chapter 6

it's not rocket science

As the day of the Faerie visit drew ever closer, Jasper's went mad with preparations. An entire wing had been created to house the Fae delegation, complete with original Fae furniture, a miasma of flowering plants including Fritillaria, Allium vineale and Atrofusca Iris and of course many varieties of grape native to the Faerie realm.

Kate's household saw an altogether different kind of transformation.

Sera became unbearable as the big day drifted nearer. She would fuss about Kate's skin, dabbing here and there with concealing makeup and constantly reminding her not to tell anyone at school, not even her friend Gilda, of her identity. "You cannot trust anyone to keep a secret," she said. “Secrets are only secret if they are kept by one.”

Her distress was rubbing off on everyone.  Bernard constantly badgered Kate to do chores around the house until Kate finally exploded, "Why do I have to do everything around here? It's not fair!" To which her father calmly replied, "I don't really think a few chores really adds up to 'doing everything', do you?"

"I hate you!" Kate stormed off slamming 3 doors on the way (she actually had to take a longer route to her room to get the third one in and it was very satisfying).

Kate thought about telling her mother that someone at school had already figured out her identity, but discarded that idea almost immediately. She didn't want her mother to completely freak. Besides, she couldn't say why, but she trusted Professor Brahms.

Competing with the constant household stress was the ever present thought of catching a glimpse of Baron Avicenna. Kate wasn't all love struck like the other girls, of course not, but anyone that could play and sing like he did deserved to be adored! And it helped that he was tall, muscular, with gorgeous hair, lovely blue-grey eyes, sigh…

And so each morning she exited the house with nerves on fire, then settled into a dreamy pre-teen swoon for her dragon ride to Jasper's.

Wandering into the immense entry hall, Kate waited for Fizzle, her wisp to join her and immediately the two settled into quiet conversation. Kate could follow their language easily now.

She was amazed at what a bunch of drama queens the wisps were, it took them five times longer than normal to say anything, but regardless, Fizzle and her had become friends of sorts.

"What’s up Fizz?"

"The joy of your heart is mine oh mighty Kate, sorcerous of the wind, she who walks in shadows, joiner of the lines" (Kate had no idea what Fizz was going on about). “We fly forth to the room of grand mixing in sublime swirls of sparkling friendship”.

Translation: "You have potions now Kate".

"Excellent - something easy and fun to start the day."

Listening to wisps talking made Kate realise that they experienced the world completely differently, perhaps as flashes of energy and sound. Kate couldn’t imagine exactly how Fizz "saw" her, but she knew it was nothing like how we see or hear. Their utter difference fascinated her, but as was normal their time together was all too brief and they arrived at class.

Fluttersquawk wasted no time in putting the class to work on a fireworks display using magical rockets.

"These are very simple and safe to make," she said. “None of that saltpeter rubbish that non-mages like to pollute the skies with every year. I will show you how magicians do it.”

Experiment 9 - making rockets

The class got quickly to work. It was the first really fun and exciting thing that they’d done. Making rockets was a blast!

"Alright, good job, everyone!" cried Fluttersquawk. “Now you have made the body and the propulsion of the rocket, we can work with the magical part of this project.”

She placed her own rocket on her desk and picked up her wand. "The key to a good firework is the proper use of magical runes. By inscribing runes on the side of the rocket, like so..."

She made a quick gesture with her wand and strange letters appeared to decorate the sides of her rocket. "Once it reaches maximum height, the rocket explodes in a mad variety of pyrotechnics."

"Given that you haven't been issued wands yet, can you guess what you will be using to inscribe your runes?"

The class sat in uncomfortable, clueless silence.

"Zounds, your crystal branches from our second project, of course!" cried Professor Fluttersquawk. “They’ve been growing slowly in storage and now it’s time to use them. Kindly get your individual crystal branches. I'll also grade them according to how well they've grown. Remember, the one with the highest marks gets a prize from the school. Off you go, I'll open up the cabinet.”

She motioned with her wand to the drawers on the far wall, there was a short pause then each draw rattled slightly, there was a click, and some hidden lock opened allowing the draw to slowly slide out, just a couple of centimetres. It was impressive in an eerie sort of way.

