It’s Not Exactly Brain Surgery

The forest of bookshelves towered, their tops grazing the ceiling. Slivers of moonlight illuminated particles of dust dancing through the air. Particles that were stirred up by… something.

Here, in the darkened library after lights-out, there should have been nothing at all stirring. But if one watched closely, one could almost… almost… see a shimmer in the air. The shimmer slipped down an aisle and turned when it reached one particular shelf in the Healing Magic section.

A book twitched as if under some invisible hand, then slid out from its spot. The title on the front was engraved in gold lettering: Magic of the Mind. The book hovered in midair and flipped open, the pages releasing dust into the silver-lit air.

Hidden from sight by her Disillusionment Charm, Janine Kishi began to read.

“A magical school?” Janine scoffed. “This is obviously some kind of prank. Who are you, really?”

The woman who’d called herself Tabitha Porter pursed her lips. She was clearly used to this sort of reaction. Rather than defend herself with words, she reached into the sleeve of her voluminous robe and pulled out a thin wooden wand, black and slightly gnarled.

Wingardium Leviosa.” With a swish and a flick of her wand, she cleanly lifted Janine’s glasses off her face.

Janine shrieked. She clasped her hands to her face in shock then grabbed for her glasses. From where she sat watching, Claudia erupted into laughter.

Janine and Claudia had never before been outside of New England, let alone as far as Oregon. Mrs. Porter had informed them of Janine’s acceptance at the New Salem Witches’ Academy with enough time for Rioko Kishi to take the time off work for travel. The magical Secret Letters neighborhood enclaved within Portland’s Alphabet District was about as far away from Stoneybrook, Connecticut as they could get. Closer options included the underground magical community in New York City, the Second Second City in Old Town Chicago, and the many purely-magical settlements littered about North America—from Puckle’s Tell, deep in Appalachia, to Aksarnerk Point, Nunavut, the actual northernmost settlement in the western hemisphere.

But Mrs. Porter had assured the Kishis that Portland was best for school shopping; it was, after all, very close to Salem, Oregon, where Janine would be attending school from now on. For that reason Rioko had decided that they would wait until the day before school started before doing the shopping, so they would only have to make one trip west.

The two sisters stared around themselves in awe while their mother held their hands nervously.

“Look, look, a magic candy store!” Claudia tugged her hand away from Rioko’s and rushed off.

“Claudia, wait!” Rioko took one step forward before stopping to look back at Janine. “Wait here,” she said, and then she was off to chase her younger daughter.

Well. Janine supposed it only made sense. She wasn’t the sort who would wander off and get lost, after all.

She stood to the side of the street, watching witches and wizards of all sorts as they milled by. Some were accompanied by owls and cats and dogs. All of them were wearing long robes, some fancy, some plain; and some had tall pointed hats on their heads.

She had read once in a book that one couldn’t feel pain in a dream. She tried pinching her arm.


So this really was happening, after all.

Janine took another look at her shopping list. It was very helpfully delineated into sections labeled by which store she’d need to shop in. Mrs. Porter had been right; shopping here in Portland was likely more efficient than New York, even if it was further out of the way for her family.

Powell’s Tomes and Scrolls

  • Transfiguratively Speaking: Transfiguration 101
  • Theoretical Potionwork
  • Charms: Theory of Words and Concept of Movement
  • American Magical History
  • Introduction to Common Core Arithmancy
  • African-American Contributions to Magical Theory
  • Care and Feeding of Not-So-Mythical Creatures

Quills, ink, and parchment will be supplied by teachers, but may be purchased here if your child would rather have his or her own supply.

Knicks and Nobs

  • 1 telescope

Please do not purchase cauldrons, scales, or other potions equipment for first-year students. Students do not begin potionmaking until second year.

Westside Outfitters

  • At least 5 sets of everyday robes. Laundry is done once weekly, on Sundays. We do not use House Elf labor.
  • 1 rain cloak or water-repellent umbrella
  • Absolutely NO headgear is to be worn on campus!

Optional items you may wish to purchase for your student include dress robes (for those attending Sunday church services and similar events), an owl (other pets forbidden except as service animals for the disabled), and objects such as crystal balls or custom tarot decks for the optional after-school Divination Club. No-Maj money may be exchanged for dragots at any ATM in the Secret Letters district.

Ah, right. There was a bookshop visit in her near future. Janine’s eyes practically sparkled behind her thick glasses. She looked up from her supply list and glanced around to see if she could find it.

