Splinters by GHL



Summary:

In the secret mists of time, a truth has been shattered. The path to victory has been cursed with despair... and nobody realizes it.

It is 1995 -- the summer of their discontent. Sequestered within the grimy walls of Grimmauld Place, Harry and Ginny begin having strange dreams of an era long past and events yet to come. Are the dreams somehow real? Is fate taunting them with tragic visions of doom, or are they being granted a precious chance to survive... and fall in love?

Note: this story presumes canon until Chapter 4 of OotP... beyond which things begin to go haywire.


Rating: PG-13 starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Alternate Universe
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2015.08.01
Updated: 2016.03.06


Index

Chapter 1: Concussions
Chapter 2: Perfectly Normal?
Chapter 3: Never Let Fall
Chapter 4: Enemy Eyes
Chapter 5: A Godson and a Princess
Chapter 6: Second Chance
Chapter 7: Hope
Chapter 8: Knowing
Chapter 9: Knife's Edge
Chapter 10: No Greater Sacrifice
Chapter 11: Camulodunum
Chapter 12: Sister Awakening
Chapter 13: Lines and Antipodes
Chapter 14: Invenies in Tenebris
Chapter 15: Very Very Wrong
Chapter 16: Ex Nihilo
Chapter 17: Dementors, Deluminator
Chapter 18: Many Unto One
Chapter 19: Good Guessers


Chapter 1: Concussions

Author's Notes:

Now for something completely different -- a romance!

This story involves many changes in point-of-view. To help the reader navigate some of the POV complexities, please note the following two conventions:

1) A single line break implies a POV-shift within the same scene, whereas the double line break is the ordinary scene shift, and
2) in their dreams, Ginny and Harry both vicariously inhabit other characters (for Ginny -- a woodland princess named Lannosea; for Harry -- a Roman Publican named Paternus Peuerellius); when this happens, the narrator will still refer to them as Harry and Ginny, but characters who interact with them will generally refer to their alter egos.

Confused already? Well, hopefully you'll get used to it.


Chapter 1. (August 7-8, 1995)

Pffehhh!!

Spitting away a mouthful of grit, Ginny Weasley's arms pushed back from the sooty, debris-strewn floor. Her muscles trembled in momentary exhaustion and doubt, but then her determination rose anew. She staggered to her feet and twisted around to face the brutal mayhem. Wand raised, she scanned the room for someone to attack, or defend... or... or...

Sweet Merlin! It's happening!

A chill descended her spine. In that instant, gazing about the Great Hall, Ginny somehow found herself recognizing every chaotic detail she laid her eyes upon — every fallen stone, every shattered table and scorched chair, every raging, panicked or delirious face...

Ginny knew this moment. It was the cusp of destiny — a moment so thrilling and terrifying, so utterly inconceivable, and yet so strangely inevitable.

This is it! Be strong Weasley!

On all sides, others began gradually sensing something in the air — the palpable sensation of sheer power flooding in around them. The cacophonous din of combat hissed, rasped and clanged to a halt. The shrieks, wails and shouts of a moment ago fell away into an eerie quiet. Hundreds of mesmerized hands lowered in tremulous unison. All eyes — friend and foe — locked upon two figures.

Ginny stood breathlessly. Her hair, still loose and wild from the raging fracas, tumbled across her face, but she simply stared straight through it, mesmerized, clinging to her mantra.

It all comes down to this...

Be strong...

Strong for the light...

Strong for him...

Ginny was right — everything truly did hinge on this final confrontation. But how could a callow teen foresee, with such clarity, a climax that even the most renowned seers had never described? Why did this reality seem to her more like a vivid, horrific memory?

Yet, no matter how familiar it was to her, there was one thing she did not know — exactly how it would all end. Who would be left standing...

A suffocating weight of dread and desperate hope began to settle into her chest as they approached — two ascendant figures advancing like opposing thunderheads, their very presence clearing a wide swath across the battle-scarred floor.

The young man — battered, bloodied, but singularly noble — moved with the calm certitude of predestination; his feet barely brushing the char and detritus as he circled his wary opponent.

The reptile-faced spectre stared in turmoil, caught within the clashing currents of his own rage... and what Ginny knew could be nothing less than fear. Merely glancing at the enemy's repugnant face brought her close to gagging, but she forced herself to study him carefully, to watch his unguarded expressions, finding them to be so transparent that she could almost read his despicable thoughts:

How...?!

The filthy little rat was exterminated! Slaughtered by my own hand!

He's dead! Dead!!

How many times must I...??

Yet for all the ghoulish sorceror's consternation, the moment of doubt passed. Ginny knew that a flame of self-assurance would flare again in his sickly eyes, proclaiming to the assembled masses that there was only ever one conceivable outcome.

However much she longed to act, Ginny found she couldn't. She could only watch the verbal preamble play out, as the two foes tested each others' resolve. She knew it was all meaningless – that declarations might rattle back and forth, but that each taunt and conciliation would be batted aside like a toy dart off rigid shields of opposing conviction.

After several minutes, it became clear that even the combattants knew there could be no compromise, for the futile posturing dwindled to leave the two fighters to trace out their final, calculated steps in seething silence.

Jaw set, and a pure glint in his piercing eyes, Harry Potter twitched his wand, captivating the entire hall's attention. "So it all comes down to this, doesn't it?" the young man whispered. "Does the wand in your hand know its last master was disarmed? Because if it does . . . I am the true master of the Elder Wand."

The expression of inhuman loathing offered almost no response, yet once again, for the barest instant, Voldemort's coal-red flaming eyes flickered. For a miniscule fraction of a second, the monster seemed to consider the boy's words... but the course was set. Carved in immutable stone, the only acceptable reply issued forth like the hiss of a thousand tormented serpents.

"Avada Kedavra! "

"Expelliarmus! "

Red and green spell flares burst across the Hall. The day's first sanguine beam of sunlight sprang through a shattered window, perfectly bisecting the magical arc. At the duel's crackling epicentre, a wall of scintillating white sparks erupted, casting a brilliant glare about the Hall, etching the scene like some masterpiece of ghastly apocalyptic art.

Reptile man quivered in weakness and fear.

The young avenger radiated magnificence, face gazing calmly upon his faltering opponent as a vibrant beam of justice and compassion poured from his wand, thrusting back against the boundary flame.

Good ascends over evil; love prevails over hate...

Or not?!

In an inexplicable flash — appalling, unfathomable — it was over.

Nobody — not even the trembling detestable herp-faced villain — could have foreseen it.

In that instant of infamy, all magic of hope and honour drained away. A fundamental balance shattered; the pulsing white fulcrum between their spells vaporised, and a lurid tongue of bitter death — the vomit of hell — slashed unchecked across the hall...

The bold and selfless young man, the icon of love and sacrifice, crumpled to the floor.

Eyes of deepest emerald gazed eastward one last time as a quivering finger of sunshine touched tenderly upon his beautiful face... before quenching beneath an acrid shroud of dust, smoke and despair.

Harry James Potter... the boy who lived... the last hope of the light... was dead.

"NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!"

An otherworldly shriek — possibly her own — tore through Ginny's head like an infernal klaxon. She found herself leaping across the Great Hall. In that paralytic moment when every other soul in creation seemed frozen in disbelief, dismay or disarray, one young woman who could lose nothing more, closed meteorically upon the Execrable Filth. Her wand stretched out before her, unleashing a phenomenal blaze of spell-work that nobody could had ever have duplicated, let alone actually taught her.

The vile bane of hope, despoiler of faith and mercy, reeled drunkenly. His shield quivered and melted. His spindly, misbegotten knees buckled in exhaustion and fright. All magic spent, the Elder Wand slid from Voldemort's slack grasp as he turned, cowering cravenly, to beg for mercy — a final plea to forestall the death he dreaded more than anything else, when...

WHAM!!

Jagged sparks slashed across Ginny's vision as some blunt, crude stone impacted the side of her head. An instant of blinding pain gave way to the vague sensation of prickly wetness trailing down her face. A salty metallic taste crept into her nose and mouth.

Ginny had no idea what had just happened. To herself. To Voldemort. To the world.

She knew only that she was... so very very tired.

There is nothing left now.

Please take me away.

She cast off all shackles, renounced everything that she had ever known, and felt herself falling into darkness.

Memories, aspirations and everything corporeal slid away before her.

Please take me away.

There is nothing left.

Nothing left except...

Except for two hands...

Rough, calloused.

Strong as an oaken rail.

Warm upon her icy skin.

One hand tenderly cupped the back of her neck; the other inserted itself gently between her waist and the stone beneath her. With the care of a doting father, the hands half-lifted, half-rolled her torso obliquely onto something firm yet soft. Something that smelled of pollen... a faint residue of applewood smoke... the slightest hint of musk.

Her eyelids fluttered open, admitting a disorienting montage of colour.

Light blue...? Sky?

Green? The soft pear-hues of a springtime's young leaves emblazoning the hedge and hills.

Grey? Sunlit flagstones — rough-hewn, worn smooth.

Red? Woollen fabric of a fine weave — sturdy, yet supple. Like an old tapestry?

Black? WAND!!

Ginny was seized with an instant of blind panic as the stick neared her face... but the one-armed grip tightened, bracing her against a man's chest. A well-muscled forearm and sun-bronzed hand angled the wand carefully toward her temple. For a moment she sought to struggle, but was immediately soothed by a familiar, calming voice, speaking an odd but reassuring word. "Emaculo."

A pulsing heat flashed across her face and scalp; a rapid cleansing tingle followed by a cool spring breeze...

A swell of restorative energy flowed through her body. She twisted her neck and followed the red fabric up the angled curves of a man's chest, to a grey mantle fastened by an intricate brooch — polished silver wings, central badge inset with two fine gems.

Borrowing another burst of strength from her still-woefully-depleted reserves, she craned back another inch to gaze ascendantly into...

Eyes.

Dear Mother Circe — it can't be!

Is it?

From the moment years ago when she had first glimpsed those eyes, she knew with every breath of her soul that she would never, ever, see another pair like them, and yet...?

How is it possible??

IS it possible??

The man was running his wand along her side, concentrating fiercely as he sought to detect internal injuries. He made no move to stop her as she reached her hand, shy yet determinedly, toward his face... toward his carefully cropped hair — straight tresses, once raven black, now blended with the frosts of many autumns.

Patiently, with unwavering focus, the man continued his travails, even as Ginny carefully swept his peppered locks aside to reveal a forehead — one she would have recognized in a heartbeat, except that it was... unscarred. It bore not a single defect. No lightning bolt. Not even the faintest trace.

Baffled, her hand trailed down his cheek — full, chiseled, and coloured of long seasons of wind and sun. And down there, where she would not have expected, she found a strange and ironic token of asymmetry. Just above the masculine grace of his firmly-set jaw was a scar — a single pale slash articulating one cheek.

It isn't...

But how...?

How could it NOT be???

"Harry?" she whispered — softly, beseechingly.

Finished with his ministrations, the man gazed down at her with those extraordinary eyes.

With Harry Potter's eyes.

The eyes were deeply troubled — compassionate yet conflicted — torn between necessity and need.

The man put away his wand. Ginny saw one powerful hand slide beneath her knees, and felt the other arm brace her head and torso with kind firmity. In a burst of dizzying strength and agility, the man surged to his feet. Ginny sensed herself being uplifted and swept away — almost floating — from the sunlit roadway, down a short embankment, and into the shade of a riverside willow.

They paused a moment amidst the placid greenery. When Ginny's eyes adjusted, she found them affixed to the man's gaze.

The man chewed his lower lip; faint worry lines forming on his brow. He opened his mouth and a gentle phrase issued... "Sume fibulam."

In her dazed state, Ginny drank in the words, absorbed their resonance, completely oblivious to the fact that she had no idea what they meant. The only thing that mattered to her was that this truly had to be the voice of Harry Potter.

Almost.

Thinking it over, she realized that the voice was ever so slightly different... almost like she recognized it, not from knowing Harry, but from recalling some dream of Harry... or some dream of someone who reminded her of Harry. Just as the man holding her so painfully resembled Harry, yet was not...

Ginny's injured head began to throb from the circular confusion. A creeping nausea swelled in her, worsened by a growing dread that she was missing something – that she had forgotten some critical task that she had to fulfill.

Why was she suddenly certain that vitally important details or instructions had slipped from her mind? What made her so convinced that she had a message, a warning, she needed to give this man, when she didn't even know who he was?

She forced a breath of air into her lungs and opened her mouth desperately hoping that some vital word or sentence would emit. But when she exhaled, all that emerged was a weak sibilance, unintelligible to either herself or the man.

The creases on his face deepening, the man reached out tentatively to touch her cheek. "Tu sume fibulam? "

Still dizzy and disoriented, Ginny frowned as she forced herself to try to sort out the situation. A face — same as Harry's yet different. A voice — same yet different. Those were not the awkward utterances of the boy she had met years ago on Platform 9ĺ. Not the troubled but tenacious teen whom she'd so fancied in ways that suddenly now seemed sophomoric and naive.

Finally it occurred to her — the face and voice were exactly how she might have imagined Harry if he had ever been permitted to grow into dignified adulthood. But how could she be seeing this dream-face, hearing this dream-voice of a wonderful grown man who, as a teen, had just been...

murdered...

struck down...

taken from her...

Ginny choked as bitter tears prickled beneath her eyelids.

A hint of urgency crept into the man's troubled expression. "LanossŽa? " The voice had taken on a vaguely plaintive tone. He peered deeply, questioningly into her eyes. "Quaeso, tolle fibulam."

Ginny bit back her anguish and confusion, and tried to process the slow, clear syllables the man had offered. Whoever he was, the man clearly expected a response from her.

Latin. He's speaking Latin.

She nodded slightly to herself — any witch or wizard would know some Latin because it figured so prominently in spellmanship... But 'fibulam' is not... it's not an incantation?

She fought through her daze and tried to recall her Mum's patient linguistics lessons (English, Greek and Latin) from back in those sweet, innocent years before Hogwarts. She squinted for a moment, then raised a tentative, inquiring finger to his brooch. "Take this off?"

He nodded.

With trembling fingers, she tugged at the silver object. Anchored by a long, polished straight-pin, the brooch slid easily to the side and fell, smooth and cool, into her hand. The heavy grey mantle tumbled to the ground behind the man.

Still holding Ginny as if she were but little more than a waif in arms, the man turned. With his leather-bound feet, he kicked at the mantle several times, tugged it into a passable rectangle with his toes, and laid her lightly upon it. Her exhausted limbs settled into the fabric's comforting warmth. Beneath her, soft cushioning grasses and moss swaddled her aching body.

With efficiency that bespoke exigency, the man set to work. Fingers tougher than tree roots (gentler than a masseuse) cradled Ginny's head as he rolled up two loose corners of the mantle to form a makeshift pillow. Raising her head an inch, he sculpted the U-shaped roll to the contours of her head and laid it back down to rest.

She sighed as her scalp gratefully enumerated each of the five strong digits woven into her hair.

But then they were gone. Ginny winced (in sudden dejection, not pain) as the man withdrew and rose to his feet. She watched as he unclasped the belt about his red and grey tunic, and slid free a leather flagon and small pouch. "Victus et aqua," he explained, kneeling down to place the rations at her side.

Although her exhausted mind was beginning to swirl in exhaustion bordering on delirium, Ginny braced herself, clinging to the bewildering moment, determined to capture some shred of clarity from the chaos. Tremulously, she reached to touch the sinews of his arm. "Are you leaving?"

He turned to her with a look of silent contrition that pierced Ginny's heart. Empathy and loneliness pouring freely, she was swept by an overwhelming desire to clasp herself to him and never let go.

But Ginny knew she couldn't. She still had no idea who this man truly was... (Harry! shrilled the desperate voice in her fevered mind one final time before she shunted it aside), and she could read his body language with certainty. The man had urgent business elsewhere; some imminent crisis pulling him inexorably away.

From somewhere inside her, a voice admonished that she must let him go. She must not interfere with things which she did not understand. Sighing, she surrendered to logic. With her final ounce of strength, she fixed his gaze. "Come back to me? Come back when you can?"

Her eyes bored into his, imploring against all hope that he would somehow understand the request and assent.

The man reached toward her, found her right hand, and grasped it tightly. His weathered fingers whispered to her an unspoken, tender, resolute promise. Divine eyes once again graced hers.

Her strength fading fast, Ginny finally let go. She found herself drifting down, soft as a dewdrop, into a verdant boreal pool of sleep. Faintly, as if from a great depth, she heard the sound of a lone horse racing away over the stone road. As darkness engulfed her, she recalled only the sensation of cold silver wings still pressed firmly to her palm.

Was he already too late??

Hearing distant voices raised in outrage, Harry frantically scanned the impregnable palisade. No guards were present to admit him, and the walls were protected by magic stronger than his, but years ago he had discovered a secret weakness within the gate. Hating to trespass, but seeing no other option, Harry pulled out his wand and blasted away the vulnerable cross-bar. Pushing through, he sprinted the narrow wooded path to the longhouse and crossed beneath the lintel into the dark interior.

"Stop! This is madness!" Catching his breath, Harry held aloft the scroll. "I have the treaty! It clearly states..."

He froze. Just now adjusting to the low, smoky light of the chamber, Harry could not help but recognize that there were... twelve intricately carved wands pointed at his chest.

Bitter bile pooled in his throat as his eyes swept the room and confirmed the worst.

Treachery!

Bodies lay strewn about. In this proud court of warriors, only the indomitable sovereign was left standing, yet even she had been overcome — writhing against shackles, her hands were bereft of their mighty staff, renowned all across Britannia for its magical might.

Harry's gaze darted about the room in search for the ornate walnut pole, with its characteristic copper horse-head grip. His eyes fell upon it — there it was... cradled in the puff-pasty hands of the...

"Traitor!!" Furious, Harry pointed his trembling wand at the supercilious villain. Heedless of the hopeless odds, he launched himself across the dusky room.

Stunning spells bursting from Harry's wand felled three wizards adjacent to the foul swine, but the horse-head staff in the scoundrel's hand brushed aside Harry's main thrust with barely a flinch. Out of nowhere, cloying, suffocating restraints flung themselves about his body and Harry lurched to a raging, impotent halt. Struggling mightily to shake off the invisible bonds, he twisted hard, and ripped...

"NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!"

The high-pitched, real-world shriek tore Harry from his nightmare and out of bed. Eyes-wide, he raised his arms just in time to cushion what could have been a horrendous collision with his room-mate, Ron Weasley, who had leaped simultaneously from the other side of the small room.

"Noise! Scream?!" Harry blurted. "Who yelled?"

Ron stepped back, extracting his arms from Harry's armpits, shaking his head distractedly. "Dunno. It sounded like..."

WHAM!!

"... Ginny."

Harry stared at his bewildered friend for a split second, then nodded. Violently shredding away the tatters of a tangled bed sheet binding his arms and legs, Harry tore from the bedroom and raced down the steps. Skidding to a halt at girls' chamber door, Harry elbowed his way past a teetering Sirius Black and gaped at the floor.

Hermione knelt on the cold stone, wracked by sobs. Beneath her, in a confused splay of limbs, face resting sidelong in a spreading crimson stain, lay the youngest Weasley — ghostly pale in the light of a flickering hallway lamp.

Harry burst in, ushered Hermione hastily to the side and knelt beside Ginny. As gently as he could in his urgent haste, Harry maneuvered the fallen girl's head and shoulders out of the bloody puddle and into his lap, heedless of the deep red smears across his flannel nightclothes.

Instinctively, he braced her right shoulder into the crook of his elbow and drew his wand. He took a deep breath to will some steadiness into his shaking hand, then concentrated on the spell. "Episkey! "

Ginny jolted at the sudden sensation, but the gash closed and bleeding stopped.

Harry carefully pulled back disheveled red tresses from her pallid face, both soiled from her wound. He pointed his wand again and, with greater confidence, cast a Tergeo spell. The red stains and dirt vanished.

As Harry visually examined her head and face, assessing her secondary wounds, Ginny's eyes opened. After a moment, her diffuse pupils focused on the dimly lit features of Harry's face, then they closed again. "Hey..." Her lips parted slightly. "You came back..."

Focused on trying to remember a passable spell to reduce the deep bruising in the girl's face, Harry nodded distractedly.

Ginny stirred sightly and took a breath. "Please stay this time."

Harry frowned slightly as he registered the unexpected (inexplicable?) request. His best mate's sister had obviously just taken a frightful blow to the head, but he still couldn't quite imagine such a vivacious, independent and headstrong girl seeking his... comfort?

Perplexed, he turned his attention away from Ginny's bruised forehead and met her suddenly lucid gaze.

Ginny reached over to touch his forearm. "Stay please?"