The class stood and crowded around the cabinet to retrieve their branches.

Kate was among the last to obtain hers. But before she even got to her drawer, a cry went up somewhere beside her.

"Professor! Professor!" It was Dani Meagan, a really rough girl from the south. Kate had never exchanged more than a few hellos. Now she was wide-eyed with distress and waving an outstretched hand.

Fluttersquawk approached her, concerned. "What is it, Dani?"

Dani pointed at her drawer. "My branch, ma'am. It's gone! I had a large maple branch. Look - nothing."

"Well, yes, I can see," Fluttersquawk fished out her glasses and peered down at the empty drawer. “Could you have misplaced it by mistake or...”

"No way, I'm sure I didn't. The drawer had my name tagged on it. And I know it was a maple branch, a big one that barely fit in the drawer. Someone's taken my project, and when I find...!"

"Dani, calm down." Fluttersquawk could see where this was heading.

All activity had halted as the students gathered around Professor Fluttersquawk, peering from one to the other then down at the empty drawer.

"Yeah sure," laughed Branighan in his strong lilting accent, “a great wizard, at least level five, popped by and magicked open the enchanted drawers because she was desperate to nick off with your incredible stick”.

Branighan had perfect timing and everyone laughed.

Hazel jumped straight in, "Oh look, my 85 years of study has paid off, I've got this stick, the stick that I wanted all my life."

Dani was getting bright red now. "It was there, it’s not now and I'm gonna nut you if you don't shut it, Branighan."

"You east folk aren’t much for cleaning up" Nathan was being his normal obnoxious self, “Are you sure you didn't just forget to tidy it away?”

"I know what I did," Dani insisted.

Another kid spoke up, "Did you put your name on it?"

"Don't be daft! Anyway it doesn't matter, I have proof!" Dani searched her bag and pulled out her phone, showing them a snapshot. “Look, here's my branch in the drawer!”

Professor Fluttersquawk gazed at it, then said, "Very well. Children, lay out all your branches for inspection. If it's here, we'll find it."

The class dutifully trundled back to their desks and laid out their projects. Kate had to wait for the other kids, and as they made room, turned to the drawer with her named marked on it, pulled it open...

...and gasped at the huge six-fingered maple branch lying broken before her.

Gilda stared at her quizzically, then glanced down at the drawer. "But isn't that...?"

"Professor, it's here in my drawer! It’s broken, but how did it get here?" Kate was really surprised.

Nathan peered over her shoulder. "Well, well...Professor, looks like we've found our super-mage thief."

Dani stomped over, "Ya little crim, I'm gonna get all medieval on ya if ya mangled me twig!"

"I didn't touch it. How could I open the locks?" shouted Kate.

Before the fight went anywhere further Fluttersquawk killed it.  

"Miss Meagan, calm yourself." She had a steel tone that Kate had rarely heard in her few months at Jasper's. She quickly placed the broken mapple on the table and carefully wrapped the breaks in jointer’s bark. Chanting softly in the sad language of the forest elves, she started rubbing her hands over the branch slowly and carefully. The wood started to glow a lovely mix of autumn colours and before their eyes the fractures repaired themselves then disappeared.

"There, nothing to it." she sighed contentedly.

Fluttersquawk turned to the rest of the class who were gawping on all sides. "This is Potions, not Theatre. Return to your places at once and start preparing your rockets. Miss Stein, please see me at the end of class."

An hour later, after the other children had left, Kate waited apprehensively.

"Now Kate, you must answer me truthfully," the professor said. "Did you break Dani's branch?" Fluttersquawk was watching her intently.

"No! I didn't do it, why would I? I don't even know her, and I love Potions. Why would I put someone else's project in my drawer?" Kate wasn't snivelling, she was a little angry if anything.

Fluttersquawk sighed, "It really doesn't seem at all likely, you're much brighter than that.

"I'm not accusing you, but I had to ask. Kate, this is the second incident and I feel something is going on. You understand this isn’t a normal school. We do magic. It’s mystical and normal people can be scared of it. It wasn’t so long ago witches were burnt at the stake - remember? So we accept that there’s a certain level of danger and therefore we take extra care."

Kate simply nodded.

Fluttersquawk frowned and sighed. "This doesn’t feel right to me."