There it was, just down the block and across the street. Her mother’s admonition forgotten, Janine made her way to the nearest crosswalk, and after waiting for the streetcar to pass by, crossed along with the other pedestrians.

As Janine carefully perused Magic of the Mind, she couldn’t help recalling the first time she’d set foot inside a magical bookstore. Despite her current situation, a small smile crept onto her face.

Her mother had been furious, naturally. When she’d called home from the hotel that evening to report the situation to Janine’s father, though, Mimi had answered the phone. She’d listened calmly and told Rioko that Janine couldn’t help herself, any more than Claudia could when struck with the sight of a magical candy store.

Rioko had been flustered, but neither girl was punished beyond a light scolding.

The next year, Mimi came along for the summer shopping trip and bought a heaping bag of candy for Claudia and an obscenely heavy armful of books for Janine.

And now Mimi was the reason Janine was here in this dark library searching desperately for something. For anything that would help.

Janine had always loved school, and her first year at New Salem Witches’ Academy was no different.

Though she was twelve and so should have been starting her second year of middle school, here she was a first year. Other students from No-Maj households—those whose parents weren’t witches or wizards—said that it was normal for seventh grade to be the first year of middle school in other parts of the U.S., especially on the west coast. Sixth grade was definitely elementary school.

“Are there a lot of us with, er, No-Maj families?” she’d asked her dormmates one night, early on after arriving.

Zoe, the girl in the bunk directly beneath her, made a thoughtful sound. “I dunno. I didn’t know about this whole magic thing until a couple months ago.”

“It’s still really bizarre,” added Annie from her bunk across the room.

The three of them looked at their other roommate, Thalassa Garland. Of the four of them, she was the only one from a wizarding family.

Thalassa was sitting at her writing desk, fiddling with a quill. “Well… I mean, there’s obviously more No-Majes than magical people, but when it comes to witches’ and wizards’ family trees, um… I don’t know if there’s such a thing as real purebloods anymore, especially not in America. But most of us aren’t from No-Maj families, either.”

“I heard from an older girl that most of the kids here have No-Maj families, though,” said Annie.

“It definitely seemed that way when I was shopping in Portland,” said Zoe.

Janine didn’t say anything, but her ears were practically straining for information.

“Well,” said Thalassa, “this is what I heard from my big brother. Kids with magical heritage have more options. We live in California, so me coming here and Osiris going to Emerald City was just easiest. But there’s another magic school in Georgia called Peachtree, and you have to have a certain level of blood purity to get in.”

Annie, Zoe, and even Janine exclaimed in dismay.

“That’s not fair!” cried Zoe.

“That’s asinine,” Janine said.

The other girls’ eyes went wide. Zoe covered her mouth in shock.

Janine’s cheeks flushed. “Wh-what?”

“You said a bad word!”

“What?! I did not! Thalassa, tell us more about—”'

“You totally said a bad word,” Thalassa teased. “I’m telling!”

“That’s not a bad word,” Annie spoke up. “It just means ‘ridiculous’.”

But the other two girls weren’t having it.

Ten minutes later Janine was sitting in the office of New Salem’s principal, Carletta Stillwater.

Thankfully Principal Stillwater saw it her way. She let Janine return to her dorm with only a warning: “Be careful, won’t you? Your vocabulary is very advanced for your age, you know. Not everybody knows the words you do.”

Although Janine learned quite a bit in the four years that followed, she had to struggle to stay caught up with ordinary non-magical subjects. Apparently mathematics, science, and No-Maj social studies weren’t considered important at New Salem. (During her second year, she cornered a boy from the Emerald City School for Young Wizards at the annual co-ed Christmas dance—held at New Salem one year and Emerald City the next, rotating—and he confirmed that it was the same there. He’d also called her insane for worrying about a subject like that at a school dance.)

And neither her magical nor her mundane studies were enough to prepare her for the tragedy that struck in the middle of her fifth year.

A shining silver coyote came bounding into Janine’s third-period Potions class right as she was carefully weighing her ingredients. She recognized the creature, such as it was, from her extracurricular reading on anti-Dark Magic spells. This was a Patronus.

The coyote stepped up to the teacher, Mrs. Aubergine, and spoke to her in a hushed tone before dispersing into thin air. Mrs. Aubergine cleared her throat and called across the room, “Janine Kishi?”

Janine fumbled, dropping a gram too much beeswax onto her scale.

“You’re wanted in Principal Stillwater’s office.”