Caught within the irresistible beam of her wide, sincere eyes, he nodded tacitly as he struggled to process the situation. Somehow this strange real-world scene almost seemed to belong within the bizarre, fretful dream he'd just risen from; it was as if he'd woken up too quickly to shake off the residual stupour, and the stubborn dream had followed him down two flights of stairs, into the girls' room, and was now doggedly reasserting itself.

Oblivious to his confusion, Ginny smiled softly at him for a moment, then her eyes drifted to his wand, still poised intently at her side. She reached out slowly with her right index finger and pressed it to the tip, then carefully pronounced the word she remembered from her dream... "Emaculo..." Ginny then carefully steered Harry's wand through a motion identical to a quill writing the Greek letter η.

Harry frowned in confusion. "Emaculo ?"

She nodded and gestured at the swelling on the side of her face.

Baffled, he steadied his hand again, focused the wand, and clearly repeated the simple incantation as he effected the prescribed motion.

Harry gasped as a cool tonic spread through the air, bathing not only Ginny's face and head, but also his own hand and forearm.

Her swelling gone, and colour restored, Ginny's face relaxed and her eyes closed. "Thanks," she murmured.

Still reeling from the powerful cleansing sensation, Harry blinked at Ginny's face, now fully restored to a state of sublime peace. "But what... where...? Uh, who... did you learn that spell from, Ginny?"

A mysterious wistful smile drifted across Ginny's face for a moment. "Dunno," she replied hazily. She then reached her hand around to the small of Harry's back to pull herself more snugly to his chest, and promptly fell into a deep, restful sleep.

"Ugh!" Hermione buried her face in her hands. "I feel so useless! I can't believe I just fell to pieces like that! If Harry hadn't come and taken over...?!"

Sirius cuffed her gently on the shoulder. "Pah. If Harry hadn't come to take over, you'd have done fine. All you needed was a few minutes to pull your head together." Throwing an arm around Hermione's shoulders, he ushered her gently over the threshhold and drew the bedroom door shut. "Next time, just take a deep breath and try not to panic. Gingersnap wasn't in dire straits — just a bonk on the head. Besides, she was out cold and feeling no pain — not as if she was about to badger you if you needed to take a moment to flip through an old spell book to find the right way to close a cut. Don't stew over it, Sweets!"

Hermione pulled away from Sirius and turned on him. "That's not the point! What if something really awful was to happen?! What if Ginny or you or Harry or... or Ron... was lying there with seconds to live and I was the only one around who could save any of you?" A lock of Hermione's rumpled hair fell across her face and she whipped it aside. "What do I do then?! What if I just went blank again and started bawling my pathetic little head off??"

"Ssh Granger." Sirius raised a finger to his lips. "It's no fun to get blasted out of bed like that and have to launch straight into coherent action. But if it'd make you feel better, maybe we could start doing practice drills. Back during the First Wizarding War, Order of the Phoenix members like Mad-Eye and them were constantly barging in on us at all the worst hours of night to get people used to being woken up for emergencies."

"Really?" Hermione's cringe evapourated, replaced by curiosity. "Did it work?"

"Hah!" Sirius barked. "Hell no! But it sure made a bloody good excuse to hit the bottle! Gideon, Fabian and I would tie one on nearly every night. Depending on when exactly the gits came to ambush us, we'd either still be sober enough to spray them with shots of Firewhisky, or else we'd be so rat-arsed they could have turned a Swedish Short-Snout loose on us and we wouldn't have budged."

Hermione laughed, relieved by the leavening humour.

Not sharing in the levity, Ron caught Sirius's wrist. "Hey! Why the hell did you shut the door like that?" Ron turned to glare back toward the room they'd emerged from. "We're not going to just leave Ginny in there with... uh, with Harry?"

Sirius grinned. "That's exactly what we're doing. None of us need any more fuss tonight." He paused and pointed toward the stairwell. "You young urchins are headed straight back to bed — especially you, Copper-top. Weasleys need their sleep or else they're bloody insufferable."

Oblivious to the Ron's flushing complexion, Sirius turned and winked at Hermione. "Granger, you're welcome to take the small guest room up on third floor close to the WC — the bed is comfortable and freshly-made." He began to make his way back out toward the front room, adding, "And yes, we are going to leave the two little sweet-dreamers alone in there together to settle peacefully. I'll peek in on them in an hour to make sure all's well, but beyond that we're going to let them be."

"But... but..." Ron wrung his hands. "Harry will catch no end of grief for this! Ginny bites our heads off whenever we try to help her with anything these days. She says she's tired of being babied. And besides, all she had was a bad dream — she doesn't need anybody in there to..."

Sirius shook his head, cutting him off. "No, you missed a few cues, Ron. Most importantly, she asked him to stay. Twice, if I counted right. I don't have a clue what kind of dream could have been bad enough to launch her across the room into a full-on face-plant, but we're all bloody stressed out of our gourds these days. You remember how pale and quiet she got the other night when Tonks came in with the news about Harry's brush with the Dementors? Little Miss Pepper Vinegar may have us believe that she's all ready to tackle the world, but we all know that your sister is just as fussed and rattled by all this idiotic crap as anyone else. If she keeps her fears bottled in all day every day, it's hardly any surprise to see them come screeching out in the occasional nightmare."

Hermione nodded thoughtfully, but Ron scowled and looked away.

"Hey listen..." Sirius shrugged in a conciliatory way. "I'm a sorry excuse for a sage, but I do know two things damned well. I know for a fact that when a frightened friend comes asking for help, neither Cub or I would have the heart to tell her 'no '. Secondly, I've also learned that the best way to keep Harry from digging a grave over his own worries is to let him help other people deal with theirs."

Hermione's eyes widened and she nodded. "Good point! I'd never thought of that before!"

Ron, however, whipped about to face Sirius. "No, YOU listen, Sirius. That's all bollocks! Mum is going to go spare when she comes back tomorrow and finds out that Harry and Ginny spent the night together!"

Sirius merely offered his most roguish grin. "What Mummy Molly doesn't know won't hurt her... or hurt us !" He sighed wearily. "Honestly mate, every time we save the poor lady from sweating some harmless little cut-corner or dodgy detail, we're doing her a good turn, a'right? Molly's shattered enough from all the bedlam as it is."

Sirius paused to seek affirmation from Ron, but the youth didn't respond. The man fixed him with an earnest gaze. "Don't worry Ron, I'll make sure Harry is out of there well before breakfast. As long as none of the five of us tells anyone, then nobody will ever know the difference." Sirius smiled and clapped the two teens over the shoulders. "Now you two get to bed!"

Still seemingly conflicted, Ron paused for a moment, but then he nodded reluctantly and followed Hermione up the stairs.

Sirius took a final glance down the hallway toward the bedroom door, smiled quietly to himself, then made his silent way back to the sitting room, to rejoin the company of his Firewhisky bottle.

Harry gazed at the bedroom door as it closed, then listened pensively as his friends' indistinct voices drifted down the hallway.

Huhhh...

How on earth had he gotten himself into this... situation?

It was all a blur. Harry couldn't recall whether, in his mad rush down here, anything conscious or coherent had been crossing his mind. He was quite certain he had operated on pure, blind instinct, but even if he'd been guided by cool-headed logic, he doubted he could ever have predicted this outcome.

Who might possibly have guessed that the only bonafide adult in the house (if Sirius could truly be called an adult) would close the bedroom door... consigning him to spend the rest of the night alone with a sleeping girl?

He took a deep breath and pondered the situation.

Harry didn't kid himself when it came to his godfather — he could smell liquor on the man's breath practically every night, and this evening was no exception. On the other hand, Harry could hear within the man's voice an otherworldly wisdom that couldn't quite be ignored. Like the hands of a stopped clock, Sirius was almost always wrong... except when he was right. Indeed, there were those very special circumstances (which seemingly came about twice in a dog's age) when Harry's godfather was absolutely spot-on.

He knew that Sirius was widely considered to be unreliable (almost to the level of Mundungus Fletcher), but Harry was somehow convinced that the man, as damaged as he was, would grow into key role in the emerging battle against Voldemort. Harry could only imagine that it might be a rather unconventional contribution — something befitting such an unconventional character!

As far as Harry knew, Sirius's greatest service to the order might be something as unusual as motivation or even 'morale'. For all the demoralizing circumstances faced by Order of the Phoenix members, few had weathered such hardship as Sirius, and yet he had somehow risen above it all. With magical society threatening to crumble around them, the old dog's humour held a special value right now. With the Weasley family driven from their healthy, happy household into a hellacious dump that had not seen real habitation since its use as a de facto bunker in the First Wizarding War, Sirius added spice to the drudgery. His lax interpretation of all of the less essential principles of etiquette was humane relief to the younger folk, and even Arthur and Professor Lupin gave in to the occasional furtive smirk in Sirius's presence. His wit and pragmatic irreverence seemed to be chock full of strategies to shepherd edgy people around all of the petty stresses in the day-to-day life of a family under siege. He was clearly appreciated!

Except by Molly.

Harry could tell that Sirius was driving the Weasley matron practically out of her mind. It must surely be galling for Molly to be forced to share domestic oversight with a host whose every instinct undercut her passion for orderly decorum, but Harry was convinced that Sirius was at least partially in the right. Molly seemed to be trying to cling to a pretense of normality as she knew it, but striving for an illusion of sanity in this zoo was surely a recipe for madness.

Yes, this was one of those twice-in-a-dog's-age situations — Sirius was the unlikely voice of reason. And, just a little while ago, this particular voice of reason had, in spite of the horrified tone in Ron's protesting voice, closed the bedroom door and committed Harry to the remainder of a night inside a closed, darkened room with...

Well, with a girl...

In fact, a rather pretty girl...

Pretty... Harry wondered to himself. When had that happened?

Harry gazed down at her in the low light, at the smooth curves of her cheeks, at the fine wavy hair that cascaded across her shoulders.

When, had Ginny ceased to be just 'Ron's little sister' ?

Harry marveled at how greatly her stature had grown from the nervous little mouse that Ron would reliably ignore (except perhaps when he deigned to scoff and roll his eyes at her).

Yes, Ginny had acquired 'stature'. It was not that she was 'tall' per se (she was still attractively petite), but rather that she had learned to carry herself with an easy-going confidence that made her seem more accomplished, more personable... even more mature... than most of the students in Harry's own year at Hogwarts.

Maybe the petals had unfolded on this vibrant bundle of life when Ginny had started smiling and laughing. She had cultivated so many tools to capture attention — a winning sparkle, witty conversation, an easy laugh. And pranks. Yes, in truth she seemed to liven up Grimmauld Place almost as much as Sirius did. The capers she pulled were brilliant; funny and imaginative enough to put even the twins on edge.

Yes, it was abundantly clear to Harry 'how ' Ginny had progressed beyond her old status as the Weasley door-stop. But 'when ' had this happened? At what moment had Harry been so blind as to miss such a glorious transformation?

Perhaps at the Yule Ball...?

That small dagger of regret twisted in Harry's side, but he took another deep breath to suppress the sour memories, and return his focus to his remaining responsibilities.

Responsibilities.

Yes, Harry knew that he had to make sure that this vibrant, winsome, prankish, but currently very comatose, girl was comfortably settled for the night. Then he should try to get himself back to sleep.

Harry took stock of things. The big task was done — Ginny was back on the bed. As soon as Ginny's wounds had been treated, Sirius had entered the bedroom, and had helped Harry lift Ginny back into bed without rousing her. Immediately after that, however, everyone had spirited away, leaving the situation in a bit of disarray.

Harry picked up the sheet, blanket and quilt that had gotten strewn across the floor. After casting quick scourgefy spells on them and checking to ensure that they were no longer bloodied or dusty, he piled them on the end of the bed and began to arrange them over the peaceful girl.

As he was pulling the sheet into place, something sharp scraped his hand.

He carefully withdrew the sheet down to Ginny's waist, scanned the area where his hand had been. In the pale light creeping in from a crack in the curtain, Harry glimpsed a flicker of silver in Ginny's left hand. Drawing closer, he gasped — there was a thin silvery spike poking out from between her clenched fingers. "Oi! Glad she didn't spear herself with that when she fell!"

Staring more closely at it, he saw that the spike was attached to something larger, clasped rigidly in her fist. He carefully reached for her hand to see if he could gently extract it from her grip.

Ginny whimpered and pulled the hand closer to her body.

Harry paused to deliberate for a moment, then reached for her hand again. This time he stroked it softly, tenderly. "Ginny? Please open your hand. I'd like to put this, er, thing on the night stand, okay? Just to keep it safe for you while you sleep."

A frown flickered over Ginny's face, as she semiconsciously processed Harry's request. She nodded slightly. "Uh huh," she mumbled and her grip loosened. "Thanks so much...."

The object, heavier than Harry would have guessed, slipped into his hand.

Suddenly finding himself sincerely moved by this unexpected scenario — a proud, self-reliant girl caught at her most vulnerable, seemingly placing such trust in him — Harry gazed affectionately at his charge. Before he had any notion of what he was doing, he leaned down to place a tiny kiss on her forehead.

Harry could not remember ever having either given or received a kiss. Yet in that moment, despite his lack of experience, the act seemed simple and natural. All of his stilted, awkward experiences with girls, and all of his far more onerous stresses, faded for a while. With a happy sigh, he returned to the final bit of straightening up, pulling the sheet and covers over Ginny, then reaching over toward the night stand to stow the...

The what?

In curiosity, he raised the object in his hand so that it once again caught the faint light from the window. He examined it for a moment, vaguely stirred by the unusual, ornate craftsmanship, intrigued by the clasp's cool weight in his hand. It almost seemed to make him tingle.

Construing the unusual sensation as a figment of exhaustion, Harry placed the brooch on the night stand, and turned one final time to gaze down at his young and pretty friend. He was troubled by the sudden relapse of her old susceptibility to nightmares, but he was once again deeply stirred by her unexpected reliance on him; by her wholehearted (if slightly puzzling) acceptance of a helping hand.

Helping a friend truly felt good!

Harry borrowed an extra pillow and blanket from the boudoir, and settled himself in the comfortable old armchair beside Ginny's bed. Within moments, he was asleep, with a contented smile on his face.

Back to index


Chapter 2: Perfectly Normal?

Author's Notes:

Well, based on the first chapter's reception, there are a good number of readers out there who are quite open to a disorientingly non-linear little tale. Happy happy!

That said, this second chapter expends most of its words dwelling upon a day in the life of 1995 Grimmauld Place. Don't worry though -- I promise I'll yank your chains again soon.


Chapter 2. Perfectly Normal? (August 8, 1995)

Harry flipped another egg over to the warm plate on the side of the stove and added two more slices of toast to a deep dish, covering it with a clean cloth to keep it warm. Glasses of cold pumpkin juice were glistening with frosty condensation, an urn of coffee was brewing, and a pile of bangers filled the room with a sumptuous aroma. He gazed about the empty kitchen at all the empty chairs. Yes, the only thing missing from a spirited breakfast were hungry mouths.

Ahh — and here come a few now!

A clatter from the front door signaled that Remus Lupin and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were finally returning. Harry smiled as he heard them whispering and tip-toeing their way back toward the kitchen.

"Good morning!" Harry greeted Molly in a low but friendly voice as she emerged through the door.

"Harry!" She stared, wide-eyed. "What are...? I mean, why aren't you in bed?"

Before replying, Harry smiled and waved as Arthur and Remus entered and added their surprised faces to Molly's. "I was awake early this morning and figured I might as well get up and make breakfast." Harry shrugged casually, with no intention of mentioning that Sirius had staggered into the girls' room forty minutes ago to warn him of the adults' imminent return.

"Breakfast??" Molly gazed around in confusion at the juice, coffee, plates of golden toast, and expertly prepared griddle fare. "But Harry, you mustn't feel you need to..."

"It's my pleasure!" Harry whisked several plates off the counter with surprising cheer and began setting three places at the table. "I knew you'd be out all night, and assumed you'd return exhausted, so why not give you a break? I was a little leery of the thought of Kreacher's, uhhh... cooking? So, I decided to get things started myself." Harry's face slid into a wry grin.

"Thank you son!" Arthur offered Harry a tired smile. "It looks and smells delicious!"

"Glad you think so — I've had some practice in the kitchen." Harry placed mugs of coffee by each of the plates. "So, how was your night?"

A quick glance at the suddenly grim expressions around the table gave Harry an answer more telling than he had expected or even really wanted. Arthur and Lupin were fidgeting uncomfortably; Molly's eyes reddened; she caught her breath and looked away, holding back a round of unshed tears.

Lupin sighed deeply. "Let's keep this under our hats for now Harry, but Albus's concerns were correct. Twice last night Death Eaters attempted to breach the wards at the Burrow. If we hadn't been there to fend them off, they would have broken through."

Arthur exhaled, clenching his coffee cup and staring stonily at the wall. "It appears we're not going to be returning home any time soon," he said expressionlessly as Molly sniffled.

Harry nodded sympathetically. Rising from the table, he turned his focus back to several half-cooked servings of eggs and sausages on the stove. "Yes, but this too shall pass, right?" Harry returned to his labours with a neutral expression. "Everyone always finds their way back home eventually."

Arthur and Molly glanced at each other in surprise; their curious eyes turning to follow Harry about the room, trying unsuccessfully to reconcile this sunny optimist with the edgy, irascible and distinctly damaged youth who had come to roost only two days earlier. Lupin also paused momentarily to study Harry, before shaking his head slightly; several pensive lines etched themselves on his face as he silently carved into his breakfast.

Some time later, after the two elder Weasley's had stumbled away to find some sleep in one of Grimmauld Place's many dilapidated guest rooms, Lupin sat nursing his third cup of coffee. He opened his mouth, closed it, stirred an extra spoonful of sugar into his mug, then finally resolved to proceed. "Harry, I had a brief chat yesterday with Nymphadora Tonks..."

Harry turned from the wash basin. "Oh yes?" Harry's tone was tentative; his eyes crinkled slightly.

"She has a well-placed friend in the legal division at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement," Lupin continued. "Tonks outlined your case in brief, and her friend is of the opinion that they'll never make the charge stick. The law offers clear protections for cases of magical self-defence, and we all agree that your story will stand up to basic scrutiny. If there's any question as to your honesty, a competent examiner could simply assess your state of mind when you summoned your Patronus — easily accomplished by casting prior incantatem on your wand. If they extend you that most basic consideration, Tonks' friend believes it would be a farce for them to proceed any further. And even if they continued with a formal hearing, she's certain that the charges will be thrown out."

Harry gazed at the doorway, smiling to a worn-looking Hermione who was just now quietly making her appearance. She responded with a worried half-smile and took a seat at the table, her gaze flitting rapidly between Harry and Lupin.

"Thank you for looking into that, Professor." Harry placed a fully laden plate in front of Hermione, and took a seat beside her at the table. "Frankly, though, it doesn't even seem all that important anymore. Let them decide what they decide. In the worst case, I simply won't go to Hogwarts this year."

Lupin's coffee cup froze, half way to his mouth. Hermione gaped at Harry. "You can't possibly mean that, Harry! You have to return to Hogwarts this year! It's... it's..." She trailed off, dumbfounded.

Harry gazed thoughtfully at his well-intentioned, open-mouthed friend. He knew her shock was justified; yesterday morning he himself had been just as passionately outraged as she was now. Probably even more so. But in the light of this new day, everything seemed... different... like he was looking at the world through a new pair of lenses. And at this very moment, those lenses made the whole hearing seem completely puerile and asinine.

"I don't know, Hermione," Harry replied. "Of course I'd like to get a proper and normal magical education just like any other Hogwarts student, but let's be realistic. When is the world ever going to let me be just another Hogwarts student? Can any of you truly imagine that I'll ever simply be allowed to go to class, prepare for OWLs and obsess over Quidditch like everyone else. I've confronted near-death every year at Hogwarts, so why should I expect anything different now? If some idiots in the Ministry of Magic want to expel me for saving my soul, then why should I try to stop them? They might be motivated by wrong-headed reasons, or maybe by no clear reason at all, but it's honestly occurred to me that it might be a lot healthier for everyone if I didn't return to a school where my very presence probably imperils loads of other students."

Hermione burst up from her seat. "Yes, but you need to keep up your lessons just to... to... to survive! "

Harry gazed at her thoughtfully with a distant look in his eye. "You know... I'm not sure about that... I sometimes wonder if maybe there's another way..." He gazed toward the old grime-spattered wall for a long moment, then returned his attention to Hermione, giving her a half-smile.

Harry stood up again and returned to the stove. Hermione stared at him, unblinking, unbreathing.