"I'm afraid I’ll have to write a report about the matter to the administration and Of course they will send a letter to your parents to say there'll be an investigation into whatever is going on."

"So Kate, is there something you want to tell me? Why would someone do this to you? You seem to get on with the other students well enough, but that stench the other week, now this. It’s, well, odd."

"Professor, honestly, I don't know." she replied, and that was mostly the truth.

"Very well, but do talk to me if you think of anything. We need to be alert, things like this can get out of hand. In an ordinary school, you might get a stink bomb in your locker, here you can suddenly find you’ve turned into a frog - or worse."

< -- >

It hadn't been a good week for Kate. After seeing the missing branch in her drawer, the rest of the class (save for Gilda) had given her dirty looks, and even though most of them would have admitted that it didn't make sense for her to have taken it, quite a few of her classmates had started teasing her and calling her "fingers" or “sprite”.

Gilda didn't seem to think it was her , but she was now spending as much time with Nate as Kate, and that felt weird given she wasn't all that sure of him. It left a bad taste in her mouth, made her feel vulnerable and that made coming to school hard, because it no longer felt friendly or safe.

Home wasn’t much better.

"How could this have happened?" cried her mother at the breakfast table. She had read the letter that Kate had delivered to them over and over. By the seventh reading a small storm complete with cute little lightening bolts had started to gather around her mother and Kate’s, Bernard’s and Schrodinger’s hair was standing on end thanks to the static electricity charging the air. They looked ridiculous and Kate desperately wanted to laugh, but somehow managed to keep her eyes down.

"I swear I didn't do anything!" said Kate. “Someone set me up! Maybe as a joke, I don't know, I've no idea how they did it.”

Schrodinger started to stalk the lightening storm.

"Of course we know that," said Bernard. “Clearly so does the school. Sera, there will be a perfectly good explanation for all this.”

"It doesn't matter!" Kate's mother cried., “They may find out about her!” She slammed her hand on the table. “I know you wouldn't steal someone's project, but I don’t care, they can’t steal you”.

"Of course she wouldn’t" said Bernard, “She’d cover it in instant glue so they’d have a branch stuck to their hand for 3 weeks. Ha ha!”

Dad’s joke fell flat on the floor and started to slowly choke to death.

Schrodinger got ready to pounce.

Kate bowed her head. "Don’t worry, Mum. It’s not that big a deal, probably just a prank. The school is worried because you know, We do magic and it can get out of hand". She gestured pointedly at the storm hovering behind her mother.

"I wish I knew also," sighed Sera as some of the tension left the room. “And until we do, you have to be very careful. I don't like this at all.”

Suddenly Schrodinger lept at the storm. As she hit it, there was a loud explosion of thunder. Schrodinger roared in pain and slammed into the kitchen door, where she lay completely still crackling with electricity.

The family were flattened by the sound. Kate staggered to her feet and ran to her cat, but Bernard grabbed her before she was electrocuted.

"Wait", he said. Slowly the static dissipated. Kate could see Schrodinger was still breathing, and slowly she opened her eyes. They sizzled with blue electricity. Schrodinger shook her head groggily then lifted herself up and padded across to Kate where she contentedly rested her huge head in Kate’s lap.

"Yep" thought Kate “magic could be dangerous.”

< -- >

First class Monday was always Potions, but somehow, it wasn't her favourite class anymore.

Gilda sidled up to her table and made it her mission to chit-chat. "How are you doing, Fingers?" she teased.

"Not you too!" shouted Kate, “I didn't do anything!”

"Sorry, sorry," Gilda held up her hands in surrender. “ Just playing. How are you really?”

"Not too hot," replied Kate. “My parents and I are okay, but they're worried that whoever put that branch in my drawer is going to have another go at me.”

Gilda goggled at her. "I can't believe anyone would go so far as to do that to you."

"Well, they did once already, and I have to keep on my toes so they don't get me again."

Gilda nodded, "Remember" she said with a knowing grin, “just because you’re not paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get ya” then she scurried back to her chair before Fluttersquawk marched through the door.

"Good morning everyone. Let's get to work!" the Professor announced.

And another class began.