Her Potions partner, Annie—still her roommate after all these years—looked at her in surprise. “What did you do?”

Janine shrugged helplessly.

All she could do was obey. She presented her ID card to Mrs. Aubergine so she could perform the requisite Hall Pass Charm on it and send Janine on her way.

When she arrived at the principal’s office, she was surprised to find she wasn’t the only one. Coming down the perpendicular corridor was Claudia.

The sisters stared at each other blankly.

“What happened?” Claudia finally asked in a hushed tone. Janine knew that Claudia had been to the principal’s office numerous times in her year and a half at New Salem, and never for good reasons; whereas whenever Janine was called, it was for recognition of exemplary behavior.

For the both of them to be called down at once, something serious must have taken place.

Principal Stillwater sat behind her desk, hands folded gravely. Sitting in front of the desk, waiting for the Kishi sisters to arrive, was their mother.

“Mom?!” Claudia exclaimed. “How did you—”

Rioko got to her feet and crossed the distance to her daughters in seconds. She wrapped her arms around both of them at the same time. “I found a wizard in Harlem who helped me. He used something called Floo Powder—” She pulled back and shook her head. Janine knew that this magic stuff was still surreal to Rioko, even more so than it was for her daughters; she didn’t have life at magical boarding school for nine months out of the year to make it all seem natural to her. “That’s not important. You need to come home right now.”

“What is it?” Janine asked carefully.

“It’s my mother.”

And that was why Janine had snuck back to New Salem Academy in the dead of night to visit the library. That was why she was digging through the books on healing magic.

Mimi had survived her stroke, but she’d come out of it the worse for wear. She had trouble moving sometimes and she’d completely forgotten her English. For John, Rioko, and Janine that wasn’t a problem, but Janine felt a pang of sympathy whenever she saw Claudia trying to speak with Mimi. The younger Kishi sibling had never managed to pick up more than a few words and phrases in Japanese, and yet she was undeniably the closest to Mimi out of all of them.

And there was always the possibility of another stroke happening. If it did, the doctors said…

Janine shook her head furiously.

She’d already gone to the magical hospital in New York, and they’d staunchly refused to see a non-magical patient with a non-magical illness. She tried the same in Portland and even sent owls to a number of other well-known hospitals. All of them met with the same response.

So there was only one option. And it looked like there was only one person willing to take that option.

There had to be something Janine Kishi could do.

No-Majes believe in the efficiency of such methods as “neurology” and “psychiatry” to diagnose and cure ailments of the brain. These techniques have had some limited success and, to be fair, are about the extent of what the non-magical community is capable of. However, they are not ideal. Their effects are limited and can be transitory.

Magical treatments for ailments of the brain are, of course, more effective. Even so, there are limits to what magic can do. If damage is too severe, too expansive, or has been in place for too long, even healing magic cannot repair it. The mind is, after all, a very delicate thing.

None of the books in the school library had the information Janine needed.

The next time she visited Mimi in the hospital, she had with her a stack of books she’d bought from various magical bookstores, all of them with complicated titles like Perspectives on Maginoological Practice.

Mimi didn’t ask about them. She just asked how school was going.

“Your magic school,” Mimi said in Japanese. Janine was just glad she’d improved this much; at first, she’d barely recognized Janine or Claudia, let alone known anything about magic. “How are your classes?”

“They’re going well,” Janine replied. Her speech was a bit stilted; she’d had little opportunity to speak anything but English for the past several years, outside of her elective Northwest Coast Native Magic class. “Mimi, I’ve actually been—”

“Good, good,” Mimi cut her off. She smiled a bit. “Janine, have I told you girls about my sister?”

“Your… sister?” Janine repeated. “Do you mean Aunt Keiko?” She fumbled slightly upon realizing she didn’t know the word for great-aunt.

Mimi didn’t seem to mind. She just nodded. “It was supposed to be a secret, she said. People without magic weren’t supposed to know about the world hidden in the shadows. But our parents were so proud when she was accepted at…” She smiled wryly. “Mahoutokoro.”

Janine didn’t know how to react. She was so shocked she dropped the book in her hands. The only thing she could think of to say was, “Mahoutokoro?!

Mimi laughed gently. “It is a silly name. The school was founded by the Americans, after the end of the war. Keiko told me once that before that, children were taught by their parents.” A pause, then, “If she said what happened with children like herself, and like you… I do not remember.”

Janine nodded. Of course, Mimi still wasn’t at a hundred percent. That was the whole reason she was doing this research. “I had no idea.”