Lupin sighed. His cup eventually found his mouth; he took a sip and placed the coffee wearily back on the table. "I, er, well... all that aside... don't you at least care about the principle of the thing, Harry?" Lupin scratched idly at his stubbly cheek with an air of self-questioning hesitation.

Harry shrugged. "Maybe, but what's principle and what's folly? The only principle that matters to me right is goodness overcoming evil. Where the hell does the 'Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery' fit into that? It's not exactly evil, but it's definitely not goodness either. I'd say it's all just a waste of fine parchment sitting on some brainless quill-pusher's desk. Maybe my civic spirit has gone to rubbish, but as far as I'm concerned there's no principle in fighting something that has no principle."

An awkward silence descended... but was broken, mercifully quickly, by shouts and raucous laughter as they twins rambled their noisy way down the steps, followed by a rather stoney-faced Ron.

"Shhh!" Lupin frowned at the three Weasley brothers as they poured into the kitchen. "Please keep your voices down a bit — Molly and Arthur are trying to get some sleep."

"Keep it down?" Fred asked incredulously. "Could you please tell that to the prat who was making all the racket last night when WE were trying to sleep?"

George laughed. "Yes, did we miss anything exciting?"

"Er, well Ginny had a nightmare." Harry glanced around at the newcomers, wondering just how much any of them had heard. He couldn't help but note, with a bit of discomfort, the very sour look on Ron's face, but relaxed to see the twins offer disinterested shrugs as they cracked open a copy of the Daily Prophet and began sniggering over the morning's latest stories.

Lupin, however, leaned forward with wide eyes. "Oh? Poor kid. Is she okay?"

"Yes," Hermione answered in a surprisingly firm tone, narrowing her eyes at the various Weasleys. "I'm certain she's fine, though she could probably use a little extra sleep this morning as well, so let us all respect Professor Lupin's advice and try to keep our voices down. Understood?"

Ron blinked at his friend in shocked indignation. He opened his mouth in protest, but a sharp glance from Hermione silenced him. In resignation, he scowled and flumped himself noisily into the seat beside Lupin.

With raised eyebrow, Harry continued to assemble breakfast servings, surreptitiously watching the chastened teens settle themselves at the table. A subtle smile of gratitude twinkled about his eyes as he refilled Hermione's glass of pumpkin juice, then he too (finally) pulled up a chair for himself and took his place in front of a well-stocked plate.

The rising sun was just breaking through a row of trees on the far bank of the stream, sending merry beams across to sparkle throughout the copse where Ginny lay. Specks of light danced across her weary face. Her eyelids twitched and, reluctantly, she stirred, and stretched.

Gazing around at the curtain of swaying grasses, and a ceiling of shimmering leaves, it took Ginny a moment to piece together the disorienting half-memories that had brought her to this place — a ghastly nightmare of utter desolation; a blurred, bitter-sweet vignette of discovery and abandonment. And at the beginning, and at the end, there was...

Harry?

Or not Harry?

That face, those eyes, that voice, had been the one constant through all of her strange dreams — dying and living; mature then young; helping and healing; inspiring hope or regret.

Giving a brooch.

Taking it away?

With a start, Ginny's left hand flinched.

Empty! The brooch was gone!

Ginny was instantly swept by a powerful wave of bereavement. With no idea what she had really lost (the brooch? Harry? ) she flailed about blindly, in the vain hope that she could merely reach out her hand and somehow...

Find it??

Ginny blinked in amazement. The leaves and grasses of the riverside glade had vanished. She was sprawled haphazardly across her bed in the dingy yellowish bedroom at Grimmauld Place. Sunlight was streaming through the narrow Victorian window. Bedclothes were strewn about, her hair had fallen chaotically about her face... and her fingers, grasping for the night stand, had settled upon... the ornate silver brooch.

She slowly withdrew her hand and stared at the mysterious object that seemed equally puzzling both within and beyond her dreams.

Crawling over the bed to take a closer look, she turned it over and found that it was a small, but striking piece — a smooth oval shield graced by two wings angled out to the side in the manner of a sea eagle drying its wings. In the centre of the shield, punctuated by two glittering gems (an emerald and a ruby, Ginny supposed), was an inscription:


Invenies in Tenebris
∑ ∑
P. PEVERELLIVS


In appearance, the brooch was intriguing but not extraordinary — it was ornate, attractive and unusual in design, but would not stand up to the superior Goblin pieces she had seen in fine shop windows in Diagon Alley. What really struck Ginny about the brooch, rather, was that it seemed to be calling to her — a plaintive song, beautiful yet faint as if heard from a great distance.

Magical!

Ginny's hand flinched back as if she'd been scorched.

Was the brooch truly magical? If so, how? What did it do?

Mysterious magical objects had betrayed her before, and Ginny was not about to fall blindly into another perilous trap. Yet, for some reason, the brooch felt... wholesome... It made her feel more secure, reminding her of the man who had given it to her.

In her dream...

Huhhh??

Ginny winced as a throb of disorientation coursed through her battered head. With no clue how an object from a dream could possibly have landed on her night stand, and no energy for sorting the illogical images left over from a most perplexing night, she rubbed her temples for a moment. She then tugged on her pillow, removing the slip and draping it over the night stand to shroud the contentious brooch.

Mysteries would have to wait. Ginny was sore, tired and hungry. For those ailments, the best cure was the most obvious one — a good hearty breakfast.

Wrapping herself in a bathrobe, she found her slippers and shuffled her way out into the corridor and down the steps to the kitchen. As she went, she smiled wryly at the distinct noise of her siblings attempting (with the usual lack of success) to be quiet.

Ron shot Ginny a baleful look as she entered the room "Oh look! Her majesty the Drama Queen is finally out of bed."

Ginny ignored him, her attention instead occupied with noticing a scathing glare that Hermione had just shot her grouchy brother. Lupin too, she observed, had given him a frown of distinct disapproval, prompting Ron to turn his flushed (and perhaps slightly contrite) visage back to the remaining food on his plate.

Okay, what was that all about?

Ginny and Ron had sparred almost daily all summer, even before the horrendous exile to this dump. She knew that few people bothered to intercede anymore, probably in fear of the inevitable verbal shrapnel. Consequently, Ginny was baffled to suddenly find not one but two people blatantly taking her side.

At least Fred and George (barely glancing at her as they engaged in a heated debate over Quidditch teams) were behaving normally, which hopefully meant that she wasn't covered with green spots (or worse). Nonetheless, as Ginny took a vacant seat immediately across from the twins, she made a mental note to pursue some discrete inquiries later.

Ginny had just opened her mouth to start some frivolous chit-chat with Hermione, when a hand swept down in front of her, depositing a plate adorned with a hearty meal that her Mum would have been proud to serve.

But that was not her Mum's hand...

With a surreptitious glance out of the corner of her eye, Ginny saw an unexpected form retreating back toward the wash basin.

Harry is serving breakfast??

Subtly gesturing toward Harry with her thumb, Ginny gave Hermione a questioning glance, but the older girl merely shrugged.

Very curious...

Lots and lots of little mysteries seemed to be cropping up this morning, but Ginny was ravenous enough to put them all aside for long enough to devour her exceptionally tasty breakfast under the semblance of normality. Over the years, she had become very practiced at miming nonchalance in the face of the untold chaos that might be occurring around her. This morning, her finely honed acting skills (a great asset in the Weasley household) helped her sustain the illusion of a perfectly pleasant chat with Hermione, despite having to ignore a steady onslaught of seemingly unprovoked sneers and snarls from Ron.

Even Ginny couldn't block out all of the strangeness, however. Occasionally she would get distracted by some of the twins' more egregious jokes about Harry's domestic skills, and a couple of times a little giggle slipped through. But after a while, she found herself much more tempted to 'watch ' rather than laugh, because strangely enough...

Harry was laughing too!

Ginny forced herself not to stare at the buoyant young man in the flowery apron. It was not as if she had never seen the humourous side of Harry before but, well... he had not exactly arrived at Grimmauld Place encased in a barrel of laughs...

Ginny understood full well that Harry had just gone through horrendous stretch. Seeing a friend get murdered, observing the rebirth of evil incarnate, being attacked by Dementors and getting charged for unlawful underage use of magic hardly couldn't inspire much levity. Yet at this very moment, as the dark-haired youth artfully deposited a soggy dish rag onto Fred's head in retaliation for a comment assessing Harry's wifely virtues, it seemed that The Boy Who Lived was doing a brilliant job of coping. In fact, as he stepped directly into Ginny's (not-staring-at-him) line of sight to retrieve the soapy cloth, Harry actually glanced across the table... and winked.

At Ginny.

Ginny Weasley, actress extraordinaire, did exactly what the script called for. She grinned and winked back... because that would be the perfectly normal response.

Yes, Ginny had acquitted herself perfectly normally throughout the entire bizarre, if rather amusing breakfast.

But when she left the table, she was curious as hell!

After pouring a sizable dosage of hangover potion down his godfather's throat and getting a good meal into the man, Harry put aside the apron and officially signed off his voluntary breakfast duty. With Molly still asleep from the night's exertions, there were no other chores assigned, so the Weasley siblings had apparently gone off somewhere to play Exploding Snap, and Hermione was likely curled up somewhere with a school book.

Despite his morning's cheerful demeanour, the night's interrupted sleep had caught up with Harry and he was no longer feeling very sociable. Instead of joining the others, he ascended the staircase to the third floor library. It was the only room on that level with an open door, and the daylight pouring through it beckoned him down the hallway and into the dusty chamber.

Harry gazed around the quiet room which, although in desperate need of some basic Scourgefy spells, was otherwise brighter and in a better state of repair than most of Grimmauld Place. Over by the west-facing windows he noticed an ornate wooden chair and an escritoire with several quills and bottles of what might have been viable ink. On the north wall there was a fireplace flanked by an armchair and ottoman. Not surprisingly, most of the rest of the walls were taken up by book shelves, well appointed with a wide variety of old volumes.

After browsing for less than a minute, Harry's finger landed semi-randomly on one of the larger tomes — "A Magical History of Britain", by Titus Cornerstone. Withdrawing it carefully from the shelf, he walked over to the ottoman, pulled aside the dust cover, and settled himself comfortably onto the cushion with the goal of lulling himself to sleep. Opening the book to a random page near the end of the first chapter, he began to read.


It was with some surprise that the immigrating Roman wizards encountered a sophisticated indigenous magical community in Britain, exhibiting skills significantly superior to Celtic and Teutonic wizardry in continental Europe. In large part, one may safely attribute the British advantage to a long-standing branch of advanced Ollivanderian wandlore already established north of the channel.

Predating Roman settlements by more than three centuries, the first Ollivander wand-maker arrived in Britain via an early Greek trading expedition around the year 382 B.C. Despite their roots within the rigidly formulaic Messenia wand-making tradition, the early British Ollivanders proved to be clever and pragmatic innovators, establishing a well-deserved reputation for magical excellence by augmenting classical Greek magical techniques with Druidic traditions.

The Ollivanderian rise to prominence in pre-Roman Britain was fueled greatly by an unprecedented (and, indeed, never again replicated) application of Greek wandlore principles toward Druidic staff-making. This bold experiment produced immensely powerful staves that gained immediate favour among the British Druidic elite, thus anchoring Ollivanderian reputation in the Isles.

Ironically, the Ollivander family can probably be blamed for the decline and eventual extinction of traditional staff-making. The Ollivanders' exhaustive and costly magical curing process largely constrained staff-ownership to the wealthiest and most influential figures in British society. Most aspiring middle-tier Druids and Druidesses sought to bolster their status by adopting Ollivander wands instead of crude indigenous staves. By the year 100 B.C., it thus appears that only the most remote and primitive communities continued to hand-craft staves using ancient Druidic techniques.

Although most secrets of Ollivanderian staff-making have been lost to the ravages of time, magical historians agree that the staves were crafted exclusively from those hardwoods originally preferred by Druids — primarily oak, beech and walnut. While such pale, unpliable woods have generally proven ill-suited for crafting wands, the Ollivanders apparently developed processes for turning such material into larger instruments of prodigious magic.

The last great Brittanic staff, thought by many to be the apex of Ollivander staff-making, was crafted for King Scavo of the Iceni around A.D. 29. Distinguished by its ornate copper horse-head grip, the Icenian royal staff disappeared from public record during the great uprising of A.D. 61. In the aftermath of the rebellion, under pressure from the Roman Proconsul, the Ollivander family destroyed their entire stockpile of staves, as well as all records of staff lore, in order to...


"... protect our loyal Roman citizenry," the tall silver-haired wizard droned with an arrogant sneer. "As an Imperial Publican, you must surely understand that!"

Harry's head was pounding mercilessly. He shook himself, trying to blink away the disorientation, but found one eye fused with encrusted blood. Stalling for time in the hopes of restoring his wits to a viable equilibrium, he heard himself saying, with affected humility, "Please forgive me Legate, but would you repeat that? What must I surely understand?"

"Imbecile!" The wizard stalked across the stone floor of a holding cell and spat in Harry's face. "Understand that Roman interests in Britannia require us to confiscate all barbaric instruments of magic! I demanded of the woman that she surrender her staff peaceably. She refused, and thus she has been forcibly detained, to face the magistrate as a common criminal."

Through his one available eye, Harry saw the man turn to scowl at him. "If you had been administering this district properly, no such intervention would have been required. In light of your dereliction of duty, you too shall face a tribunal. Consider yourself charged, Publican!"

Heedless to the pain searing every inch of his face, Harry growled and assembled a defiant expression. "What do I care for your trumped-up accusations? I stand not for myself, but for the integrity of the Pax Romana. The treaty signed by Proconsul Paulinus affirmed the sovereignty and self-determination of the queen and her people in the lands north and east of the rivers Ouse. The treaty guarantees her family and followers the rights of self-armament, as long as those arms are not raised against the Imperial Standard."

"Treaty? What treaty?" A lurid smirk crept across the wizard's face.

Harry tried to reach toward an inner fold of his tunic, but was immediately and painfully reminded of his dire situation — he was tightly bound, hand and foot, to a wooden stool. "The signed treaty I carried from Camboricum!" Harry winced as the magical cords tightened sharply, biting into his skin, but he pushed the pain out of his mind. "What have you done with it?!"

"What have I done with what?" The man slowly withdrew from his cloak a scroll bearing the Proconsular seal. He held it out, for one long second, within plain view of Harry's one open eye. "There is no such treaty, nor has there ever been!" he declared in a wicked drawl.

A vicious grin alighted upon his face as the scroll burst into flame. He tossed the burning parchment between Harry's feet and chortled callously at the sight of Harry grimacing as the flames licked upwards, scorching his calves.

"You're a traitor, Legate !" Harry clenched his teeth as he twisted away from the flames. "You will enrage the Britons! You will destroy fourteen years of peace! The blood of Romans and Britons alike will be on your hands!"

The Legate smiled coldly. "No, it is you who are the traitor, Publican Peuerellius. Your ceaseless coddling of these barbarians marks you as a traitor to the Order of Letum, and you will rot in hell for it!"

Harry recoiled. "Order of Letum! I have no allegiance or dealings with those vermin! Never, EVER, speak to me of that FOUL..."

Harry voice ruptured into spluttery gasps, his chest and throat spasming violently under a crude silencing spell.

Twitching in agitation, the Legate's left hand fingered the head of the awesome Icenian staff... his lips trembled as he glared hatefully at Harry for a long moment of apparent internal conflict. Without warning, the man screamed in fury, lashing out wildly with his right arm to club Harry hard across the head, knocking him sideways onto the hard floor, bound stool and all.

Rage still unsated, the wizard kicked Harry hard in the ribs twice before stubbing his toe hard against the stool. "Aiiiiee!" the Legate cried out, staggering back, clasping his foot. Panting and sputtering dark oaths, the wizard finally fought his anger into abeyance.

Brushing long hair from his face the wizard caught his breath and stared down at his prostrate enemy. "No Publican..." He leared downward, utter hatred coursing through his veins. "You may not be a member of the Order, but your sons are. And how mortified they will be to see you lying in blood, filth and ignominy!"

"I... have... no... sons..." Harry wheezed defiantly.

A wicked spark shot from the wizard's staff. "Crucio! "

Harry's nerves burst into the torment of ubiquitous flames; his every muscle tore; his...

His...

His cheek felt a cool, gentle radiance spread across it, like the feel of a moistened cloth over fever. A sensation of calm emanated over his head, down his shoulder, chest, arms and legs, soothing his blistered legs...

In precious contentment, he opened his eyelids, to discover someone gazing down at him — a face caring, yet slightly amused.

"You have no sons, Harry?" Ginny inquired innocently, her tone of empathetic concern almost completely disguising an infectious twinkle in her eyes.

"I, uh... wow!" Harry blinked dazedly at his best mate's little sister; her pretty hand resting lightly upon his cheek. "I must have been dreaming again."

"Really? And what would make you say that?" Ginny's mouth was the picture of disciplined solemnity, but her eyes could not disguise a sparkle that grew ever more irrepressibly impish by the moment.

"Look you!" Harry growled at her, then assembled a grin. He stretched his arms and sat up. "What are you doing up here? Tired of playing Snap?"

Ginny gazed out the window thoughtfully for a moment, her countenance growing suddenly subdued. "I wanted to talk to you." She glanced shyly at him, then turned away again. "I was hoping you could tell me what happened last night."

"Last night?" Harry asked, a weight of discomfort settling over him. "Er, what do you mean, 'what happened?' "

Ginny shrugged. "Just what I said. What happened? What did I do? I don't remember anything beyond a blur of strange dreams, and... well, today various people have been behaving rather oddly around me. Ron, Hermione, Professor Lupin... And then there's you, Harry..."

Ginny paused as the hint of a grin crept back around the corner of her mouth. "I admit that we've all grown accustomed to Harry Potter being a bit of an odd duck, but today you've been acting odd in ways that are strange even for you!"

"What?? You think I'm an odd duck?!" Harry flapped his arms comically. "Well quack quack quack to you then, Little Miss Normal!"

Ginny smirked for a moment. "Oh yes, I specialize in being normal," she proclaimed, then pushed his book to the side and, not-quite-accidentally, elbowed him in the ribs as she took a seat beside him on the ottoman. "Now tell me what happened last night, Ducks."

Harry chuckled for a moment at the silly moniker, then grew more serious. "Er, well, you had a bad dream."

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Yes, well even I managed to figure out that much. But why are people acting strangely around me?"

"I guess, perhaps... well probably... because you, uh... did a nasty face-plant on the floor."

Ginny blinked; one hand rising reflexively to her temple.

Harry glanced at her briefly, then continued. "Hermione was flustered, and Sirius was drunk, so it kind of fell to me to patch you up."

Ginny frowned thoughtfully as she tried to align that information with her jumbled mix of dreams and half-memories. Unconsciously, she turned toward Harry, her eyes peering both at and through him. "Thank you," she said after a while. "I guess that would explain the headache and all the hushed sympathy. But, uh... does anyone know what I was doing out of bed?"

Harry fixed her with a gentle, sympathetic look. "I don't know for sure, but it must have been a frightful nightmare. You screamed and we hear this awful thud. That's what got us to your room in the first place — it was even loud enough to wake Ron..."

"Oi..." Ginny paused for a moment and groaned to herself. "A wee bit embarrassing, yeah?"

"I suppose..." Harry shrugged. "But according to some accounts I, er... have no sons."

Ginny stared at his deadpan face for a long moment... then burst out laughing. She grinned at him, her vivacious gaze alighting on his eyes, trailing down his cheek, then resting unwittingly on the crooked little smile that had begun curling his... lips.

Harry's eyes flashed wide, and he quickly looked away.

Unconcernedly, Ginny continued to examine her friend for a while, still contemplating the strange night, but also vaguely puzzled by Harry's alternating levity and discomfort. Finally she decided to proceed with the other question that had been nagging her.

"So, my fount of wisdom..." Hoping to alleviate his anxiety, Ginny reluctantly coaxed her eyes away from the rather attractive boy at her side. "Would you have any idea what's the problem with dear brother Ronald today?"

"Er, could you be more specific?" Harry stiffened further.

Ginny glanced at Harry then averted her eyes again. "Well, he's just seemed a bit... snarky... all day. I mean, I generally don't expect him to be particularly nice to me, but most of the time he's pulling my leg. Today, though, he seems... edgy... wound up. Actually rather mean, in fact."

"Ah." Harry fidgeted a bit. "Well, to be honest I'm not precisely sure either, but I assume, for whatever reason, it's because..." He trailed off uncertainly.

"Yeah?"

"I assume it has something to do with..." Harry paused, chewing his lower lip.

Ginny nodded avidly.

"Er... because I spent the night with you," Harry mumbled.

Ginny blinked. Twice.