The rest of the week passed quietly. Kate kept mostly to herself studying transformations in the library in the hope she could do something about Schrodinger.

She really wasn’t sure she could fix him (not that he seemed unhappy), but she was starting to worry about what her experimentation was changing him into.

She hadn’t made much progress by the time the weekend arrived and returned home nursing a frustrated headache, which wasn’t great because her homework for the weekend was to make ice cream, and oh boy was it hard.

Kate was pretty good at heating liquids with her mage lens, but she knew she cheated, she didn't heat the liquid she heated the inside of the vessel holding the liquid.

That didn't work so well with ice cream you ended up with crystals forming and it wasn't nice to eat.

To make ice cream the proper way, you had to cool the liquid itself, down below freezing, and stir continuously.  She had to try to concentrate on all of a liquid while stirring at the same time.  

It was sooo difficult!  

She'd get distracted by a bubble or something, start focusing on that, and an ice block would form almost instantly.

She'd just hurled the third container of ruined ice cream mix out the open window when Berard sauntered into the kitchen.

"Going well is it?

"Dad! Can't you see? I'm a fairy on the edge!" Kate was only partly joking.

"Maybe tell me the problem - sometimes explaining something to someone else makes the solution appear."

"It's hopeless, I can't mix and concentrate on the liquid at the same time.  It's impossible. I'm just not cut out for it. Watching moving ice cream mix and thinking about eating it is too distracting! Well, unless I make it hard to see.  Hang on, dad let me borrow your glasses."

Bernard was really long sighted, and wearing his glasses made everything a total blur. She could still use her mind lens, but she really couldn't make the liquid out well at all.

And that did the trick. Now she found it easy to forget what she saw and could simply cool the space.

She stirred slowly in time with her breathing, entered a light trance so as not to break concentration, and in 5 minutes they were sharing their first bowl of vanilla ice cream.

"That's so awesome" her dad was really impressed.  "Do it again."

"Sure - but you get to stir" she replied with a huge grin.  They spent a delightful hour making different flavours and after the third time she found she could dispense with his glasses and simply de-focus her eyes naturally.

Experiment 10 - ice cream in a bag

After they'd finished, they chatted about school for a short while but then the conversation turned serious. "K I know you're really busy and excited about magic however you need to make some time to fix Schrodinger."

"I know dad I’m trying", she'd protested, “but he's really cool.”

"Ok, he's cool" responded Bernard, “but not really a cat is he? What are the lumps? How much bigger can he get? Why do things explode every time he purrs? This is not a cat! I have to keep him inside and walk him like a dog at night so the neighbors don't call the zoo about the escaped leopard.”

"Ok dad, I'll fix him dad", she'd promised, but she knew he was kind of digging the direction Schrodinger was taking and she really still had no idea how to reverse whatever it was that she'd done.

Truth be told, it seemed that while her mind was saying "small domesticated cat", her heart was saying, well, something else, and the heart seemed to have more control of the magic. She needed to understand that before she could attempt any more changes.

Experiment 9 - rockets

We've got two different rockets here.  One uses our tried and tested vinegar and baking soda combination and gives a satisfactory result with little effort.

The second uses potassium nitrate and sugar to create a powerful rocket that will go over 500 meters high. We've included a link to the youtube video for these.  If you decide you want to make these rockets, you must work with an adult and please read the full description below the video, it contains essential safety warnings.  These rockets are not toys and if you do make one, make sure you're aware of local laws and have a safe place to launch. 

Experiment: Rockets


Optional: ingredients


Use the scissors and carefully cut some tape, about 30cm or 1 foot long.

Use the tape to attach the 3 sticks around the plastic bottle to form the legs of a tripod. Make sure they evenly spaced from each other and of the same height. You know you did it right if you set the bottle down on the sticks, the bottle stands straight up on its legs.

You can optionally wrap the rocket in paper and decorate it with colored markers. You may attach a cone on top with tape. Beware that this cone will likely get destroyed.

Put on your safety goggles. Take a small piece of the paper towel and peel it down to one thin layer. Place one tablespoon of baking soda on the paper towel and wrap it so that none spills. Set it aside for now.

Fill the plastic bottle half way through with vinegar and hold it steady with one hand.

