Finnley woke up early, before his mother, to slip out of the house and begin walking towards school. She’d let Dr. Lark stay the night, because she had come all this way, and because his mother was determined to be polite. As if her unexpected visit hadn’t triggered a whole chain of memories and emotions for Finnley.
The idea that thoughts of Allie had only been suppressed, not gone entirely, troubled Finnley, but not nearly as much as the way his mother continued to ignore the issue. Maybe a therapist was necessary, maybe not, but she hadn’t tried. She ran away from it, just like she ran away from everything else. From his father’s death. From Allie’s death. From magic. And now Finnley could sense the need behind the compulsion: he was, after all, running away from her now.
He told himself that he wasn’t, though. That he was just getting an early start to school, taking the time to check in on Mia again. Her parents were finally moved from their apathy and were busying themselves in a flurry of motion — getting ready for work. A smile flitted across Mrs. Hart’s face when she opened the door for Finnley.
“Oh, hi Finnley,” she said, and her voice seemed to have a color in it that it hadn’t had yesterday. Not a strong color, but there was something there. “Mia woke up yesterday evening. She’s doing a little bit better now. She won’t be back in school for a while though; she’s still recovering.” That was the emotion: relief. Finnley felt it swallow him whole and he couldn’t resist smiling back.
“Come in! We’re just going to work. You can see Mia for a minute, though. Right in there.”
She gestured to the door which led to Mia’s bedroom, then continued grabbing papers she needed to go to work. Finnley grabbed the door handle with sweaty palms; he wasn't sure if he was excited or anxious. The way she’d looked yesterday made him think she’d never recover, lying in bed almost lifelessly…
Finnley firmly shook himself of the thoughts and opened the door. And stared.
Mia was indeed looking better, her cheeks filled out and her brow increased, her breathing even. She was stretched out on top of her covers as if she'd just taken a nap. Like she was perfectly normal. She was probably the only normal thing in the room.
Most of the plants closest to Mia — the ones by her bed, on her nightstand — were dead. The leaves that had been tall and green yesterday, stretching towards the sun, now lay scattered across the floor, shriveled and curled into themselves. Finnley’s spine tingled at the sight. The noise of the Harts’ preparation outside faded as the situation in the room consumed all of his attention.
The leaves crinkled and crunched ominously beneath the soles of his shoes as he approached the bedside. Cautiously, he lifted up one of the potted plants to inspect it. Its leaves shivered as he gently shook it. The plant was entirely dried up and dead. An odd sense of fear settled into Finnley’s stomach, and he began to turn the plant on its side. There, on the bottom of the plant, was a spell. It was shakily done, but it was a spell nonetheless. Finnley’s hands started to shake, but he couldn't move. He just stared and stared at the dead plant.
Footsteps sounded at the door, and he hastily returned the pot to its place by the table. He turned to see Mrs. Hart in the doorway, an odd look crossing over her face.
“Oh dear,” she said. “I'm afraid that I haven't had time to look after these plants the way I should. What a pity. Mia loves them, you know.”
Finnley could only nod. Looking for an escape, he glanced at his watch. “Thank you so much for letting me see Mia,” he said, flashing her a smile much more forced than the first. “I really must go; school will be starting soon.”
“Of course, dear. Feel free to come back around after school if you wish! Mia may be up by then.” She grabbed her keys and went to speak with her husband, so Finnley showed himself to the door
He had just barely set foot in the hall when he felt the prickling sense of someone watching him. He quickly turned back, only to find Uncle Fred staring at him. As if he knew that Finnley had seen the plants, the spells. Fred nodded once, slowly, and Finnley shut the door between them.
Fred and Mr. Vaughn knew each other. More than that, Henry had said that Fred was once Mr. Vaughn’s apprentice, that he would've made a great magician. He had to have been the one to put the spells on Mia’s plants. But how, and why? The spells seemed to be lending Mia energy from the plants. What had happened to her to make him that desperate? Finnley had seen the way he was sitting at the table the day before, like carved stone. He had to know something. Was it about the other magician, the one who might’ve enchanted the horse?
No one was being useful. Mr. Vaughn’s shop was still closed and off-limits according to his mother. Finnley didn't know how he would handle the mystery — and potentially the danger — of another magician while he still had to face his dang therapist. And of all things, he was going to school. He laughed aloud, a short, sarcastic laugh. Things always seemed to fall apart around him.
If he thought that the normalcy of school would hit him hard, he was wrong. Something was different about this walk through the hallways: he was noticed. The stares followed him, and puzzled him until he started to hear the whispers that came with them.
“That's him. He's the one who’s friends with Mia the Maniac. Ran off into the forest with her.”
And then he saw it, in the very literal sense. Someone had found one of Mia’s demonic burning horse drawings, and the rumors were spreading like wildfire.