"You — you banged your head really hard." A deep blush was settling into Harry's cheeks, but he steeled himself and went on. "I assume you were really rattled, because when I got there, you latched onto me pretty tightly, and you sort of, errr, made me promise I wouldn't go anywhere, and so I, uh... Well, Sirius helped me get you back to bed then, er, he told me — it was his idea, you see... He said I should stay to take care of you and that I should come get him if you or I needed anything, and then..."

Harry paused. Despite looking pointedly out the window, he could somehow feel the pressure of Ginny's wide-eyes staring at him — a nearly overwhelming distraction. Nonetheless, he swallowed deeply and drove for the finish line.

"Sirius pushed Hermione and Ron out of the room and told them to go to bed. I could hear Ron out in the hall getting a bit shirty about it, but after a while everything went quiet, and..." Harry shifted uncomfortably. "So I tucked you in, grabbed a pillow and blanket... and fell asleep in the armchair."

Very slowly Harry exhaled.

Ginny continued to examine Harry for five eternal seconds.

Still focused rigidly on the hazy sky above Highgate Hill, Harry could not have seen the glimmer of a smile edging back across Ginny's face.

But, as she got up to leave, there was no way on Earth he could ever overlook the sensation of her soft lips brushing his cheek.

Nor could he possibly keep his neck from craning about to catch the sight of that gleaming hair trailing behind her as she drifted from the room... a subtle scent of apple blossoms lingering in her wake...

If it had been a normal day, the evening probably would have unfolded differently... but Ginny was taking a break from 'normal'.

An Order of the Phoenix meeting was now entering its second hour in the kitchen, and Ginny knew that Ron, Hermione and the twins were almost certainly still bickering over access to the extendable ears.

Yes, under normal circumstances, Ginny assumed she would still be right in the thick of things, squabbling and applying her feminine wiles for all their worth to be the first to glean any scraps or clues about what the adults were debating. Harry would probably be in there clamouring too, Ginny told herself... yet through all the evening's ridiculous juvenile shenanigans, her dark-haired friend had looked visibly tired and out of place.

And Ginny had felt tired and out of place.

After Harry had politely excused himself, it occurred to Ginny that he had the right idea. If she was tired, bored, and feeling out of place, why shouldn't she just pack it in as well?

Mum would be so proud, Ginny mused to herself with a tired (but still quite wry) smirk...

So now she found herself alone in her quiet bedroom, contemplating the moody light of a solitary bedside lamp.

All alone; no regrets. She couldn't imagine she was missing much. A month's worth of attempted spying had been a complete bust — about the only thing she'd been able to learn so far was that Dumbledore never told anybody (including the Order) anything of value, so why should she wait up to all hours for more of the same vacuous frustration? It wasn't as if her presence was missed — when she'd stood up to leave, Ron had scowled, the twins had remained glued to their silly 'ears', and only Hermione had actually bothered to acknowledge her, offering an understanding smile and a promise to fill Ginny in later on any discoveries. Ginny had thanked her politely, and left without another word.

And now it was time for what her aching head truly longed for — darkness, quiet and sleep.

Stretching across to extinguish the lamp, she accidentally brushed what lay beneath the pillow case she had draped over the night stand...

Harry is getting into bed now too...

Huh?!

Wide-eyed, Ginny stopped in mid-reach. She frowned to herself, mystified as to where that random thought about Harry might have come from.

She had to admit that her former childhood crush had sort of been on her mind a bit today... but that had been strictly an aberration, right? It wasn't as if she cared whether he was getting into bed, brushing his teeth, standing on his head, or whatever it was that Harry Potter typically did at ten minutes to nine on a Tuesday evening.

She shook her head demonstratively. In all honesty she really didn't think about Harry that often anymore. The old infatuation had been fading for years. She had interacted so little with him at Hogwarts, and not much more in the intervening summers. If the legendary crush had perhaps lingered in the shadows all these years, the Yule Ball had surely put an end to it...

No, not that way!

The Yule Ball was not a regret to her — it had been a celebration! It had brought no crying angst, no bitterness, no burning of bridges.

In Ginny's memories, the ball didn't bring to mind anything that Harry had done; it didn't even invoke anything Harry had not done! Rather, the Yule Ball had been a rebirth. For once in her life, she had done something strictly for herself! She had attended, not because anybody in her family expected her to; not as a favour to anyone (although Neville had certainly not minded) and, more than anything, she had not been trying to attract the attention of a certain dark-haired boy.

She had simply gone to the ball to have fun!

And she had succeeded. Royally!

Ginny had derived neither joy nor pain from turning down Harry's (pseudo) invitation, but she had done so. It had been the right thing to do — for Harry, for Neville, and especially for herself. She had set her principles, stood by them, and in doing so...

She had set herself free!

Good night schoolgirl misery! Farewell to lying alone in the dark, doubting whether she could ever be good enough for a great hero like Harry Potter. Good morning sunshine! Say hello to Ginny Weasley — her own greatest hero!

But any great hero must face the occasional trial... and this strange strange strange day certainly qualified as that.

The lamp still flickering beside her, Ginny hunched over the edge of her bed in a classic Rodin pose, frowning introspectively.

What did today mean? Had everything suddenly just changed again? Had she erased her hard-earned gains?

Was she still her own greatest hero?

Was it okay to have shared a casual wink at breakfast? Was she still free as a bird, despite their friendly little chat in the library? Was it normal that images of her old crush had been strewn all throughout her bizarre, vivid dreams last night? And why the hell had she clung to the poor boy like a bloody damsel in distress??

Bloody?

Nice choice of invective, eh Weasley?

Yes, Ginny now knew that she'd bled all over Harry last night. Ever the curious cat, Ginny had cornered a rather reluctant Hermione earlier this evening and quietly wheedled from her all of those cringeworthy details that Harry had been too courteous to embarrass her with. Hermione had told her about the noise and tumult... and the ungodly mess. And without editorializing, the older girl had related how Harry had gone beyond the call of duty to care for her, with neither fuss, nor complaint, nor any expectation of reward.

Did any of that change who Ginny Weasley was?

Ginny nodded with a soft, slightly chastened smile.

Yes, this all seemed to imply that Ginny Weasley, hero or not, was a person who could make a right arse of herself. Yet, it also implied that she could do that without losing the good-will and companionship of a boy who, apparently, could be considered her friend.

A fine and honourable friend at that.

And so damned cute when he's nervous!

Ginny blinked in surprise as, unbidden, she recalled the image of Harry looking so utterly flustered in the library. She glanced momentarily at the night stand to confirm that she wasn't touching the brooch. No, nothing magic in that one — just one of her very own 'silly girl thoughts'.

She huffed in amused indignation. Come on, Harry — all I did was accidentally glance at your lips! It wasn't as if I bit you on the nose!

Nah, we'll save that for next time, right Weasley?

Ginny burst into an inadvertent cackle, stifled almost immediately by her own hand clapping itself over her mouth.

Hush, you daft little ninny! Get to bed before someone hears you, and realizes how TRULY ridiculous you are!

She grinned for a moment of afterglow, then took a deep breath. She glanced toward the brooch again... and remembered that there was still one issue to resolve before the clock turned nine.

She regarded the brooch curiously, skeptically. After a moment, she extended her finger, ever-so-slowly, to touch it.

Harry is almost asleep already...

Ginny's eyes flashed wide... but then she rolled them.

"Dopey mind games," she grumbled aloud, and muttered to herself over the idiotic notion that touching the brooch was making her think about Harry. She could do that perfectly well on her own, thank you very much!

Nonetheless, when she reached across one final time to dim the lamp, she steered well clear of the silvery wings, before crawling safely under her covers.

Lying alone in the near dark of the bedroom, Ginny's head ached with weariness, her eyelids drooped... but did not stay shut.

In the distance she could hear the twins, Ron and Hermione 'quietly' squabbling about something or other. A clock was ticking. A blue-green blend of distant lamplight from the Islington skyline was creeping through through the ragged curtain — casting odd shadows of the sort that sometimes frighten little children, passively illuminating the jumbled pile of clothes she hadn't get gotten around to folding, alighting on school books that she should have started reading...

Flickering softly on the silver brooch...

She glanced at it, unthinking.

She reached for it, and clasped it firmly in her hand.

Her muscles relaxed, the distant sounds blended into a soft melange that reminded her of a pleasant breeze rustling the branches of trees. She closed her eyelids...

Then they sprang open in panic!

It was bright daylight! The sun had already climbed well above the hedge on the far side of the river!

"It's late! I've overslept!" she wailed, leaping to her feet, nearly tripping over the thick grey mantle spread out on the ground beneath her. "Oh Amaethon! How could you let me lie so long while he needed me?! I must find Harry!"

Without thinking where she could possibly be headed, Ginny began thrashing her way up through the low thickets and back to the road.

Harry??

Ginny stopped in perplexity. The name puzzled her — it was a word that now somehow seemed both familiar and yet very foreign.

More than anything, the name brought to mind bewilderment — the thick, debilitating fugue that had befallen her yesterday. At the worst possible time!

Ginny growled to herself. She could not afford such ridiculous confusion! Shaking the cobwebs from her mind, she sternly corrected herself. The good Publican needs me!

And she hadn't a moment to lose!!

An instant later, Ginny was racing as fast as her feet could carry her over a stoney roadway, leading her straight back toward the perils which, only yesterday, she had fled.

Back to index


Chapter 3: Never Let Fall

Author's Notes:

My how this chapter has blossomed! First draft took a day to write, came in at around 4500 words, and blended a bit of action with some quirky plot twists. Editing took more than a week, transformed the tone, added a great deal of character and nuance, and clamoured for a new title.

If editing continues to take 5-10 times as much effort as drafting, it may slow the production turnaround a bit, but I hope you find that the results justify it!

A quick pointer I mentioned earlier to MollyandArthur, and will reiterate here: this chapter contains a long dream sequence that looks closely at the Lanossea character through Ginny's eyes. Have any of you had dreams in which you are playing another character -- not yourself? That is what Ginny is experiencing, and it can be a little jarring because Lanossea's personality is both similar to, and different from, Ginny's. This 'overlapped character' experiment is going to become increasingly important to the plot in future chapters. Note that the same thing technically applies to Harry and the Publican, but is less challenging because their personalities are nearly interchangeable.


Chapter 3. Never Let Fall (August 8-9, 1995)

A long restorative sleep had taken away her pain, exhaustion and confusion, but this morning had brought new afflictions — a brief bout of harrowing dismay, followed now by sheer, red-blazing fury!

"I failed!! " the woodland princess roared across the surrounding meadows as she ran eastward along the Roman road. "How could I be so weak?! "

Her breath hitched as the second shout cut rudely across echoes of her first; she had barely enough oxygen to sustain her torrid pace let alone yell like a mad fiend, but even still she was not quite done. "Melltith o waed budr! ” she cursed, wilfully defying any rules of regal decorum.

To be fair, polite discretion mattered little if she couldn't focus on the ominous emergency she was faced with. That wasn't going to happen unless she could conquer her rage, and she knew of few ways to achieve that more effectively than through torrid physical exertion and shouting a few low-brow obscenities. Finally, she took a deep breath, and indeed, the red haze did begin to lift from the princess's (and Ginny's) eyes. At last she could condense her energies into steely determination, acknowledge the failure, and seek a path to redemption!

Her fierce rage had stemmed from her failure yesterday to deliver a message. While unquestionably urgent, the task had been perfectly straightforward and fully within her very capable means. Having failed, it was time to make amends. She knew with all her best instincts that a crisis was unfolding; if her mistake had in any way endangered her people or the Publican, she would not rest until she had repaired the damage to the best of her abilities.

Unfortunately all of Ginny's best instincts had not yet figured out what that crisis really involved.

As she ran, she turned her thoughts back to yesterday afternoon, when things had first started to go wrong. While out collecting medicinal herbs by the river, she had heard a sudden thrashing in the underbrush. Rushing to investigate, she had discovered one of her mother's warriors, bleeding profusely from a gash on his leg, staggering down the bank toward her. With ragged breath, he had fallen at her feet, begging her to run with all possible haste to the nearest post house along the Roman road and commission a courier to deliver a message to the Publican.

Alarmed by the warrior's unstaunched bleeding, she had sought to treat his wound, but in desperate agitation the man had urged her away, swearing with great conviction that the message was far too important to wait!

Not needing to be asked a third time, she had accepted the scroll and sped through the woods like the fleetest of deer. Upon reaching the road, she had aimed for a destination less than two leagues west.

Appallingly, she had somehow fallen short!

She had little sense of what had happened to her, and her memories were not very helpful. One moment she had been alert and focused, running nimbly along the road, taking heart at passing a milestone that placed her at less than a league from her destination. Confoundingly, her next clear recollection was waking up by the river, panicked by her deep conviction about the great debacle underway.

Between those two points, Ginny could draw on little but vague, disparate scenes clouding her mind. There had been a crazed, swirling scene of destruction... searing images of a vile reptilian face... reverent recollections some young man with a strange foreign-sounding name... and a glimpse of a mysterious object of power — a weapon referred to as the Elder Wand...

In addition to that tangled weave, somewhere in the midst of her bizarre palsy, she knew that reality had dealt her the strangest twist of fate in that very peculiar day. For who in all of Britannia should have arrived to lift her stricken body up from the roadway? None other than the very man her message sought — the Publican himself!

No wonder she felt like cursing! Blessed with the perfect chance to salvage the quest and hand him the precious parchment, she had proceeded to... babble incoherently.

Inexplicably, she had barely even recognised him — gazing at him in confused reverie, as if he was part of her bizarre dreams, completely forgetting what he truly was to her...

A family friend.

Yes, as a girl playing at the king's feet, she had been fascinated by the Publican — a rare foreigner who visited frequently, charming her and her sister (Princess Heanua) with exquisite gifts and tales of extraordinary sights and kingdoms far away beyond the southern sea. As a maturing princess, she had grown somewhat reticent around the Publican, speaking little, and instead watching him furtively from dim corners of the long house. She had studied his bearing and manner (foreign, but distinctly charming), and observed how her father, the king, had always treated him with deference, proclaiming him a brilliant negotiator — competent, considerate, and worthy of great trust. Most recently, she had come to prize that very trust, for after the king's recent death, the Publican had moved with decisive efficiency to secure the Proconsul 's recognition of Iceni sovereignty for her mother, the widowed queen.

To have failed to recognise a proven ally and confidante? To have failed to complete a simple mission? To have lolled about in bewildered fugue? She could imagine only one plausible explanation for such idiocy — black magic! She must have been overcome by some nefarious dark enchantment — an evil spell afflicting her with a thick cloud of confusion, amnesia, wild infatuation and paralysing grief...

Grief?

She recalled agonizing, almost paralytic anguish, but what had she been grieving over?

In the vague shimmer of half-forgotten dreams, Ginny recalled the imagined death of the imaginary youth. She remembered almost nothing of the young man... except an eerie resemblance to the Publican, and an unusual (if still resonant) name.

Harry.

Perplexed, Ginny shook her head at the strong unresolved emotions that continued to flummox her. It must have been a powerful spell!

She knew that confounding enchantments of such magnitude, while rare, were not unheard of. As part of very rigorous magical instruction, her grandmother (Ginny's mentor) had spoken to her in hushed tones of how some wicked yet formidable Druids and Druidesses (especially among wilder tribes such as Brigantes, Ordovices, Silures, and fearsome Picts of the far north) would invoke such odious dementia in times of warfare, and sometimes even as unethical ploys in diplomacy. Ginny was aware that the spells were very challenging both to cast and to deter, but she had trained at length to acquire the skills to detect, and the strength to resist, such magic.

That, of course, was no consolation. As a figure of strength and power; as a perfectionist daughter of an uncompromising mother, there was NO GREATER SHAME than to succumb to some rogue enchantment while on a crucial quest!

On my honour, I will redeem myself! Or die trying!!

An oath like that was no idle boast. The princess had no doubt that peril lay ahead of her, and she would not shirk from it. Yet at times like this, she often hearkened back to wisdom her dear old grandmother had once imparted. That treasured voice echoed once again through her mind...

Only die for your honour when you cannot live for your ideals!

With those sage words, her demeanour completed a stormy cycle that she had experienced many times — blind determination moderated by deliberate calculation; her mother's fiery passion bending to her grandmother's wisdom; a wild rush into the fray giving way to a hunter's stealth.

Ginny slowed to a walk, disillusioned herself, and calmed her breathing. She sensed that her frenzied run had already brought her near to her destination, so haste was no longer essential. Instead, the time had come to conserve her energy for the challenges ahead. It was also time to think, because she still hadn't answered the one crucial question.

What is the crisis??

Revisiting memories of the previous day had produced little more than confusion and distraction. Her observations so far this morning contained scant insight. There had been no travelers on the road who might have offered any clues. A scan of the landscape offered only the ordinary sights, sounds and smells.

Then, in the cultivated calmness of her mind, an obvious thought finally occurred to her. The silver brooch!

Still clutched firmly in her hand, she raised the winged badge to her eyes and examined it carefully. The beckoning call it emitted to her was clearly magical. The magic was unlike any she knew from her own people, but since the physical craftsmanship was Roman, perhaps the magic was Roman as well?

Running through her mind, Ginny recalled her grandmother once telling her about a type of Roman magical object called a cupla mysticum — a magical tether used for long-distance communication. Since many Roman leaders and merchants traveled far from home, such cuplae might be exchanged among family members, friends or lovers at times of parting. Supposedly, most cuplae could only convey basic emotions (love, empathy, longing), but some of the better crafted tethers could supposedly reveal information about the owner's location and situation.

What she held in her hand was surely something of the sort. Ginny assumed that the Publican had given it to her as a token of comfort, to reassure her that he truly did plan to return for her. Given the intense foreboding emanating from the cupla, it had obviously failed to 'soothe', but might it instead 'save'? Could the brooch somehow help her to rescue the Publican?

By the seeds of Amaethon, please let it be so!

Running her fingers along the smooth polished surface, she acknowledged the basic sense that the Publican was in mortal danger, but she needed more detail. With concentration, Ginny let the magic flow into her mind, absorbed the bitter music of the brooch, and felt... a cold stone floor; throbbing pain; tight cords...

More than anything, however, the brooch was tugging at her, pulling her in a direction that was all too alarmingly familiar. With ever-increasing strength, the cupla was leading her inexorably back toward her own home.

With mounting trepidation, Ginny now understood. The Publican had very likely been swept up in whatever turmoil had struck the village — the same unknown fracas that had prompted her to run out yesterday to deliver the message...

Message?!

She stopped and ran her hands frantically over the fold in her shift and located it. She whipped out the scroll, and having quietly discovered years ago how to break her mother's magical seal, quickly snapped it open. It had not been intended for her eyes, but she read it anyway.



Esteemed Publican,

Unforeseen Roman incursion!
Violates Iceni sovereignty.
Leader brandishes wand?
Request guidance.
Please hasten!

- B


Romans?! Romans had invaded Iceni territory?? What conceivable purpose could be possibly served by that?!

Ginny scowled in utter vexation. "Why?! " she hissed aloud. The Iceni had maintained honourable and friendly relations with the Romans for nearly the entirety of her lifetime. The foreigners from across the water had rarely caused the Iceni any problems, and had at times proven very helpful, providing tactical support to the Iceni during the occasional hostilities (minor border skirmishes with the Catuvellauni, and the occasional raid by splinter groups of rogue Brigantes) that might disturb the kingdom.

The Romans had no conceivable motive for attacking an ally; that was not the way they behaved! Unlike many Brythonic tribes (especially in the unruly north and west), the Romans had a rigid code of conduct that made them very predictable. The foreigners never struck without warning; they were renowned for engaging in extensive and deliberate diplomacy (or at least bloodless intimidation) before launching any form of incursion. If the Romans had felt any legitimate tension with the Iceni, Ginny was certain that the Publican would have promptly informed the queen.

Whatever the crisis, Ginny was convinced that situation must have only worsened in the time since the queen had written the hasty note. If memory of yesterday's wounded warrior was not proof enough, then surely the brooch's urgent pull was confirmation. Yet, for all that warning, Ginny's greatest fear was still the unknown.

Why? What? How?

Who is alive? Who is dead? Mother? Heanua?

To those questions, she needed answers, and the only way to find answers was to follow the brooch into peril. It was time to judge the situation with her own eyes.

Having crossed the bridge built across the Little Ouse, she entered what Roman treaties had long recognised as Iceni territory. She then veered immediately off the road and onto the woodland path that followed the east bank of the river, leading to the small border outpost where her family had long preferred to dwell.