Be very quick with these next two steps** and do this in an open area, not inside, where you will not hit people or their property.**

Get the paper towel with the baking soda and stuff it inside the plastic bottle. Lightly cover the mouth of the bottle with the rubber stopper.

Give the bottle a couple of hard shakes, then place it on its legs. Take a few steps back for safety, and watch the rocket go!

What is happening?

As we know from our volcano, mixing the baking soda together with vinegar causes a reaction that releases carbon dioxide. Because so much gas is created in a tiny space, the resulting pressure blows the lid off and propels the rocket straight into the air.

You can experiment with different amounts of baking soda and vinegar, but always remember to wear safety goggles and to do this activity in a safe area where you won't hit anyone.

Use a small bottle and work out what amount of vinegar gives the best result, you may be surprised.


The best result comes when the bottle is about half filled with vinegar. This is because, it is the act of ejecting the vinegar that provides the thrust for the rocket. If there is too much vinegar, then it is ejected too slowly. If there is too little then there isn't enough mass in the propellant and you get little thrust.

Extra Toads

Find out how other rockets work.

There are many simple ingredients that, when mixed together, can produce thrust. What are some of them?

Experiment 10 - ice cream in a bag

These days ice cream is made with a freezer, but once upon a time it was made with ice.

The secret to making ice cream is to lower the freezing point of water so it can freeze the cream. To do that we use the amazing fact that adding salt to water makes the temperature lower.

What you need


Fill the container about half-full with crushed ice. Add about 10 tablespoons of rock salt to the ice. Seal it and shake the ice and salt combo for about five minutes. You'll need to wear your gloves when you're handling the container.

If you're curious as to why you should wear gloves, a thermometer in the ice will explain it. The salt and ice mixture gets down to about 14℉ or -10℃!

Mix the following ingredients in one of the zipper-lock bags:

½ cup of half cream, half milk

1 tablespoon of granulated sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Push as much air out of the bag before sealing it tightly. Too much air left inside may pop the bag open during the shaking. Seal the first bag into the second bag by pushing out the air as well. By double-bagging, the risk of salt water and ice leaking into the ice cream mix is minimized. Place the two sealed bags into the ice and salt mixture. Close the container tightly.

Wrap the container in the towel or put on your gloves. Shake, rock 'n roll, and mix that container! Your ice cream should be ready after about 15-20 minutes so pace your shaking energy. Maybe get some help with an offer to share a little of your creation.

When your ice cream is as firm as you want it, remove the bags from the jar and rinse them off with cold water. You don't want ice or salt water accidentally getting into your treat. Enjoy your creation right out of the bag. Store any leftovers – what are the chances?? – in a freezer.

Start planning for your next batch and consider making new flavors, too. Maybe this is how Ben and Jerry got started.

How Does it Work?

The same reason salt is used on icy roads and sidewalks in winter explains why salt is mixed with ice to make ice cream. Salt causes the ice to melt.

When salt and ice mix, the freezing point of the ice is lowered and the freezing point reached depends on the amount of salt used.

The more salt is added, the lower the temperature can get before the saltwater solution freezes.

For example, water will normally freeze at 32℉ (0℃). A 10% salt solution freezes at 20℉ (-7℃) and a 20% solution freezes at 2℉ (-17℃).

When salt is added to ice (or snow), some of the ice melts because the freezing point is lowered.

Keep in mind, however, that heat must come from somewhere to melt the ice. The heat that causes melting comes from the surroundings and, in this case, it's from the warmer cream mixture.

By lowering the temperature at which ice freezes, you were able to create an environment in which the cream mixture could freeze at a temperature below 32℉ (0℃) and become ice cream.

The shaking (or stirring in an ice cream maker) moves the warmer cream mixture from the inside to the outside of the bag so it can freeze evenly. That way you make a smoother product. It also adds air to the final product so it's fluffed up a little bit. Yum!

By the way, The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, better known as the St. Louis World's Fair, was an international exposition held in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1904.

An ice cream vendor working there ran out of dishes to serve his product.

He improvised a solution by rolling up some thin waffles to make a cone-shaped carrier for the ice cream. Voilá! It has been that way ever since and explains why today's ice cream cones are made to look like waffles.

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