“Would you tell your sister? I would like to, but…”

“No. You’ll tell her.” Janine took Mimi’s hand and squeezed as firmly as she dared—which wasn’t very. The elderly woman was so fragile right now. “I’m sure you’ll be able to soon.”

Mimi didn’t look surprised. Janine didn’t have to say anything; she supposed Mimi could probably guess what she was planning.

No-Majes have a saying: It’s not exactly brain surgery.

But this basically was brain surgery.

For the first time in her life, Janine fell behind in her studies. When the end of the year came and she received B’s in three of her classes, her parents were shocked.

When Claudia entered Janine’s bedroom their first night back in Stoneybrook and found her dusting off her computer, she held out a box of Chocolate Frogs. The good kind, imported from the U.K., and not the lousy American version with the lousy American chocolate.

“You didn’t hide this in your room all year, did you?” Janine marvelled.

“No way. Mom would have found it.”

Satisfied that she wouldn’t be eating stale chocolate, Janine took a frog. The two sisters sat there, eating wiggling candy and taking comfort in one another’s silence.

Until Claudia’s eyes landed on Janine’s stack of brain magic books. She squinted and tilted her head. “Potions for Mental Deteration?”

“Deterioration,” Janine corrected her, then slapped her hand over her mouth when she realized what she’d confirmed.

Claudia’s jaw dropped. She grabbed the book before Janine could stop her. But there had been no reason to fear; the contents were above Claudia’s reading level. “Janine, what is this?!”

“It’s—” Janine shot a glance at the door to make sure it was shut. Of course it was. Claudia wouldn’t have brought out the chocolate if it were open. Taking a deep breath, she decided to answer. “Magical hospitals won’t help Mimi, and No-Maj ones can’t, so I’m going to do it.”

“What do you mean can’t? The doctors are helping Mimi, right?”

“Yes, but if she has another stroke…”

“But she might not!” Claudia blurted out.

“We can’t know for sure!”

“Sure we can. I’m in the Divination Club and—”

Janine groaned and rolled her eyes.

“Quit doing that! I’ve been checking and checking ever since we got back to school—”

Went back,” Janine corrected her.

“Whatever! Anyway, I haven’t seen anything but good signs.”

“That’s because Divination doesn’t actually tell you anything,” Janine said. She fiddled with the trading card from her frog. “It’s all subjective. You see what you want to see, and then you subconsciously make it happen by acting in the appropriate way. But that can’t work for curing an illness. This is something I have to work for, Claudia. Even though it’s magic, it will take a lot of time and a lot of studying.”

This time Claudia rolled her eyes. “Janine the Brain’s spending summer vacation studying. What else is new?”

“It’s better than reading tea leaves!”

An oppressive silence rang in both their ears.

Finally Claudia said, “You’re scared too, huh?”

The air rushed out of Janine’s lungs in some combination of a laugh and a sob. “I— yes, Claudia, I’m scared.”

“Sorry.” Claudia bit her lip, then offered weakly, “Maybe the reason I didn’t see anything bad is because of all your studying.”

“Maybe,” Janine conceded.

Claudia got to her feet. “See you later, I guess.”

Janine nodded.

For the first few weeks of summer vacation, Janine stayed cooped up in her bedroom reading up on magic and the brain. She only came downstairs in late June because she’d finished all of her books and needed to go buy more.

Mimi and Claudia were standing at the counter. Ingredients for what looked like a casserole were laid out in front of them.

When Mimi saw Janine, her eyes lit up. “Ah, Janine! Come help us,” she said in decent, if heavily accented, English.

“Yeah, brainiac,” Claudia teased. “If you didn’t come down for meals we wouldn’t even know you existed.”

“But I…” Janine gestured toward the fireplace.

“Are you going somewhere?” Mimi asked her.

“I have some books on hold at Powell’s.”

“That can wait!” Claudia insisted.

“My Claudia,” Mimi scolded gently. “If your sister has an important somewhere to go, we should let her go. Although, Janine… We would like if you joined us.”

Janine had to admit she was surprised. Mimi had made this much progress this quickly. She’d mixed up a couple of words, but that was an understandable grammatical error to make.


Perhaps she could take a break just for a few hours.

Janine set her purse down and joined her sister and grandmother at the counter. “What are you making?”

Mimi only continued to improve as the weeks went by.

Janine spent more time downstairs, but she never stopped studying, either. She was going to save Mimi.

She was going to make Claudia’s prophecy come true.