Pausing for a moment to look and listen, she saw placid tendrils of fine smoke rising from the vicinity of the village. At first blush, this might seem a good omen — preferable to towering pillars of black (devastation) or nothing at all (desolation), but Ginny quelled any unrealistic hopes. The Romans rarely indulged in a barbaric lust for wanton destruction. They were motivated by power more than hatred, and found it easier to pacify conquered foes who were grateful to find their homes and livelihoods intact. But make no mistake — angry Romans were no less brutal than anyone; especially to opposing leaders! Based on tales from less peaceful regions of Britannia, she knew that if the Iceni ever raised arms against the Romans, the worst punishments would be levied upon the royalty. Her mother, her sister and (if caught) she herself would bear the brunt of any reprisal. And while most Brythonic tribes would offer the mercy of a quick death, the Romans had a penchant for... humiliation.

Ginny fought back a shiver as she began to fully appreciate the risks she was about to confront.

Approaching within about two stadia of the village walls, she decided that she would need to be even stealthier than disillusionment alone could provide. She abandoned the path, cutting carefully through the underbrush, quietly as a lynx. Avoiding the southerly route toward the main gate and long house (her normal destination), she instead made for the hill above the northwest corner of the village. There were logical reasons for her choice. The less-traveled path would also be less-guarded, and may also yield important clues. In particular, climbing up into the tall trees on the hilltop would grant her an unobscured view of the village square.

These trees (as she knew from daring childhood exploits) could also provide an unconventional way over the palisade walls. In particular, clambering across some of the long, stout branches arching over the walls could even lead her to the roof of the stockade — the strongest and best-fortified enclosure in the village, and thus the most likely place for an enemy to hold important prisoners such as the Publican, as well as her mother and sister... if they were still alive.

Yet, astride all of these logical advantages rode the one factor that drew Ginny more strongly than any other. The closer she got to the northwest corner of the village, the stronger she was drawn by the brooch.

Cresting the hill, she peered through a break in the leaf-cover to glance at the stockade. From this distance, it was tall enough to be seen above the palisade and was easily recognizable as one of only two stone buildings in the village. She couldn't yet see any unusual activity about the building, but this merely suggested that anything of possible interest was likely taking place down at ground level, blocked from view by the tall upright logs of the palisade.

About one hundred feet from the structure, she paused and found a suitable climbing tree. Stowing the brooch in a secure fold, she quietly scaled the trunk to a height greater than the log wall, and gazed down into the village. The central square was a hive of activity, but not the usual, friendly sort that she was accustomed to — it was indeed swarming with fully armed Roman Legionaries.

Yes, regardless of how shocking the message had been, the queen was right — Romans had come to the village in unprecedented numbers, and were behaving in every way like efficient conquerors. Some of the soldiers were performing what seemed to be harmless camp-breaking activities (gathering materials and supplies; packing them onto ponies and into wagons), but many others were plundering treasures, and shamelessly carting off and village food reserves from the granary and cellars.

Pulling her eyes away and taking a deep breath before anger could distract her, Ginny settled on her course of action. She braced herself very carefully in the crook of a large branch, and reached once more into the fold in her shift to touch the brooch. It verified that the Publican was still alive, that he remained in great danger, and that he was now very close — almost certainly imprisoned within the stockade.

Ginny assessed the stone building. There were four sentries posted outside, each manning one of the stockade's stout walls. That level of security seemed to confirm that the Romans were holding prisoners inside.

Given the late morning warmth, there was no fire inside the building. Perfect! Like many Celtic buildings, the stockade had a smoke hole on the roof — an excellent way to enter without being detected by guards on the ground.

After another minute of scrutiny, she plotted her route — a solid overhanging branch of a huge beech tree. It was rooted outside the village walls, but spread broadly across the defenses, and gracefully shaded much of the stockade.

Her greatest remaining concern was how to deal with any guards inside the building. A strong armed presence would make it difficult for her to reach the floor and move about the building without raising the alarm. Fortunately, for even that contingency, she now had the makings of a plan.

She clambered down the lookout tree and made her way over to the nearby beech. It came as no surprise to her that the lowest thirty feet of trunk rising up from the base of the tree had been stripped smooth of all branches. Her people loved trees and rarely cut them down without good reason, but of course they would have anticipated precisely the infiltration she was now about to attempt. No point in making it too easy!

Fortunately, unlike the vast majority of prospective interlopers attempting to breach the walls, she had a wand. Quickly conjuring a series of small handholds running up the tree, she ascended with ease and made her way carefully (and very silently) along the large overhanging branch. Once she was positioned above the near side of the stockade roof, she paused to scan the edge of the village square. Since Ginny doubted that this daring feat could be accomplished by stealth alone, she needed to sow a bit of... chaos.

Near the edge of the square, her eyes latched onto a tethering rail to which many of the Roman horses were hitched. Taking her best aim with a Reductor curse, the rail collapsed into a pile of splinters. Several stinging hexes later, and the square erupted into a frenzy of panicked, whinnying horses being chased by angry, confused soldiers.

Far above all of this bedlam, she conjured a rope, lashed it tightly to the branch, and scrambled quickly down to the roof. She ran nimbly over to the smoke hole and peered within. As hoped, the guards inside had grabbed their weapons and were staring distractedly out the south doorway, probably trying to determine whether their camp was under attack.

Ginny examined the three Romans carefully. Two of the men wore conventional Legionary uniforms with standard-issue weaponry — she assessed them as being common, non-magical soldiers. The third, however, had no armor and bore only a dagger on his belt. He also had a cape of fine cloth — among Romans, she recognised that as the mark of either nobility, or of a wizard. Trusting her guess, Ginny took aim at the third with a stunning spell, and he collapsed between his two comrades. The two soldiers spun about in alarm... then pitched forward onto their faces, stunned before either could so much as whimper.

Ginny rapelled quickly down through the smoke hole. Once grounded, she paused for a moment to magically bar the entrance and summon the fallen wizard's wand, then dashed from the central hearth toward the cells at the eastern periphery, cancelling her disillusionment charm as she went.


"Emaculo." It was a young woman's voice; a brave yet urgent whisper.

As if rescued from fire by a gentle summer's stream, Harry's cheek suddenly felt cool. A sensation of calm spread outwards, over his head, down his shoulder, chest, arms and legs, soothing his blistered legs...

And he opened his eyes.

"G-Ginny?" It came out as a pathetic croak. He coughed, shook the fog from his head and focused on the face in front of him. "LanossŽa! Please pardon me your majesty — I know not where that name...?"

Ginny? The princess blinked for a moment at the utterance of yet another peculiar foreign utterance that had haunted her dreams, but she pushed the memory from her mind and concentrated on severing the Publican's cords.

He stretched his arms gratefully for a moment, but then directed his attention back onto his rescuer. “You should not have returned here, your majesty."

His admonishment was mild and clearly ambivalent, but she couldn't help rolling her eyes at the typically-Roman paternalistic condescension. She resolved to ignore him. "Can you get up?" She ran her eyes up and down his grimy, bloodied face and body, looking for more wounds to heal. To her trained eye, the damage, although extensive, seemed superficial.

He braced both arms against the floor and pushed. A stab of pain tore through his side — apparently a broken rib that she had missed — but he pushed past the discomfort and reached a stable sitting position. Ginny extended her hands to him; he grasped them and found himself surprised by the strength with which she helped raise him to his feet.

Ginny pressed a wand into his hand. He scrutinised it for a moment, then nodded. A pang of regret over the loss of his own wand (likely confiscated and destroyed) crossed his mind, but was replaced by gratitude to a young woman who was clearly as industrious as he had always remembered her. "Thank you, my princess." A smile flickered across his features for a moment before the gravity of their situation weighed upon his mood.

"If memory serves me, the queen and your sister are in the west cell block." Harry gazed thoughtfully through the open cell door. "I will go release them, if you can arrange some sort of escape for us."

Ginny was about to protest any plan that withdrew her from the action, but Harry raised a finger. "Please understand." His voice was gentle, yet firm and instructive. "This is not about your safety, my safety or that of your family — the stakes are far too great in this and we must act with wisdom and caution. Nobody is aware that you have returned here. Is that correct?"

She nodded.

"If nobody knows that you're here, then when you escape, nobody will know to come after you." Harry paused to see that she understood. "You may have given us the glimmer of hope that we may all escape from here, and perhaps even evade pursuit, but our path is fraught with peril. It is absolutely essential that we have, at minimum, one uncaptured person who can leave here to recount exactly what I am now about to tell you!"

Ginny's eyelids flickered at the earnest and sobering request. Despite an visceral compulsion to personally secure the queen's and Heanua's release, she acceded to his compelling logic. “And what are you about to tell me?”

Grasping her shoulders, he fixed his eyes upon hers, boring deeply. "LanossŽa, you must be aware that this Roman Century has trespassed into Iceni lands in defiance of established treaty. This incursion is an illegal provocation, and may be part of a plot to destabilise all of Britannia.” His voice dropped to the faintest whisper. “The Proconsul is away, distracted by campaigns in Wales. Someone must get word to him before the whole land explodes into war and turmoil!”

Ginny gasped. Petty conflicts were not rare in Britannia, but any thought of the entire island erupting into mass conflict was nearly inconceivable. She nodded, wide-eyed.

“If you find your way clear, but cannot free us,” Harry continued, “then please flee from here with all haste and do not return. If you are the one to bear witness to these crimes, you must only communicate with people we can trust without question. Do not take the road to Camulodunum from which these scoundrels came. Instead, you must follow the river upstream to Camboricum. The garrison there is rigorously loyal to the Proconsul and not under the sway of any treachery. Is that clear?”

Ginny locked her steeliest gaze upon the Harry's deep, solemn eyes. “Yes.”

After thanking her once again, Harry disillusioned himself. Ginny did the same, and both stealthily exited the cell. Harry's eyes swept the main central chamber of the stockade, noting with satisfaction the three stunned Romans sprawled on the ground by the south door. A faint noise nearby alerted him to Ginny's mode of escape — a stout hemp rope twitching as she clambered up to a thick blackened beam just to the side of the smoke hole high above.

Mirabile! She's making for the roof!

Nodding to himself, Harry rushed to the western cell block, where he immediately identified the two cells that had been barred. As he opened the first door, he recognised none other than Queen Boadicea of the Iceni — as bruised and bloodied as he himself had been, yet very alert, and defiant as a caged tigress.

As Harry swung open her cell door, the queen whipped around. Despite her bound hands, she was undoubtedly ready to tear any invisible intruder to shreds... with her teeth if need be!

Harry hastily dropped his disillusionment charm, and held out his palms in a universal sign of capitulation. Still glaring in agitation, the queen exhaled and allowed him to slice efficiently through her bonds.

Signalling silently to the queen that he was going to open the other cell, Harry crossed to over release the queen's eldest daughter, Heanua. Harry knew her as a tall, willowy blonde, renowned throughout the land as a figure of great beauty. But what he found there, crumpled upon the stone floor, drove a spike of iced fury deep into his soul.

Stooping to lift the girl's nearly-lifeless body, he determined that she was not dead. Her heart was still beating, and breath still rattled through her slackened mouth, but nearly every ounce of spirit within the girl seemed to have been mercilessly crushed in ways that Harry wished that he could not imagine.

If he had been anywhere else, under any other circumstances, Harry might either have broken down and wept, or lashed out and begun demolishing things at random. Yet reason prevailed. There would be time later for healing or revenge (or both), but at this moment their only priority was escape — as quietly and speedily as possible!

As if to taunt his decision, several agitated voices erupted nearby, just outside the main entrance to the stockade — soldiers shouting urgent commands in Latin!

Jupiter maledicam haec scelerati!” The muttered staccato of Harry's curse faded away as he refocused. With a hasty spell, he braced the girl's broken bones, conjured a blanket to cover her supine form, and hoisted her over his shoulder. “Make haste and follow, your majesty!” he called across the corridor and led the queen from the cell block toward the rope Ginny had left dangling from the roof.

Harry conjured a makeshift stretcher for the semi-conscious girl, and just as he prepared to levitate her toward the roof, he heard the stockade's door rattle. He drew his wand, ready to blast the first person through the entranceway, but instead he heard a frantic cry from outside...

Ignem! Muros ignibus uri!

The smell of some prodigious smoky diversion wafted past, and Harry exhaled in relief. "LanossŽa, bless you and your penchant for chaos!" The Roman soldiers outside apparently now had plenty of concerns other than what might be going on inside the stockade, and the reprieve would hopefully give him time to escort at least Heanua and the queen as far as the rooftop.

Pointing his newly-acquired wand at Heanua, Harry cast a Roman-era levitation spell. “Attollo!

Heanua's stretcher jostled a few inches off the ground, but faltered. Feeling a sudden strain, Harry carefully withdrew the spell to set her back onto the floor, then paused and stared dubiously at his wand.

“The fault is not in the wand,” Ginny called softly from the roof. “The fault is Heanua herself. Our bodies have been conditioned to resist spells cast by others. The resistance can be overcome, but only with effort. I will lend my power to yours and we will lift her together.”

Harry nodded, and cast his levitation synchronously with Ginny's. Somewhat strenuously, they managed to raise the queen's eldest daughter upwards, through the hole, and into Ginny's waiting arms above.

Harry ushered the queen onto the rope, waited nervously for two long minutes as she struggled up the rope. Making another scan of the stockade's interior and seeing no immediate threat of discovery, he finally turned and climbed up to join the others.

Reaching the rooftop, he glanced around, and spotted the second rope, hanging down from the beech branch high above. With a deep breath, he scrutinised the three females, trying to evaluate their readiness to undertake a final harrowing scramble to freedom.

Ginny's keen eyes were upon him; almost as if she were trying to read his mind. But for the urgency of the situation, Harry might have grinned with admiration at the fierce competence writ upon her face. He could at least be certain that one person in the party could face the trembling high-wire with aplomb.

The queen, however, seemed utterly distracted. Standing on the roof, she gazed down in dismay at the spreading flames ravishing her village, the ancestral home of her family, the favoured haunt of Icenian royalty for three generations. Whether she understood that the blaze had been set not by Roman marauders, but rather by her own enterprising daughter, was unclear, but the woman was unmistakably bereft, unfocused, and a poor candidate for vertiginous acrobatics.

The older daughter, Heanua, was in worse condition yet. Still bound to the brace; she had achieved some marginal consciousness, but was still dazed and mostly unresponsive.

Ginny's eyes met Harry's, and he realised that, through the tethering powers of the brooch, she had fully apprehended his concerns. Together, they stood in silent deliberation, negotiating a viable plan.

After a moment, Ginny's eyes flickered along an airborne path over the palisade.

Harry nodded in agreement.

"We must work together." Ginny contemplated her family members, estimating their weight and magical resistance. "We do not want others to see, but we, ourselves, must not lose sight of them.”

Harry's eyes swept the surroundings and tapped his head. “Notice-me-not charm.”

Ginny met his eyes squarely and silently assented. “Mother, please join Heanua.” She attempted to catch the queen's attention; gesturing toward the princess's supine sister.

The queen gazed at the inferno for another several seconds. Finally, she wrenched her attention away her from decades of obliterated memories, and nodded mutely without meeting Ginny's gaze.

As soon as the queen had knelt at Heanua's side, Harry drew his wand to cast the spell. “Non vigilate!

To Harry's and Ginny's eyes, the spell had no effect — they were fully aware of the presence of the queen and Heanua, and could still see them perfectly. To any other person who might gaze in their direction, however, the queen and her daughter had suddenly become so inconspicuous as to be invisible. The most observant and magically attuned of onlookers might penetrate the simple spell, but there would be little chance of such acuity from the scurrying Romans below, most of whom were still distractedly trying to salvage their wagons and supplies from insidious magical fires.

Harry and Ginny proceeded to train their wands upon the two females, levitating them carefully through the air and past the village wall. As soon as the queen and Heanua were just about to pass out of site beyond the palisade, Harry had an awful thought — he didn't know the layout of the unseen woods beyond! “Jupiter! How are we going to land them blindly? We could kill them if we misjudge the ground!”

With a start, Ginny grasped the dilemma.

Harry stared at the tall and completely opaque wall. “Can you visualise everything over there precisely? The ground; the locations of all trees, rocks and shrubs?”

Ginny frowned in deep thought. She did have a rough recollection of the terrain and vegetation beyond the wall, but had to admit that the tense, chaotic circumstances (nearly one hundred angry Romans clamouring in confusion below; more than a third of the village now engulfed in raging flames) were fraying her nerves. “It's very risky.” She shook her head. “Is there some other way?”

Harry thought for a moment. “Yes. I'll try to hold both of them in their current position. Meanwhile, you must climb back over the branch. As soon as you can see the ground on the other side of the wall, cast your spell to lower them to safety, and I'll rush across to join you.”

Ginny pursed her lips. "You believe that you can hold them?"

Harry shrugged. “I have no choice.”

Still maintaining her share of the levitation spell, Ginny paused for a moment to size up the Publican. She knew that levitating one other magical being was difficult enough with the conflicting magical forces, but simultaneously levitating two would be prodigious. She doubted realistically that she herself could hold both her mother and sister aloft for more than a few seconds... but she recognised that the Publican had many more years of magical conditioning. And she had to admit that she had never, not even from her grandmother, felt a healing spell quite as powerful yet gentle as the one he had cast on her yesterday.

With great care, ready to reverse course at the slightest sign of weakness, she withdrew her levitation spell.

Harry's incantation held; the queen and Heanua remained motionless just past the walls. A droplet of sweat formed on the Publican's brow, but he did not falter.

“You are powerful indeed, Publican.” Ginny smiled, betraying some assiduously hidden admiration, yet as she grabbed the bottom of the rope, she couldn't stop her gruff royal pride from reasserting. “But this is the last time I run away and leave you to do the saving.”

“We must each take our turns. You've saved enough people for one day.” Harry's eyebrow was raised in wry humour, despite the slight quiver in his voice. “Now go, and be quick,” he muttered between increasingly ragged breaths... but the statement was wasted. The princess was already gone — more quickly and nimbly than he would dare have dreamed.

Less than a minute later, Harry felt a wholly welcome tremble in his wand — a sign that Ginny had taken control of the queen and Heanua, and was guiding them to safety. In relief, Harry lowered his wand and tucked it into his belt. He permitted himself three deep breaths, then embarked on his way up the rope.

As a greying Roman Publican, the man clearly lacked the agility of a lithe woodland princess, but his years as a hands-on administrator deep in the more rugged imperial provinces had sustained his physical strengths rather well, and this stroll along a swaying tree branch was not the first delicate balancing act he had ever undertaken. Nonetheless, as a precaution, he conjured a series of ropes hanging from higher branches to afford him some handholds to temper the precarious dangers.

He had just reached the last of his conjured supports, and was looking ahead in grateful anticipation to security of the main trunk (now merely twelve feet away) when he heard an angry shout of recognition.

Maledicit!!

Harry realized immediately that he hadn't thought to disillusion himself, and now he was about to pay for the indiscretion. Without seeing or even hearing it, he felt the killing curse sizzling through the air toward him. Cast from a great distance (nearly two hundred feet), the spell tore through the air, ominously, but just slowly enough for Harry's instincts to guide his hand to one last desperate act...

Whipping around with wand suddenly in his hand, he yelled “Dormias! ” The spell, encased in a sharp white flash burst with lightning speed directly at his assailant... the treacherous Legate!

The two incantations, green and white, crossed in mid flight. Both were perfectly aimed. Off-balance from his wand action, no room to side-step, no time to cast even the simplest spell, Harry stared at the broad putrid green radiance closing in upon him...

In the final instant that remained, Harry glanced earthward... and glimpsed iridescent red hair – his last hope now; his best hope forever...

Then he leaped!


Ginny raised her wand.

Few people had ever heard of a spell that might safely catch a wizard plummeting from that height. Fewer still could have cast one. Many of the finest wizards and witches would have stood there, aghast, frozen, helpless...

Not Ginny.

Encyclopedic knowledge was irrelevant, because she knew with all her heart that she would never let Harry plunge to his death. She understood equally well that LanossŽa could not let the Publican perish this way.

Ginny was certain that there would be no broken body; no bitter tears spilled upon the forest floor.

What Ginny could not guess was where... or when... would he land?


"... Because if it does, I am the true master of the Elder Wand." The young man's calm declaration ushered aside Ginny's disorientation; fixing her attention.

Opposite them, a quiver of doubt ran across the face of the scaly abomination; a flicker of pain... but the response was predestined; he must proceed, and could but only hope that dark secrets from the depths of time were still auspicious.

All uncertainty thrust beneath his grisly veneer, the monster's voice tore across the Great Hall at Hogwarts, sibilant, like steam on flaming brimstone...

"Avada Kedavra! "

"Expelliarmus! "

The opposing spells clashed in a scintillating plane of white light...

