Jared stared at the skinny professor seated across from him.
“I’m not going to help you on this fool’s quest.” The professor repeated, leaning back in his chair as though he had just won a great battle. He looked into the fire at his right.
“But, Professor Nomenclature, you’re the one who introduced me to the forum, you showed me your wand and how we don’t hardly know even a fraction of the materials capable of making a wand. You told me it’s all possible, it’s just waiting for someone to go out and do it.”
Professor Nomenclature ran a hand over his face. “Yes, I did.” The professor didn’t look old, just had all the symptoms of being a professor for a very long time. His face was smooth except when he smiled, his hair only had a smattering of gray throughout, and only his hands bore the thin, frail look of someone who had been around for a long time and had the experience to prove it.
“So, what? Did you say all of that because you were supposed to as a teacher? Or because you think no one our age has the guts to actually go out there and do it?” Jared set his hands on his knees. He had thought the invitation to the professor’s study would have produced something better than ‘no.’
“I regret saying it.” Professor Nomenclature snapped.
“Why?” Jared stretched the word with the years of experiences he had on the forums with the professor. Witches and wizards from around the world met there to talk about wand-making, including Professor Nomenclature and Jared.
“Because too many people have gotten hurt trying to succeed at this. No one has found enough viable wand materials to justify the life and limbs lost in the search. I’ve washed my hands of this whole affair before I become responsible for any more tragedy.”
Jared froze. “I don’t believe you?”
The professor tilted his head to one side. “Really? Have you noticed that PDFSlider hasn’t posted in some time?” That’s because he lost an arm trying to get manticore mane to test in a wand. Never even got a hair for his efforts. Or how about Scarlet828? She died climbing the Andes trying to find a seer bison. Experienced people. Some of them experts in their field, and you think you can do better than them? What flowers do you want on your grave, kid?”
“That’s because they tried to get to the source. There’s a circus in Chicago that has a trained Manticore, no need to find a wild one. And there’s a herd of seer bison at Four Mile Dairy in Colorado. I don’t even need to go to the Andes. They chose danger over clever.”
Professor Nomenclature chewed his lower lip. Jared could see a thought swirling just behind the professor’s defenses. “Your parents didn’t want you to go either, did they?”
“My dad wasn’t much against it, but my mom isn’t sure she can let her baby boy out into the wild blue yonder.” Jared smirked without letting his gaze leave the professor.
“Show me your list, then, clever boy.” Professor Nomenclature held out a gnarled hand.
Jared dove into his backpack and returned with the notebook and opened it to the paperclipped page. “It’s not a complete list.” He held out the book for the professor.
“It never will be.” Professor Nomenclature ran a finger along the list. His lips mouthed each item as he read them.
Jared held his breath. The ticking of the clock over the mantel grew to a deafening noise in the silence.
“You’re ambitious, but thorough.” The professor announced, closing the book. “It’s a list I would have expected from someone who had studied in the field for years.”
“I have studied wandmaking for years. You handed me textbooks back in my freshman year of high school.”
The professor nodded. “I did, didn’t I?” He blew out a long, careful breath. “I’m still not sure how much more you’d be able to do. Statistically, you’re still likely to end up an honorable mention in the newspapers.”
“All I’m asking is to double check that I have everything I need to face this confidently.” Jared took his notebook back.
“That, at least, I can do.” The professor leaned forward in his seat. “You have your lathe, some hand chisels?”
“How are you holding the wand together for testing?”
“I use spell-o-tape to hold them together.”
Professor Nomenclature grimaced. “That still means you’re making hundreds of wands to get any solid test results. No, let me give you something.” He rose and studied the drawers on his desk before opening one. “You make your two wand blanks, right? Place one of these over it once you have the core in place.” He handed Jared a wooden ring. “That’s made from African Baobab wood. It’s so old it has developed into a magically neutral plant, so it won’t affect the outcome. What spells are you using to test your wand?”
Jared accepted the ring. “Bombas Minimus. I want a feel for its strength capacity.”
“You’ll need four spells to do that: a charm, a defense, an attack, and a curse. Then you’ll really know what that wand’s capable of.”
Jared scribbled a note in his notebook. “Thanks. I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Persia!” The professor called before turning back to Jared. “This is the last thing I can help you with. Don’t do a thing with it until you’re far enough away that no one will trace it to me, do you understand?”
“Yes.” Jared’s and another voice responded at the same time. He turned to see a girl resting her elbows on the back of the chair. Her curly red hair framed her face like a halo.
“Persia, this is a student of mine, and he’s either going to change wand-making forever or he’s going to die in the process.”
“Pleasure.” Persia held out a hand. “I don’t recommend the dying option. Not nearly as much fun as people make it out to be.”
“No kidding?” Jared returned.
“Jared needs a lock of your hair.”
“What?” Jared and Persia sad, again, at the same time.
“Persia is a rapunzel.”
That was enough for Jared. Rapunzels, like metamorphmagi, had a magical genetic difference from witches and wizards. Their hair was as strong as steel cables, but lighter than spider silk. Only enchanted items, really powerful enchanted items, could cut their hair. Jared’s gym teacher had rock climbing ropes made from three strands of rapunzel hair, and that had been either bought at a premium or a black market. Neither Jared nor the school had bothered to ask questions.
“Please, my dear, I’d like to send this boy off with some measure of success.”
Persia looked from the professor to Jared. “Fine, grandpa, but I want the knife in return.”
“It’s yours. I know I’m asking a lot.”
“No, you’re asking for something I haven’t given to anyone else.” Persia moved to the desk. It was then that Jared noticed the sling bag she wore on her shoulders. It overflowed with red hair in a braid as thick as Jared’s arm.
Professor Nomenclature pulled a knife from his belt and watched his granddaughter spread the rope of hair across the desk in neat rows. Like a surgeon, she held her hand out to her grandfather and accepted the knife.
Delicately, Persia sliced at the hair until the braid was severed. There was almost a reverence to it. She pulled green ribbon from her pocket, cut it in half with the knife, and tied the new ends of the hair together with the ribbon. “Here you go, Jared. If I find out you’ve sold it, I’ll be giving you a little more the shape of a noose.”
Jared believed her. “I only needed a foot long lock. I’m just making a wand.” He still accepted the almost three foot long length of hair.
“Well, then you’ve got some of the best rope you could ask for. Use it wisely.” Persia set her backpack upright and fed her hair back into it.
“Thank you. Really, this means a lot to me. I… I don’t how to repay you, Professor.”
“He didn’t have to cut his hair for you. It’s me you should be thanking.” Persia piped in as she stuck her new knife on her belt.
“Okay,” Jared turned to her, “how can I ever thank you enough?”
“If you’re not dead, send a postcard.” Persia huffed and crossed her arms over her chest. “It’ll be a start.”