“You have been practising, right?”
Pete pushed soggy cereal around his bowl. “Of course I have.”
His mom leaned against the kitchen counter, dish cloth between her hands. “It’s just, Mr Rafferty says you don’t volunteer much in class. Is there anything you want to tell me?”
He glanced up at her and then returned his gaze to his breakfast. “I’m fine.” His stomach felt like a mass of writhing frogs. No matter how much he practised he couldn’t do much more than light a candle, and that usually took five or six attempts. He kept his head down in class while his classmates made objects whizz around the room and turned water into grape juice (no wine, they were only twelve). Most regular humans could do more impressive magic than him.
He was a dud; defective.
And, that afternoon, everyone was going to find out.
His whole family joined them for the trip to the town hall; Dad, his older brother Joe, Aunt Freya. Half the magical community of the town would be there,
“It’s no big deal, champ,” his dad said as they exited the car. “All you have to do is light the beacon and lift it up to the plinth. It’ll be over before you know it.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Pete muttered. No big deal?
A young council member met them at the entrance. Pete‘s family retreated towards the guest seating and he suddenly felt very small. He followed the young woman through the building to the wings of the stage where two other kids already waited; a boy he didn’t know and a girl he went to school with. A low hum of chatter from the audience drifted through the curtains.
“Darren will go first, then Lizzy, and then you Peter,” their guide explained.
Well at least by going last he wouldn’t ruin the ceremony for the others.
The noise in the hall faded and the sound system squealed before settling down to project the deep, authoritative voice of Elder Mage Laurence. The other two kids were called through for their turns, leaving Pete alone.
“Our final initiate today is Peter Wiskin. Peter, come on through.”
He took a deep breath and stepped onto the brightly lit stage. Two hundred pairs of eyes followed him.
The Elder Mage turned away from his microphone. “Do you understand the importance of today?”
Pete swallowed hard and nodded. “Good. Repeat each section of the oath back to me.”
The Elder Mage stepped aside from the microphone. Peter took his place at the lectern and licked dry lips.
The Elder Mage whispered each line and he repeated, “I, Peter Wiskin, do solemnly swear to use my powers for good, never to do harm on purpose or through neglect. I vow to keep the secret of the sorcerers’ power hidden from human eyes and never to knowingly reveal our existence. I promise to devote myself to the mastery of my power, and to share my knowledge with others of my kind freely and without expectations.”
The audience clapped and two men walked in from the side with a large copper basin filled with wood. They set the beacon down in a clear space before the stage. In the centre of the room, a tall metal frame stood ready to accept the bowl at its peak.
“And now, Peter will demonstrate his powers to show that he is worthy of the mantle of sorcerer.”
Pete rubbed sweating palms on his best black pants and struggled to breathe through the tightness in his chest. He could do this. It was just like lighting a candle only bigger. He focused on the pieces of wood in the basin, closed his eyes, and tried to imagine they were candle wicks.
The crowd let out an appreciative ahh and clapped. Pete peeked out one eye. Bright, energetic flames licked up from the bowl. Had he done that? It hadn’t felt like he’d done it.
Heart pounding in his chest he reached out a hand to levitate the bowl. He knew before he even tried that it wouldn’t work; he’d managed to float a cotton wool ball one time, but that was all.
The bowl rocked and then jerked into the air. Peter followed it with his hand, willing it with every cell in his body to move up to the plinth and settle on top of it. The bowl arced through the air and landed gracefully in place. Pete lowered his hand and it remained perfectly positioned. The audience broke into applause.
He’d done it.
Except he hadn’t.
He accepted his new robes in a daze and walked to sit with his family through the remaining part of the ceremony. On the way back to the car he hung back from his family. Everything that had happened in there was a lie. He didn’t deserve the robes he now wore. His mother dropped back to walk with him.
“Mom, I didn’t do it. It wasn’t me.”
“I know, sweetie.”
“Your father did it.”
“But, how did you know?”
“Peter, your father’s bloodline has a history of producing what you might call late bloomers. He was the same, and Granddad, and Aunt Freya and Joe.”
“What does it mean?”
“It just means you need a little more time in the oven than some. Your powers will emerge they just need a little longer.”
“I’m not defective?”
She smiled and shook her head. “Not at all.”
He looked down at his robes. “Won’t I get in trouble for lying?”
“It’ll be our little secret. In a year or so, you’ll be just the same as everyone else. Then who could say you didn’t light the beacon yourself, huh?”
For the first time in weeks his stomach settled down and a smile broke out on his face.
“So where do you want to go to celebrate?” Mom asked.
“Can we get pizza?”