Yet, in an instant, all magic of hope and honour dissipated. A universal truth was proved false; a cherished balance had shattered; the pulsing white fulcrum between the green and red spells vapourised, and a lurid tongue of bitter death — the vomit of hell — slashed unchecked across the Hall...

The bold and selfless young man, the icon of love and sacrifice, began to crumple...

“No.” Ginny's note of defiance, soft yet firm, spread through the vast room like the light from a lone candle.

And time froze.

Obedient to her command, all noise and motion ceased. Students, teachers, Order of the Phoenix, and Death Eaters alike, all stood in rapt, statuesque attention. Swirling dust and smoke hung like delicate veils draped across the static, prickling air...

Ginny blinked in surprise, but quickly pushed aside her incredulity and stepped forward toward Harry.

She refused to see the terrible contortions of his body, frozen on the cusp of tragic demise. She dared not gaze upon his face, lest she find pain or defeat. Rather, she gave every devout fraction of herself to Harry's irrepressible eyes.

Frozen but for his gaze, Harry met her with a nearly mystical tenderness; a falling knight glimpsing his grail...

Ginny did not quake in desolation or scream in fury. She did not sink to the ground in despair, even though she understood that Harry, and all the light that stood behind him, was a single heartbeat from death.

This was, after all, only a dream.

Wasn't it?

Regardless, as she peered into those verdant beacons, her eyes began to blur with mist... because this was so much more than any dream...

“Why am I here?” she asked quietly. “Isn't this your story, Harry? Your dream? Your fears?”

She was met with a silence, absolute but for the undulations of her own breath and heartbeat.

“I hope that didn't sound petty, I... I...” Ginny faltered, struggling to express feelings too vague and profound for words. After a moment, she marshaled her most neutral expression and tried anyway. “I mean, of course I will always be here if you want me. You realise that, right? It's just that this is... hard for me to understand... What am I supposed to be doing? Why am I here? I feel as though I'm only now finally beginning to get to know you, and...”

Ginny's breath caught, and she needed a moment to re-compose herself, before continuing.

“Harry, I really want to get to know you, but... it's just that everywhere I go...” Ginny paused in inarticulate confusion. “Everywhen I go?” She shook her head. “Bollocks, I'm making a complete mash of this, but the point is, every time I truly start to get to know you... you always have to d-die.” Ginny shuddered as silent, tremulous sobs coursed through his chest.

“No.”

The voice was Harry's. Although thin like a breath of wind, it came not from his rigid mouth, not from his frozen body, nor anywhere within the silent hall at Hogwarts. The voice came from deep within Ginny's own mind... and yet she was certain she had not imagined it.

Wide-eyed, Ginny stared uncomprehendingly into his eyes. “N-no? You don't have to die?”

There was no response.

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, well that's a daft question. We all die someday — I realize that! But does it have to be... this way?”

Silence.

Guided by some deeply buried instinct, Ginny lifted her gaze from Harry's eyes and took a tentative step backwards, absorbing the entirety of her friend's face.

Although Ginny's sight remained misted, she could tell that Harry's expression was perfectly placid, oblivious to his precarious stance. Everything about his face could have been ensconced in restful slumber... except for those brilliant eyes, shining at her with care and compassion; following her, curiously, expectantly.

Ginny took two more steps back, and let her gaze drift across his entire form.

Harry was older than she knew him to be. He had acquired at least two inches in height since their summer at Grimmauld Place. He was as slender as ever, but he had muscular definition, strength, and maturity. He was on the verge of true manhood.

Or the brink of death...

Either outcome hung upon his next heartbeat. Would he stand or would he fall?

Ginny shook her head softly, releasing two small teardrops that had been clinging to her lashes. “Harry,” she whispered, “I will not let you fall.”


Lying awake in darkened room, having woken several minutes ago feeling deeply pensive, Harry had been half-expecting to hear a girl call to him. Yet when one did precisely that, he was thoroughly baffled by the voice he heard.

“Hermione??”

The only response Harry received was the sound of Ron snorting loudly, and thumping about in his bed. He tried again, this time dropping his voice to a whisper. “Hermione, is that you?”

The girl didn't reply. In the faint light seeping in from a lantern downstairs, Harry could see her watching Ron intently, obviously waiting to ensure that Harry's best mate was asleep.

After Ron rolled over and fell back into his normal rhythmic rasping, Hermione beckoned quietly to Harry.

Harry nodded and rose carefully, following Hermione soundlessly into the corridor... where Ginny was waiting for them.

Hermione gave Ginny a quick half-smile, waved her younger friend a silent adieu, and then turned to descend the stairs.

Ginny, in turn, signalled to Harry, and proceeded to lead him up the adjacent staircase to the third floor. Harry followed her unquestioningly, as she steered him back up to the library, to the same ottoman where they had chatted the previous afternoon. She patted the seat next to her, and he took his place at her side.

The two teens sat in thoughtful silence for a time, gazing out toward the distant street lamps on Highgate Hill.

“Errr...” Harry mumbled after a while, “uh, why did Hermione...?”

Ginny looked away. “I was going to sneak out of the room to come find you, but she woke up. She thought it would be... safer... if she was the one to knock of your door.”

“Safer?” Harry gave her a puzzled look. “Oh, you mean because of Ron?”

“Uh huh.”

Harry nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah. I can't pretend to know what goes inside his head, but I imagine that deep down he has good intentions.”

Ginny sighed. “Yes, I'm sure he does, but that's not what I need to talk to you about.”

Harry nodded again, and waited patiently for her to continue.

“Harry, are you dreaming about me?”

For a moment, Harry could barely believe that the sharp-witted girl at his side would ever ask such an unguarded question without at least one zinger ready to fly. But in the gloom of the nocturnal library, Ginny's tone was of the utmost sobriety and her expression was perfectly earnest.

“Er, yes, I suppose maybe I am,” Harry answered carefully. “Or, at least that's to say that I think it's you...”

“What am I like?”

Beautiful... smart... powerful...

Harry's eyes popped for a moment as the words rattled through his head, daring his tongue to unleash them. Yet, he held his peace, reluctant to risk possible embarrassment. Instead, he scrounged through his memories for a more conservative response. Although many specific details of his most recent dreams had already faded, he found he had held onto some general impressions; enough to sound plausible. “Well, sometimes you're definitely you, except you seem older. In other dreams, though, I see someone who reminds me a lot of you, but she's... different. More hardened, more stoic... but deep down she's no less kind.”

Ginny laughed — a soft puff of breath that stirred the stray lock of hair hanging down her forehead. “That figures.”

Harry chanced a glance at his friend, seeing a distant look in her eyes. Distant, yet vaguely amused.

Ginny emerged from her reverie and gazed analytically at him. “Yes, well in my dreams, you're definitely you. In some dreams, you're calmer, more composed... but deep down the real you is no less sweet.”

“I'm flattered... I think.” Harry grinned at her with a twinkle in his eyes. “But are you serious though? You're dreaming of me too?”

She nodded.

Harry chewed his lip for a moment. “Er, I know this is round the twist, but do you reckon we're, uhhh... having the same dreams?”

Ginny shrugged. “That's what I was wondering too. If so, what could it mean?”

“Yes, I wonder,” Harry mused. “If Sirius heard about this, he'd take the mickey something fierce and tell us it's all 'teenaged hormones'.”

“And this is why,” Ginny replied, “we are NOT discussing this with Sirius!”

Harry chuckled for a moment, then fell sober again. “Well, if this truly is hormones, then I'll take a pass. These dreams are hell!”

Ginny thought for a long time before answering. “Yes, they're definitely harrowing, but don't you think there's something... right about them too?”

“Right?” Harry ran a hand through his hair. “Well, I suppose so... After my bloody heart stops pounding, I actually do feel okay. In fact, I've actually been in a fairly good mood since these dreams started.”

“Oh? You noticed that too?” Ginny winked cheekily before turning solemn again. “My Dad once told me that our most complicated dreams help us to get a handle on our problems and work on solutions.”

“Huh...” Harry hummed thoughtfully to himself for a moment. “Yes, that could be.”

“If so, you seem to be...” Ginny began, but then paused for a long moment. When she resumed, her voice had dropped to a low, breathy tone. “You seem to be sorting through some rather heavy stuff, Harry.”

Harry shrugged. “I guess that's life, yeah?”

“Your life, perhaps.” Ginny found his forearm and gave it a squeeze, before withdrawing her hand to stifle a yawn. “Well, I suppose I should let you get back to sleep, you reckon?”

Harry nodded passively. He stood up and, without conscious thought, extended his hand to help Ginny to her feet. As she rose, she did not let go; instead she led him along quietly, back down to the second floor landing.

Before they could part company, Ginny stopped and pulled Harry around to face her, reaching for his other hand, gazing searchingly into his eyes. “Harry, I really do think that I'm experiencing your dreams. What's odder still is that I think you already knew that.”

Harry bobbed his head slightly, equivocating.

“Why, Harry?” she whispered. “Why me?”

Harry shrugged. “I have no idea.”

Ginny could tell that he had responded too quickly; too reflexively. She somehow could also tell that, as her friend stood gazing past her shoulder into black nothingness, there was another response forming — one worth waiting for.

Slowly his features schooled themselves and his eyes met hers. His mouth parted, offering words, both subdued and contemplative.

“I think it's because... you'll never let me fall.”

Back to index


Chapter 4: Enemy Eyes

Author's Notes:

Have to say, I'm beyond pleased with the response this story has had! To be honest, before I posted it, I seriously considered sending a PM to a few of my most thoughtful and opinionated readers asking whether the story had any chance of taking flight. Well, it looks like we're flapping along happily for the time being!

Big thank you to Wolf Scream for pointing out a glitch in my Roman military nomenclature. Basically the village in Chapter 3 should have been swarming with Legionaries (foot soldiers) not Centurions (officers).

On another semantic note, I am using the Roman definition for the 'league' unit of distance. Their league was less than 1.5 modern miles -- less than half the distance that a league represented in later eras.


Chapter 4. Enemy Eyes (August 9, 1995)

He pulled his tunic close against the cold steady rain that had long since dispelled any memories of what, hours ago, had been a mild spring morning. The residue of partly treated wounds and strain of an arduous flight through the wilderness had saturated every corner of his body. Encountering yet another coarse, brambly thicket, Harry paused for a moment to rest his travel-worn back, crouching to brace his hands on the pair of sturdy (if tired and scraped) Roman knees.

He straightened up and gazed around from his position on the highest hill above their campsite near the banks of the Great Ouse. He nodded in satisfaction, first to reconfirm their apparent seclusion, and then to note their substantial progress. Rather than travel all the way on the meandering rivers, they had gambled on a hard overland march from the Little Ouse, and the short cut had served them well. They were now little more than a league from confluence of the River Cam. At first light tomorrow, they could simply rejoin the waterway and expect fairly easy passage to Camboricum. Furthermore, traveling in a currach was easy work (Harry's magic could propel them upstream with little effort), and would afford long periods of rest — something valuable for all of them; especially the queen's eldest daughter who was desperately ailing.

Harry picked up the two hares he had ambushed earlier in his reconnoitre, placed their still-warm bodies into the small pack he carried, and pushed his way through the thicket, heedless of thorns that scored several new raw marks across his legs. Within minutes, he had crossed the seclusion enchantments he and Ginny had set around the camp perimeter, and was greeted with the glimmer and welcoming scent of a campfire, and the evening meal that Ginny was preparing.

Rejoining the campsite, he gazed around at the stoic group — Ginny stirring the conjured cauldron, while the queen silently held the sleeping Heanua and stared grimly at the fire. Harry coughed slightly to announce his presence, and smiled. “I haven't seen any sign of people in our vicinity. It would appear I must have truly managed to stun the Legate before he could set anyone on our tail. A lucky strike that was!”

“Whether luck or skill, it was very courageous.” Ginny gave her co-conspirator a meaningful glance as she added several branches to the fire.

Queen Boadicea nodded. “Both the Publican and my second daughter have proven immensely courageous and resourceful.”

In spite of the queen's glowing words, her tone seemed rather guarded as she continued. “Yes, the Publican risked his life and livelihood for a person to whom he bears no true formal allegiance. And my brave LanossŽa — small in stature, yet towering in heart — acquitted herself with the prowess of an Icenian hero of legend.” She gazed thoughtfully at Ginny. “Your magic, my daughter, has unfolded as a flower of great splendour. I still to this moment cannot grasp how exactly you saved the Publican from his descent. It must have been a spell of great power and sophistication. Most impressive...”

The queen continued to examine her younger daughter analytically for a moment. Ginny did not meet the woman's sharp gaze, but rather averted her eyes and focused diligently on the stew. It wasn't clear whether the queen had expected an explanation, but none would be forthcoming yet because, in all honesty, Ginny had nothing to offer. Although she recalled raising her wand, the final moments of the incident were gone from her memory. The magic she had unleashed to save the Publican had seemingly dazed her, knocking her off her own feet. Moments later, she had been lifted from the ground by the Publican who, although sincerely grateful, was equally hazy about what exactly had happened.

The queen glanced furtively at the pair, but then withdrew her scrutiny, turning instead back to the fire. “I shall reward you both handsomely some day.” Her eyes flashed in momentary magnificence… then dimmed. “Assuming, of course, that Amaethon may guide me back to my sovereign station.”

Harry nodded as he conjured bowls and spoons. “Yes, and for that I wish to help. I recommend that we make haste together to Camboricum, so that we may dispatch a petitioner to the Proconsul to tender your grievance. We are sixteen leagues from the garrison and may make most of the journey by water. Aided by magic and a good night's sleep, we should reach it comfortably before tomorrow evening.”

Boadicea stiffened. “You may reach it, Publican, but my daughters and I will go no further west. I have permitted you to lead us out of imminent danger, but from here we shall stray no more from the lands of our people.”

“But your presence will make the argument more compelling!” Harry protested. “Faced with the mighty Queen of the Iceni, I am certain the Proconsul will uphold the treaty and order the Legate to stand down before...”

The queen's eyes smoldered and her voice rose to brook no dissent. “No, Publican, the throne of the Iceni is not a token to be confiscated or bestowed by any perfumed Roman peacock. I know exactly how to regain control of my people. But for one item, regardless of the will or wiles of your treacherous Legate, I would still at this moment be Queen of the Iceni!”

“My sincerest apologies if I offended you.” Harry bowed his head humbly. “And what is this object in question? The Staff of Scavo?”

“Yes.” With that one word, spoken quietly and dangerously, the Queen's eyes returned, once again, to the fire to which they seemed irresistibly drawn. Her voice continued in a low murmur. “Were I wielding the staff right now, all of my subjects would follow me through any flame or shadow. I would bring a new dawn of glory.” Her chest swelled with momentary pride. Then she exhaled slowly. “But as you see me before you, bare of hands, bereft of majesty, I can lead nobody... except my loyal daughters.”

Harry and Ginny exchanged an uneasy glance, before returning their attention to the queen.

“When we break camp in the beckoning glimmers of tomorrow's twilight, you may return to your garrison in Camboricum as you intend, Publican,” Boadicea declared, “You may pursue those interests that you, in your kind, wise and imminently pragmatic soul, believe are the best service to your empire. Perhaps it shall be that your interests and mine will once again converge — then or in the future. In which case, Publican, I will welcome you with open arms as a cherished friend. But until then, my daughters and I must make our way back across the lands we have traveled. We timid rabbits have thrown off the hounds, but now we must become three lionesses who shall stalk the woods, not resting until we have devoured our prey...”

The queen, her eyes gleaming dangerously in the flickering firelight, unconsciously clasped her hands, palm over knuckles, as if she was still wielding the copper horse-head grip of her family heritage.

Harry shook his head. “I beg your reconsideration. I suggest you accompany me at least as long as it takes to find wands for you and your eldest daughter. There is a well-respected wand-seller near Camboricum, and I believe he can find you...”

“No, Publican.” Once again, the queen's regal tone closed the debate without even pulling her gaze from the fire. “I have my own means to secure magical objects. I have contacts who have never sullied themselves in dealings with Romans, and never will.”

Harry steeled himself patiently and took a breath. “I have one final entreaty, your majesty, and then I will hold my peace.”

“Proceed.”

Harry gestured gently toward the frail young woman slumped against the queen. “I beg you do not drag Heanua along with you on your desperate quests. Her soul is unwell. It matters not to me whether we seek a Briton healer or Roman, but she is in dire need of care.”

“Heanua is the daughter of Queen Boadicea, my dear Publican,” the queen replied coldly. “She is built of stern fibre, and will recover her strength to fight valiantly at her mother's side.”

“At least permit LanossŽa to apply her healing skills to the girl.” Harry eyes swept over to Ginny, striving to shroud the dejection in his voice.

Ginny said nothing; she continued to tend the stew, resignedly disguising her angst and regret.

Boadicea stared hard at Harry for a long moment, then looked away and nodded. “Granted. LanossŽa will tend to her sister as we make our way back east.”

Cradling her eldest daughter in a manner that no longer bore any semblance of motherly nurturing, the queen turned back to face the fire and reclaim her silence.

The Publican and LanossŽa caught each other's eyes — a seasoned man from half a world away; a young woman from a land that welcomed few strangers... In barely more than a day, they had progressed together far beyond the simple acquaintance that once they shared. In the glimmers of a cold setting sun, their hearts subsided into wells of uncertainty and regret.

Pressed against Ginny's heart, in that boreal valley and in an Islington bedroom of another era, the silver brooch whispered in timeless, enigmatic sorrow.

Harry was not the only one to awaken early the next morning. As he was beginning to warm a pan on the stove in preparation for another round of Grimmauld Place breakfasts, he was surprised to feel a small hand grasp his arm from behind, and a cheek press itself into his upper back.

He extinguished the heat on the stove, and turned his focus instead to the soft warmth radiating into him. Different emotions streamed through his mind. In part, he felt a tantalizing thrill at knowing that a beautiful girl had just clasped herself to him and was in no hurry to release him. Conversely, however, the melancholy emanating from her was almost palpable.

“I feel so hollow.” Ginny's whisper drifted up to him. “So drained... Things seem hopeless for them.”

Them? Oh, you mean the...” Harry hesitated uncertainly.

“The princess and the Publican, yes.” Ginny's head nodded slightly against his back.

Harry nodded as a weight of recognition set in. All at once, he realized that he was now starting to remember more and more of his peculiar dreams; that the images were no longer fading into a vague emotions within minutes of his awakening. In fact, the dreams were beginning to feel like an extension of reality, with tangible implications to the waking world.

Harry also knew that this largely confirmed his suspicion that these dreams were affecting Ginny as profoundly as him. Reflecting on her current sadness, he couldn't help but worry that, in some way, he might be responsible for pulling the sunny, vivacious girl into a tense, ponderous otherworld...

Now quite vested in getting to the root of his friend's dejection, Harry sighed. “Yes, the princess and the Publican. LanossŽa and Peuerellius.” Unexpectedly, Harry's memory seemed to be filling in more and more details that, only a moment ago, would not have occurred to him. “So, I guess you're worried that they'll be dragged apart?”

“I can't see how they can avoid it.” Ginny took a step back and gently pulled Harry around to face her. “The Publican must alert his Proconsul ; the princess is bound to follow her queen...”

Harry exhaled wearily.

“And, for the record...” Ginny uncoupled herself from him and began pacing. “This time the dreams do not feel 'right'. I'm not sure why, but for some reason I feel as though you and I have a personal stake in what happens to them. There's no way that separation will be good for anybody — not for the princess or the Publican ; not for the queen and Heanua. Who's to say it might not even be harmful for us, Harry?”

Harry stared in surprise at a sharp flash of anger in Ginny's face — the momentary glint of something harder that mere Weasley ire; a flame more in keeping with a certain woodland princess. Harry stepped in to intercept her stride. Catching her slightly off guard, he grasped her hand, and held it for a long moment, and watched with relief as she deflated; the momentary pallour reverting to Ginny's normal healthy tones.

Sighing again, Harry guided Ginny to the table, where the two teens faced each other, feeling for all the world like conspirators attempting to avert some crisis... except for the strange fact that they were agonizing over events that had already taken place — more than nineteen centuries ago.

“I agree with you.” Harry poured tea for Ginny and himself, then met her eyes from across the corner of the table. “I feel that same sort of personal stake in all of this — maybe because I can't imagine why we would both be having these dreams if they weren't somehow important to us.”

Ginny nodded, adding milk to her tea.

“I don't know who's right.” He tapped his warm cup thoughtfully with his finger. “I don't think the Publican should be quite so willing to place such trust in his garrison. I realise that their spell repertoire back then was quite different from ours, but surely there were dark wizards who had nasty tricks like Imperius curses, right? If so, who can anyone really trust?” He blew on his cup, then continued. “At least some of what the queen said sounded logical to me. To truly reclaim her throne, it may well be that she really does first need to recover the staff — whether for magical power, credibility, or both.”

