared her throat and reached into her purse, withdrawing a very old and decaying envelope. She handed it to Matilda without a word. Matilda tore into the envelope and scanned the letter quickly. Her face went from bright red to blanch white. She looked from Moxie to Jason--who knew nothing about the letter--and back to Moxie.
With a defeated sigh she ripped the letter in half, "You know the way out." Without looking at Jason she shifted into her finch Animagus and flew up to the ceiling, lost in the sea of real and magical birds she kept.
For maybe the first time in his life, Jason saw Moxie shift awkwardly on her feet. She picked up the letter and tucked it away into her purse again. She placed the Dittany on the endtable and nodded to herself, "We should get back to the school. I'll have reports to sign, letters to send."
"And graduation in the morning," Diana mentioned.
Moxie's eyes grew, "I had nearly forgotten. In that case, meet me at the gates--I'm in no shape to Side Along tonight." There was a crack and she was gone.
Diana grabbed her bags, "Well, this might be my most exciting summer break yet." She smiled coyly and Disapparated with a snap. Jason looked up to the ceiling, his grip tightening on his wand.
"I'll see you before school starts," he said firmly, "Like always." He nodded and Apparated away with a snap.