“The words that came out of the queen's mouth sounded logical, but...” Ginnys voice faded into pensive silence.

Harry gazed at his friend as she frowned in deliberation. “But...?” he prompted after a while.

“But I think she's losing it, Harry.” Ginny's knuckles were white around her mug. “She's a bit unhinged.”

“Who's a bit unhinged?” The voice was that of Remus Lupin. Their former professor entered the kitchen with a look of deep concern spreading over his face.

“Oh!” Uncharacteristically rattled, Ginny's weariness from the early hour and disrupted sleep, had thrown her a bit off her game, but she nonetheless shifted gears quickly. “We were talking about someone named Queen Boadicea, who apparently was a powerful Druidess and queen in early Roman Britain.”

Harry smiled surreptitiously as he watched Ginny improvising with a near truth — a masterful strategy. He cleared his throat. “Yes, Ginny and I were discussing a historical account that we found up in Sirius's library.”

“That's a relief!” Lupin chuckled. “For a moment I was afraid you were talking about your mother!”

“My mother?!” Confusion and alarm was momentarily evident on Ginny's face. “What... er, she's not my, uh...”

“Molly?” Harry calmly poured a cup of tea for Remus. “Goodness no, Remus. Ginny and I can see what she's going through, and truly feel for her. I'm sure Mrs. Weasley finds it incredibly stressful to be exiled here in Grimmauld, but she seems to be trying hard to adapt to the situation.”

Ginny exhaled, offering Harry a furtive smile of gratitude as she reassembled her stage presence. “Professor Lupin, have you ever seen my Mum when she's truly unhinged?” Ginny passed him the cream and sugar. “To be honest, I'd say she's actually taking things surprisingly well so far.”

Lupin smiled. “Okay, point well taken! Anyway, I'm glad, at least, that the two of you are giving her a benefit of the doubt. I have deep affection for Molly, but this is not her ideal environment and it really shows. She's rather rubbed Sirius the wrong way, and Ron and the twins start steaming at the very mention of her name.”

Harry shrugged. “Yes, well unfortunately it takes some people a long time to realize that the one thing worse than a frayed parent is no parent at all.”

Lupin and Ginny both startled somewhat at Harry's neutral, off-handed remark, but Harry paid no attention, rising from the table to resume breakfast preparations.

The table fell silent for a long moment. Lupin nodded slowly to himself, his face hinting at sad reminiscences, then he stirred and turned to Ginny. “So.... you're reading about Queen Boadicea?”

“Yes.” Ginny nodded, meeting his gaze. “You've heard of her?”

“Of course.” Lupin leaned forward with an engaged expression. “She was a fascinating and tragic character. It is such a shame that Professor Binns seems incapable of expanding his curriculum; there are so many amazing stories in magical history that students, sadly, may never learn at Hogwarts. It is laudable that you two taking the initiative to broaden your horizons.”

Harry pulled several plates out of the cupboard and paused in his efforts. “Er, I'm sure we're get to this soon enough in our, uh, research, but what sort of tragic end did the queen come to?”

“Ah.” Lupin paused for a moment as he replenished his tea. “She led perhaps the most infamous revolt against the Romans in British history. Her Iceni army and their Trinovante allies sacked several large Roman towns and led to the loss of more than fifty thousand, and perhaps nearing one hundred thousand, Roman citizens.”

Lupin acknowledged Ginny's sharp intake of breath with a sombre nod. “Very grim story indeed! Yet, it's not easy to feel sorry for the Romans. Even their own historians are in general agreement that the rebellion was precipitated by very poor decisions on the part of local Roman administrators.”

“You don't say.” Trying not to grit her teeth, Ginny hid a momentary scowl behind her teacup.

“Indeed.” Not noticing Ginny's quiet pique, Lupin steepled his fingers. “Most Muggle and Magical historic accounts are based on the writings of Tacitus, who recorded that Romans seized Iceni lands without provocation, confiscated great quantities of wealth, captured and flogged the queen and, uh..." Lupin fidgeted a bit. "Well, they supposedly raped her daughters.”

Harry and Ginny exchanged wide-eyed glances. Catching this out of the corner of his eye, Lupin cringed slightly. “Sorry. I firmly believe that history is a very important subject, but it can get rather... ugly at times.”

More puzzled than appalled, both Harry and Ginny shrugged, attempting to suppress their visceral responses.

Settling back again, Ginny blew on her tea pensively. “Yes, well the ugly incidents are obviously the ones our society must try hardest to not repeat.”

“Exactly.” Lupin nodded vigourously. “So while the Romans began the episode shamefully, the queen reaped no glory either. She very likely was, as you so eloquently phrased it, rather unhinged by the Roman attack. Her eventual response seemed to be inspired much more by wrath than political calculus.”

“Ill-advised,” Harry opined as he flipped several eggs.

Lupin nodded. “Unfortunately, yes. Basing a military campaign on rage alone is a very risky proposition — especially against the Romans who were the masters of cold calculation. Unsurprisingly, the Icenian rebellion faltered. After destroying Camboricum, driving the Romans from Londinium and then sacking the wealthy town of Verulamium, Boadicea's warriors were met with a disciplined, war-hardened Roman force in northern Hertfordshire. Badly outmaneuvered, and with her forces being slaughtered and dispersed, the queen supposedly committed suicide. Her body was recovered by parties sympathetic to her cause, and she was buried in reverence, but the defeat demoralised all of the English Celts. The Romans solidified their power, and no more major rebellions would occur in England for hundreds of years thereafter.”

“Hmm, well regardless of emotional instability,” Ginny remarked, “it seems strange that the Iceni revolt should have begun in such strength, dominated through several major battles, and then suddenly collapsed into such misery.”

Lupin pursed his lips in thought, nodding absent-mindedly to Hermione as she entered quietly and took a seat.

“A fascinating observation.” Lupin beamed a professorial smile. “Part of the difference was a likely matter of Roman leadership,” he suggested. “The initial Iceni strikes exploited the tactical weaknesses of Procurator Decianus, whom Tacitus seemed to regard as criminally incompetent. In the final battle, however, the Iceni faced a Legion of exemplary preparedness, led by Proconsul Paulinus, whom historians view far more favourably.”

“Okay, so you said that Roman leadership was part of the difference.” Harry's voice raised as he clattered about, assembling four plates. “What's the other part?”

“Ah yes.” Lupin scratched the stubbly beginnings of a beard on his chin. “Pure speculation on my part, but I rather believe that the rest of the story had a magical component. I'm guessing that in the early going, the Iceni held a singular advantage in the magical prowess of the queen herself, but by the end, the Romans had found some way to neutralize that edge, or reverse it.”

“Interesting.” Ginny stirred her tea absently. “Harry, have any of our History of Magic lectures ever mentioned magical and Muggle forces fighting alongside in the same battles?”

A guilty twinge flickered across Harry's forehead as he reflected on all of the time he'd spent sleeping in Professor Binns' class. “Er, not that I can remember. Hermione do you recall anything like that?”

Hermione smiled. “You remember correctly, Harry.” Her face held the faintest hint of a smirk as she replied to her classmate. “In all the time I spent in that class, I never heard of any descriptions of joint magical-Muggle campaigns. I admit that I missed some class time in my second year, but the notes that I borrowed from Parvati were nothing but the usual Goblin Wars drivel.”

Lupin sighed. “Well, in this case, it's actually not Cuthbert's fault. The International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy actually contains a clause that governments have used to... well, downplay... old records of cooperation between the magical and non-magical communities.

“Downplay?” Harry's eyebrow raised suspiciously.

Hermione gave a cynical shrug. “I think that's Professor Lupin's euphemism for 'suppress', Harry.”

Lupin chuckled. “Well, we would have to wake up earlier than this to pull wool over Miss Granger's eyes, wouldn't you say? Anyway, from what I can tell, there were numerous instances of collaboration prior to the Statute. Records and accounts of such cooperation still exist, but you won't find them in libraries or book stores. There are likely a good number of interesting documents in the Ministry of Magic Archives, but they can only be viewed by appointment.”

“Professor...” Ginny peered incisively across the table. “Have you ever wondered what that initial magical advantage might have been, and how it got taken away?”

Lupin regarded her thoughtfully. “Are you okay with something even more speculative?”

Ginny and Harry both nodded eagerly.

“Well...” Lupin paused to collect his thoughts. “If you read between the lines of Muggle historical texts, it's easy to convince yourself that Muggle-magical relationships varied a lot over different cultures. The more urbanized societies such as the Greeks and Romans produced a separation between magical and non-magical peoples that seemed to presage what we have today. By contrast, the more rural populations — what came to be thought of as barbarians — embraced magic as a part of daily life... and as a part of warfare. While the Romans were busy successfully conquering other urban civilizations around the Mediterranean, their military had little use for wizards, and their leadership may have actively distrusted them. However, as the Romans expanded northwards into the warlike Celtic, Teutonic and Slavic provinces, tacticians confronting barbarians' hexes may have gradually recognized that a magical component to their military would be necessary.”

Harry nodded. “So perhaps Queen Boadicea encountered no worthy magical resistance at the start of the Iceni uprising, but then the desperate Romans finally decided to find her a worthy opponent?”

“Exactly!” Lupin grinned at the astute inference. “That would be my first guess. The other possibility is that something happened to the queen's magical abilities.”

Ginny's piercing glance drifted from their former professor, to Harry, and then back to Lupin. “I wonder how we might find out more about what really happened...?”

Lupin sipped his tea contemplatively. “Well, you probably chose a reasonable place to start — leafing through books up in Sirius's library. There are volumes up there that predate the Statute of Secrecy, so you may well find interesting perspectives that you wouldn't get at Hogwarts. Those might keep you occupied for a while longer, but if you really get serious with this project of yours, you would be advised to consider the Historical Archives at the Ministry.”

“Right.” Ginny's chin dropped pensively into her hands. “But how would we ever get an appointment there when we're shut in this house under lock and key?”

Hermione coughed slightly. “Er well... Not wanting to disrupt such a delightful educational discussion by reminding everyone of more mundane idiocies, but Harry has a date at the Ministry coming up soon...”

“Oh, that's right!” Harry's eyes widened; his enthusiastic tone belying any concern for the disciplinary hearing. “Gin', I think your father had planned to take me. I don't know whether I'll have time to visit the archives myself because of my meeting, but perhaps he could be convinced to sign you into the archives while I'm busy?”

“Yes, good idea! It never hurts to ask, right?” Ginny nodded, with supportive murmurs from Hermione and Lupin.

“Never hurts to ask whut ?” Ron asked as he stalked into the room. “Harry mate — be a sport and scrape some bacon and eggs onto a plate, eh?”

Lupin's eyes trailed the tall youth. “The kids are working on a fascinating summer research project.” He beamed a proud smile toward Ginny and Harry. “With a little luck, maybe we can get them access to some old documents in the Ministry of Magic Historical Archives.”

“Uhhhhh... Research? Documents?? ” Ron's incredulous gaze darted among the other four occupants of the room, trying to guess a punchline to what was obviously a very lame joke.

“Yes Ron.” Hermione composed herself patiently. “They are planning to research some documents.”

Ron blinked several times in rapid succession, opened his mouth to say something, but then stared lustily at the full plate Harry was placing in front of him. “Yeah, well, jolly good then.” Ron shrugged, and proceeded to fill his face.

Harry ran his hand through his hair, producing a work of disheveled art that made Ginny pause and grin.

Aware that Ginny had stopped rustling around with books, Harry glanced at her, raised a suspicious eyebrow at her mirthful expression, then went back to trying to focus on yet another page of miniscule typeface.

After several minutes, he groaned loudly, and pushed away another book -- the third in a sizable stack that Ginny had been piling on the table by his elbow. He rested for a moment, gazing out at the light rain trickling down the window of the Grimmauld Place library, then looked up again, chagrined to see Ginny place two more dusty tomes onto the pile.

“You know, Harry, I've been thinking...” Ginny trailed off.

“Yes?”

Ginny's face wore a look of intense concentration for a moment, then she nodded. “I was wondering if maybe we should see whether Hermione is interested in helping with some of this research.”

“Oh?” A note of surprise was evident in Harry's voice. “Well, maybe three minds would be better than two for trying to sift through all these books, but... she has a mountain of her own school texts to read. And besides, what makes you think she'd been the least bit interested in something half-cocked like this?”

“Oh...” Ginny smiled. “I just have this hunch...”

“You mean because of the way she's been so helpful and supportive recently?”

“No.” Ginny caught Harry's attention with a certain twinkle in her eye. “I mean because of the way she's standing right outside the door, listening in on us from the corridor...”

Harry burst out laughing. He turned to direct his voice out the open doorway. “Hermione, come on in — we're just about to start brainstorming.”

Visibly flustered, Hermione emerged in the library doorway. “I, uh, was just checking the walls for residual dark magic.”

“Oh brilliant, thank you!” Ginny gave her a sprightly grin. “But for better results, you actually might try using your wand for that.” She gestured toward Hermione's bare hands.

Red-faced, Hermione unconsciously grappled for the wand in her pocket. “I, well, you see...” she explained.

“No worries if you have other things to do,” Harry cut her off good-naturedly, “but if you're interested, we're doing some preparations for our visit to the Ministry on the twelfth. Arthur agreed to arrange a pass for Ginny to visit the Archives while I'm in the hearing, but he estimated that she'll likely only be cleared to research for an hour or two, so we're trying to pin down our goals as precisely as possible.”

“Oh?” Hermione quickly banishing her earlier embarrassment. “So what's your focus, and what sort of questions have you come up with?”

“Well..." Harry spread out a scroll with a few outline points scrawled across it. "The main issue is whether magic could have been a key component in Boadicea's downfall, but we haven't narrowed down the more specific questions yet.”

“Yes, that's what we're about to discuss right now as we skim through these books.” Ginny took a seat beside Harry. “For example, I want to know whether the Queen was in possession of the Staff of Scavo during the rebellion and, especially, in the final battle.”

“Staff of Scavo?” Hermione gave her a curious look.

Ginny nodded. “Yes, it was a very powerful instrument of magic made for the Iceni by one of the early Ollivanders.”

Hermione's eyes lit up. “Ah! So you're thinking that if the queen didn't have the staff during the final battle, it might explain their unexpectedly devastating defeat!”

Harry smiled at his friend's enthusiasm. “Right. And, for curiosity's sake, I'd also wonder what eventually happened to the staff. I'm not sure just how useful that information would be, but as the last and greatest of the Druidic staves, I find it all quite fascinating.”

Hermione took a seat and reached for a spare quill and parchment on the table.

"We're also interested in the opposite hypothesis." Ginny's tapped a dry quill on the desk. "Suppose Boadicea actually was in possession of the staff, but nonetheless still lost. If so, then did some powerful wizard intervene on behalf of the Romans? If so, then who?”

“Yes, exactly — as you were discussing this morning!” Hermione picked up one of the texts from the stack and began scanning the index.

Harry glanced at his scroll, then pushed it away. “Hermione, a little off topic perhaps, but do you know what responsibilities someone with the Roman title Legate would have had?”

Hermione paused to think for a moment. “I think the function of a Legate was similar to that of a modern envoy. Not so much an ambassador as a trouble-shooter, I believe.”

Harry frowned thoughtfully.

“Imperial Rome was really huge and diverse, which made it challenging to govern.” As she spoke, Hermione dashed off a surprisingly apt sketch of Europe and the Mediterranean. “Each province had different issues and concerns, so it wasn't practical to expect everyone to rule according to identical policies. The best emperors such as Augustus and Trajan achieved a fine balance by letting individual provinces do a lot of local improvising while still working toward the good of the Empire. However, if a province, or its governor, got too out of line, the emperor would have to reign it in. In the early stages, when the emperor was just starting to grow annoyed, I assume a logical step would be to send out a Legate to straighten up the local administration.”

“Ah.” Harry ran a hand through his hair again.

Hermione studied him. “Why do you ask? Do any of these books mention a Legate playing a role in the Iceni affair?”

“No, not the slightest mention at all.” Harry tapped his fingers on the table. “That's what's so interesting...”

“Huh?” Hermione stared quizzically. “Sorry, am I missing something Harry? Why would you want to know about a Legate if there's no evidence...?”

“Don't worry about it Hermione.” Ginny winked. “Harry dreams up the strangest questions sometimes.”

“I'm knackered! Time for me to call it a night.” Harry stepped away from the chessboard where, despite Fred's many furtive attempts to sneak black pieces back onto the board, George's last hope was being systematically eviscerated by Ron's white pieces.

“So soon?!” Ron stared at him in dismay. “I thought you might be keen for another rematch right after I'm done beating Fr-, I mean George.”

“Have mercy!” Harry yawned and rubbed his eyes. “You've already flattened me twice tonight, Ron.”

Fred merely smirked. “Let him be. Early to bed, early to rise, makes us... the best breakfast in all of Islington!”

George's eyes rose from the chess board. “Oh, too true! By all means Ron, quit badgering and let little Miss Harry-kins get her beauty sleep!”

Harry's voice filtered back from somewhere down the corridor. “I'm sure I can convince Kreacher to spit in your omelet, George.”

“Gah — you win!” George swatted down his black king, groaning in disgust. “How's an honest man to concentrate with Harry distracting me like that?”

“Next up?” Ron gazed around the room with a wide solicitous grin. “Ginny, are you ready to be humiliated again?”

“No thank you, Ron,” Ginny replied from her armchair in the corner. “I'm...”

“Tired too!” Fred finished for her. “Hey mates, have any of you noticed that minutes after Harry gets tired and leaves, sweet little Gin-Gin always wilts like the fragile flower we all know her to be?”

Throughout the room, several eyebrows raised.

Hermione raised more than her eyebrows. Bursting out of her chair, she slammed down her book. “Hey mates!” she exclaimed in acid mimicry. “Have any of you noticed that whenever Harry gets tired and leaves, the idiot quotient in the room suddenly rockets through the roof?!”

The twins burst out laughing, but Hermione silenced them with glacial eyes. “You know, if you two tried concentrating half as much on chess as you do on nosing about in other peoples' business, you might actually win a match sometime during your lifetime?”

Ron snickered, only to find himself confronted with a furious face framed by bushy brown hair.

“And as for you, Ronald Bilius Weasley...” Hermione's finger extended menacingly in the direction of the youngest Weasley brother. “Unless you start treating people around you with a little of the consideration and respect you bestow on your precious chess pieces, then I'd recommend you just apprentice yourself to Mundungus Fletcher right now, because that's about all you'll ever amount to in your life!”

Striding toward the door of the amazingly subdued drawing room, Hermione glanced, mid-step, toward a quiet corner by the fire. “Say Ginny...” Her voice had suddenly reacquired a measure of calm. “Would you care to join me for a quick cup of tea before bed?”

Ginny smirked at the shocked looks plastered across her brothers' faces. With an amused shrug, she put her magazine down, and followed her friend out the door.

“Is everything okay, Hermione?” The twinkle in Ginny's eye was somewhat masked by an expression of concern.

Carrying the tea service, Hermione turned and smiled broadly. “You better than anyone should recognize diversionary tactics.”

Ginny groaned, but then grinned. “Okay, good one.”

“Thank you, but listen, that's unlikely to be the last time someone starts to make awkward insinuations. It might be time to starting watching your step a bit more carefully.” Hermione gave Ginny a pointed look as she poured two steaming cups. “I personally believe that you and Harry aren't doing anything improper, and I'm thrilled that the two of you have become so responsible and studious, working on this independent research project and all. However, we're trapped inside a house with a bunch of other people right now. Some of them are stressed or hypersensitive, while others are natural troublemakers, and that's a volatile combination. You have to admit, Ginny, that if people notice you spending all this time with Harry, it's a fine invitation for tongues to start wagging.”

Ginny stirred her tea and shrugged.

Hermion took a seat beside her friend and continued. “Ron promised Sirius that he wouldn't tell anybody about you and Harry, uh, spending the night together. He's been sticking to his word so far, but I know your brother well enough to guess that if he thinks things might be getting out of hand, he'll go straight to your parents.”

“What do I care if he tells Mum and Dad?” Ginny's tone rose in pitch for a moment, then she inhaled deeply and shook her head. “Harry patched up my cuts and bruises, put me to bed, and fell asleep on the armchair. It was completely sweet, honourable, and perfectly harmless.”

“Yes, of course I know that, Ginny.” Hermione reached across the table and grasped her friend's hand amicably. “But your Mum is on a knife's edge, and you don't want anything sweet, honourable and perfectly harmless to send her into a catastrophic meltdown, do you?”

“So, what are you suggesting?” Ginny took a calming drink of tea.

“I'm suggesting that you might want to be prudent about the image that you cultivate. I'm not sure that everyone around here can simply accept the idea of a serious, mature Ginny Weasley, unless they're given a bit more time to adjust.”

Ginny arched an eyebrow. “Serious? Mature? What do you mean?”

“Come on Ginny, don't try to pretend you've always been like this. Something has changed with you recently, and as far as I can tell — which is not far because you and Harry are being fairly circumspect about it — the two of you are investing a lot of energy into something rather important. It seems important enough that it's made you rethink your priorities, and examine your key values.”

“Maybe it has, but who in this gaggle cares the least bit what I think about my own priorities and values? Ooohhh,” Ginny gushed mockingly, “look at little Gingersnap getting all serious about things. Let's see what she's so fussed about so we can take the mickey out of her!”

Hermione shook her head. “I don't know about that Ginny. You have several family members who might well take notice if they decided that you were behaving differently. At the very least, things could get rather nettlesome for you if someone told your mum they thought you and Harry were going off to snog in a broom clo...”

“Hermione!!”

“I'm just saying!” Hermione raised her hands in self-defence. “But you also need to remember that a few years ago you went through a huge, life-changing event, and nobody noticed until it was very nearly too late... if you know what I mean?”

Ginny scowled.

Hermione shrugged. “Yes, well you might have moved on from that, but not everybody has. Keeping that in mind, some people around you may not respond perfectly rationally if they see sudden changes in the way you act.”

“I mean you no offense at all, Hermione, but this is stupid.”

“Yes, of course it is, but the best way to deal with a stupid situation is to be very smart.”

Ginny smirked. “Be smart by acting stupider?”

Hermione grinned.

“Okay, okay, I get it. I'll try to act more like the old Ginny — snarky, irascible, lazier, less studious, put in late nights playing stupid games, have less... Harry-time.” Ginny huffed grumpily. “Impossible bleeding gits.”

Hermione reached over and clasped Ginny's free hand again, smiling warmly. “You're very dear for me, Ginny; you're the sister I always wanted. Deep down I'm really excited because I'm guessing that you might be starting along some very fulfilling path.” She withdrew her hand and grew serious. “But that's the thing. Whenever I get excited, I also get cautious. If what you're trying to accomplish is really important to you, then my instincts tell me that you need to be cautious too.”

Ginny nodded.

“But, uh, Ginny...?”

Ginny met Hermione's gaze, but Hermione looked away, shyly. Ginny frowned quizzically. “Yes?”

“One of these days, you are planning to, uh... tell me?” Hermione clasped her hands behind her back, gazing at the floor.

“Tell you, uh, what?”

“Tell me what exactly it is that you're trying to accomplish.” Hermione shifted uneasily, still averting her gaze. “I know there's no broom closet involved, but however much Professor Lupin wants to believe that the two of you are becoming solemn, dedicated historical scholars, I'm not buying it for a moment.”

“How dare you doubt my solemn scholarly dedication?!” Ginny inhaled sharply in theatric indignation. “If you don't apologize right now, I'll have to prank you from here to Hogwarts for your impudence!”

“Oh good!” Hermione laughed. “I'm not certain I could tolerate a solemn, dedicated and scholarly Ginny.”

Ginny let a snicker slip, then recomposed her face to see Hermione peering inquisitively at her, with the hint of a plaintive smile on her face. “So, are you are going to tell me what's really going on?”

Ginny gave her friend a long, scrutinizing look, then smiled slightly. “Yes.”

Hermione nodded, wide-eyed and expectant.

“But not yet, Hermione.” Ginny sighed. “I don't know — it's just... strange, complicated, vague... I promise I'll tell you when... when I've figured out what there actually is to tell. Is that okay?”

Hermione frowned for a moment, then nodded. The two girls finished their tea in amicable silence, then headed for bed.

Ginny swept her hair back and glanced rapidly around at her surroundings — the battle-torn Great Hall at Hogwarts.

As much as she despised this scene, at the moment it seemed preferable to facing LanossŽa and the Publican again. Ginny felt that it was too soon to truly help her ancient forebears. With more time and research, Ginny hoped that she and Harry might be able to learn what was really supposed to happen back then. With such hindsight, she hoped that they might even be able coax these powerful, heroic but imminently fallible characters toward some sort of desirable outcome.

Unfortunately, for the time being, Ginny despaired of finding a solution. The princess was about to be torn away from the Publican. Each seemed fated to charge blindly into a different quest of dubious wisdom, with everything being somehow contingent on the disruptive influence of a mysterious villain and a dreadfully powerful sorceress driven to the brink of madness.

On the other hand, here at Hogwarts, the descent into madness was already manifest and very nearly complete. Surrounded by chaos, Ginny watched as Harry wound down the final, grotesque preamble.

"So it all comes down to this, doesn't it?" Harry gestured subtly, yet demonstratively with his hand. “Does the wand in your hand know its last master was disarmed? Because if it does... I am the true master of the...”

A flash of icy revelation raced through Ginny's veins, and time ceased.

All thoughts drowned out by searing curiosity, Ginny strode toward the hideous, gargoylish living statue of Voldemort, sensing none of the nausea she normally experienced in his presence. Fascinated, she closed in on what the monster held in his jaundiced hand — a long dark stick with the most elaborate shaping and wand ornamentation that she had ever seen...

Ever seen...?

Seen before...?

Seen where? When?

Disregarding the riveting duel that had suddenly frozen in mid-execution, Ginny turned to Harry. “You called this the Elder Wand?”

Harry twitched. The dream he had been confronted with had required him to steel himself for battle with his arch-nemesis. It was a struggle to break himself free of the compulsion, but he was drawn by the music of Ginny's voice, so incongruously comforting within the macabre setting. He shuddered, shook his head, and found himself gazing at the bizarre surroundings — a scene of dynamic chaos all utterly rigid except for the grimy, disheveled (but still beautiful) young woman standing twenty feet in front of him, inspecting his enemy's wand.

“Er, yes.” Harry met her gaze. “Elder Wand. I do call it that, don't I?”

He scratched his head thoughtfully. “So, uhh, what actually is the Elder Wand? Does the term mean anything to you?”

Ginny frowned in consternation. “Well, the only mention that I've ever heard is from a children's story.” She raised a thoughtful finger to her lips. “It's a wand that supposedly can't be defeated in any duel or combat. I guess I've always assumed it was pure fable.”

“Well this particular wand isn't a fable.” Harry pointed toward Voldemort's hand. “I've seen it before.”

“Yes!” Ginny's eyes went wide. “It's...”

“Dumbledore's wand!” they both cried out together.

Harry ran fingers through his matted, dusty hair. “How did Snake-lips come upon Dumbledore's wand?”

Ginny shivered. “I'd really rather not try to guess just yet.”

The more Ginny became aware of Voldemort's presence, the more it became intolerable. She turned from the center of the room, and made her way unthinkingly toward the periphery as she pondered the situation.

“I must admit,” Ginny mused as Harry caught up with her, “that I'm very curious about whether... perhaps, this really is the Elder Wand. Luna's dad believes the wand is real...”

“Luna?” Harry paused near the doorway to the Entrance Hall, giving Ginny a quizzical look.

“Oh, I forgot — you've probably never met her.” Ginny slowed to wait for her friend. “She's a Ravenclaw in my year at school — one of my best friends in fact. I'll be sure to introduce you when... if... er...” An awkward look descended down Ginny's face.

“Don't worry about it, Gin'.” Harry smiled reassuringly. “If I'm ever allowed back at Hogwarts, I'd like very much to meet your friends. Let's just leave it at that.”

Ginny looked back to smile at him, grateful for his unexpectedly easy forbearance... but instead of catching his eye, she spotted something unusual over Harry's shoulder. Her smile evapourated as she stared.

“What is it?” Harry turned to follow her gaze into a distant corner of the Great Hall. But before she could point, he had sighted it too, and inhaled sharply. “No, it couldn't be...”

They were both staring at a pair of eyes.

All of other wizards and witches in the Great Hall were still frozen, watching in fascination, fear or horror, at the spot of the impending duel between Harry and Voldemort. Every feature of every face was completely transfixed by the impending battle... except for one pair of deep grey piercing eyes.

Flaring with fascination and hatred; framed by wild, silver hair and set into a creased and unkempt face, this lone visage had locked onto the two teens.

“Lucius Malfoy is staring at us, Harry,” Ginny whispered uneasily.

“Ginny...” Harry's low voice rasped in trepidation; his skin prickled. “Meet the Legate !”

Harry awoke as a chilling breeze swept over his face, stealing its way around the edges of his blanket. He shivered, pulled the fabric closer, then opened his eyes.

Moonlight flickered through the branches above.

He looked around to gauge where, and when, he might be.

What he saw was their camp near the river. The evening's storm had blown through, leaving behind crisp, dry air of the bracing freshness.

Noticing that the fire had nearly gone out, he threw off his blanket, and rose quietly to the small pile of deadfall that remained from what LanossŽa had collected that evening. He chose a few small pieces to lay over the embers and blew on them until they sparked to life.

In the flickering half-light, he reflexively counted the blanketed forms that he knew to be those of the fugitive Iceni royalty.

One was missing.

Harry did not panic. Rather, he added two larger branches on the flames, then sat down pensively on his blanket, closing his eyes in contemplation. After less than a minute, he re-opened them and rose to his feet. Instinctively he followed a deer path leading down to the river. When he had pushed through the final row of streamside branches and felt the sandy loam beneath his feet, he stopped and gazed around.

His eyes tracked toward the west; toward the soon-to-be-setting moon, and found what he sought. She was standing on a bluff, perhaps fifty feet upstream. The breeze rippled through her hair; cold moonlight playing off its silken iridescence.

Without conscious thought, he climbed the bluff and quietly approached her.

Without turning to face him, she cocked her head slightly, invitingly.

He slid his hands around her waist and angled his head down toward hers. She nestled her body into a place it had long seemed destined to find. Her cheek, cool to the touch, pressed upwards against his equally chilled face.

Together they remained, locked in timeless comfort for the brief while that yet remained to them, silently sharing the unexpected gift of sublime solidarity.

In that cold night, the princess and the Publican both found a measure of warmth — enough to sustain them through the cold day to come.

Back to index


Chapter 5: A Godson and a Princess

Author's Notes:

There should be laughter after pain
There should be sunshine after rain
These things have always been the same
So why worry now?
- Mark Knopfler

So yes, dear readers, this chapter gets a bit dark... but have faith in your beloved protagonists to right the wrongs -- perhaps even before they actually happen.


Chapter 5. A Godson and a Princess (August 10-11, 1995)

Once again, Harry found himself alone in the Grimmauld Place kitchen shortly after sunrise. Unlike the past several days, however, he was neither looking nor feeling particularly dynamic. He still went about the motions of breakfast preparation, thus ensuring that a household that had quickly begun to take his services for granted would still awaken today to a hearty meal. However, they might have to do without any cheerful whistling or self-effacing smiles... because Harry was lacking a certain spark.

Harry wasn't regretting his commitment to breakfast. Since voluntarily assuming morning meal responsibilities, he had grown very fond of the lively exchanges that only seemed possible while the Grimmauld's most garrulous (and least cerebral) occupants were all still asleep. With most of the day monopolized by talk of house cleaning (Molly's favourite topic), Quidditch, pranks and embarrassing bodily functions (the twins), or how bloody useless everything and everyone else was (Ron), Harry found the early morning hour to be an interesting and refreshing change of pace.

Harry had been most pleasantly surprised by Hermione's company. Her subtle warmth and wit seemed to peak during their little morning discourses, before dropping beneath the austere shell she wore when things got stressful or chaotic. Harry also enjoyed Remus Lupin's friendly demeanour, extensive knowledge and gentle wisdom.

Yes, these little breakfast table perks were reliable and would be coming soon enough, and that was enough to bring a small smile to Harry's face.

But not a grin.

After cracking some eggs into a heated pan in which rashers were just beginning to softly sizzle, Harry took a long pull on the cup of thick, dark coffee that was sustaining him. He gazed at the two chairs he and Ginny had occupied early yesterday morning, and sighed at the sight of how empty they seemed.

Harry silently berated himself for being weak, but the fact of the matter was that his emotions were a muddled mess. With last night's dreams still fresh in his mind, he had awoken to a surge of vicarious hope for the Publican and LanossŽa who somehow seemed to have begun to recognize their feelings for each other. Unfortunately, there was also a sinking regret for the same two characters, whom fate seemed bound to pull apart. There were other, intangible pressures squeezing him in various ways but, above all, he found himself wrestling with a nagging uncertainty about how he was supposed to feel about... how he ought to act around... the girl who was on his mind more than anyone else these days.

As a natural loner, Harry tried not to depend on others, yet he could no longer deny that he was starting to rely on Ginny in ways that he had never before expected of any friend.

Friendship had rarely been a source of unconditional comfort to Harry in the past, but spending time with her during the past few days had transformed him. Her spirit had gotten him back on his feet and helped him conquer his harrowing depression.

More than anything, this new beginning with Ginny was a chance to say 'never again'. Never again squander an entire month anguishing over a horrific past, or his future would be no better. Never again overlook the happiness ready to be discovered in the present.

Ginny's company was so fun and exciting that he'd barely had time to contemplate the feelings that he held for his new best friend, but now the quiet of the early morning kitchen was setting his mind loose to wander.

Harry somehow understood that the sensations Ginny inspired in his chest were unlike anything he'd ever experienced. There was none of the queasy skittishness he vaguely recalled having once felt around Cho Chang. Instead, it all seemed so simple and natural...

Indeed it probably was simple and natural, except when he let himself think about things. Once he started doing that, everything began to look much more ponderously complicated...

In any normal world, there was nothing healthier and more satisfying than enjoying the company of someone who also enjoys your company, right? But the world of Harry Potter was not normal. However much he loved to talk to Ginny Weasley; no matter how he wished he was sitting across from her at this very moment, listening to her calm assurances, Harry could not shake the guilty concern that his friendship might be the worst thing to ever happen to her.

What if it was his fault she had become ensnared in his dreams?

Dreams... Harry's thoughts all seemed to begin and end with them.

Harry Potter was no stranger to dreams. He regarded them both fascination and trepidation. Last year, they had afforded him some unexpected glimpses into Voldemort's machinations. During the nadir of his recent depression, Harry had decided that a careful reading of those dreams might have prevented the horrific tragedy in Little Hangleton. He had now finally resolved not to torment himself any further over past failures, but he wasn't above using them as motivation. Never again would he overlook any potential insight presented in his dreams.

But what did it mean for someone to be sharing those dreams?

Harry was baffled. How should he react to Ginny's no-nonsense embrace of this affliction? Some of these visions had been heinous and demoralizing; how could she still pledge to stand by him in a struggle that could cost them both their lives?!

Harry could accept that she wanted to help. He had been grateful for those other people who courageously stood with him in the past, but nobody had ever come to him under conditions so vague, bewildering and utterly perilous as this!

And yet Harry knew that he couldn't turn Ginny away. On top of that, although he couldn't possibly expect anything beyond what she had already offered freely and determinedly, he knew he wanted something more.

He simply wished she was here; wished she were speaking to him in that lively, melodious voice of hers...

Harry closed his eyes, exhaling slowly and deeply for a moment. He straightened himself, began to tend the eggs, and tried not to spend every minute hoping that he'd hear her voice...

“Good morning, Harry.”

The not-quite-melodious female voice that jolted him out of his thoughts was, once again... only Hermione.

“G'morning!” Harry manufactured a smile that, although undoubtedly not glowing, might hopefully conceal his disappointment.

Hermione examined him carefully. “How are you this morning?”

Harry could tell by her tone that the question had nothing to do with small talk. He stared at her for a moment, weighing the relative merits of lying. Deciding that he didn't have the energy to hold a smokescreen over a friend with x-ray vision, he opted to be blunt. “I'm actually feeling rather crappy, thank you. No, I do not feel like talking about it. And, to blatantly change the subject, how would you like your sodding eggs?”

Hermione fixed him with a glare, but it softened. A moment later, she was laughing.

“What?!” Harry's left eyebrow shot up past his fringe.

“Harry Potter is back.” She wore a distinctly un-Hermione-like smirk. “You should have seen the odd duck we've been stuck with the last few days!”

Harry couldn't help chuckling at her audacity. “Since when does Hermione Granger wound people with insufferable wit?” He sighed tragically. “If you don't bring the old schoolmistress back, then I'll bring back the odd duck.”

“Go ahead.” Hermione's eyes twinkled. “He was actually sort of cute.”

“Ack! Schoolmistress Granger would never have said anything like that!” Harry gazed in mock-horror for a moment, then suddenly recalled his duties, darting back to the stove. He huffed and began to attack the pan with a spatula. “Okay then, because you distracted me, you're officially getting your eggs scrambled.”

“Whatever.” Hermione shrugged. “So then. Still feeling lousy?” She gave him a tentative smile.

The corners of Harry's mouth curled a bit. “I'm okay. I've had better mornings, but I'll be okay, Thank you for asking.”

“Would it help to know that I'm certain Ginny would like to be down here with you.”

Harry paused for a moment in his cooking, then shrugged. “She has the right to sleep in from time to time.” Harry resumed his labours, hoping that his statement sounded more magnanimous than he felt.

“I agree,” Hermione responded, “which is why I stopped her alarm this morning before it went off.”

“Huh?” Harry muttered, turning to his friend with a quizzical expression.

“Ginny's not really a morning person, Harry,” Hermione explained. “The last few days, she's been adjusting a lot of her ways in order to can spend more time with you, working on... this research of yours. I told her last night that I felt she ought to scale back some of those changes.”

“I beg your pardon?” Harry inquired somewhat darkly.

“Don't be angry, Harry,” Hermione responded quickly. “I'm not quite certain what you two are up to, but I strongly suspect that it's very important to both of you, and my instincts are somehow telling me to support it...”

“Which is why you find it necessary to interfere?” Harry surmised with a raised eyebrow.

“No, you thick oaf, listen to me!” Hermione instructed, brandishing an irritable finger at him. “I've already told Ginny, and now I'm telling you — please try to be more subtle! For your own good! If you're truly committed to this... project... then the last thing you want are a bunch of hyperactive Weasleys blundering into it like a battalion of well-intentioned wrecking balls!”

“Oh,” Harry replied contritely. Silently scooping eggs and bacon onto plates, he thought it over for a few moments, then chuckled.

Yes...? ” Hermione inquired suspiciously.

“Great metaphor,” he answered, turning toward her with a grin. “Normally I'd be a lot more stiff-necked over this, but you made me laugh.”

Hermione tittered slightly. “Not bad, yeah?” she responded with a genuine smile. “If there's one benefit from being mashed in here with all these numpties, it's that they inspire me to new heights of acerbity.”

“I have no idea what 'acerbity' means,” Harry admitted with a wink as he served her plate, “but I couldn't agree more!”

“Ah!” Lupin proclaimed as he walked into the kitchen. “No better way to start the day than with a note of sunny consensus!”

“Erm,” Harry replied, turning quickly toward his former Professor. “Seeing as you're in such a good mood, is it okay if we don't tell you what we were just agreeing about?”

Lupin raised an eyebrow then chuckled. “Suit yourself,” he answered. “So, have you made any progress up in the library?”

“A few more potentially relevant questions,” Harry responded, “but in general, no, we don't have much more insight than we did before.”

“Well, I have no idea whether this has any bearing on your thesis at all,” Lupin mused, “but I ran across a bit of trivia yesterday as I was thumbing my way through a new NEWT-level Defence Against Dark Arts text. It struck me as an interesting little coincidence...”

“What was it?” Harry asked with interest.

“While reading about the origins of European dark magic, I learned that the first recorded description of the Imperius curse was by Roman wizards during the reign of Emperor Nero.”

“Nero?” Hermione exclaimed. “He was emperor at the time of the Iceni revolt!”

“Yes, exactly,” Harry agreed. “In fact, the Imperius curse crossed my mind just yesterday as a possible sabotage tool. That really is a brilliant little coincidence — thank you, Remus!”

“Do you think the Imperius curse might have played a role in Queen Boadicea's defeat, Harry?” Hermione asked.

Harry shook his head thoughtfully. “Maybe not directly, but I wouldn't be surprised if it may have somehow contributed to the political instability that led to the rebellion in the first place.”

“That was what I was wondering,” Lupin affirmed. “It occurred to me that those terrible misunderstandings bespoke a level of misgovernance that was rare in the early empire. But what if they weren't purely accidental?”

“Hmmm...” Harry mused, gazing off distantly for a long moment, neither nodding, nor shaking his head.

“The chapter I read was mainly focused on the origins of the modern conflict between dark and light magic. The book claims that social pressures in the emerging empire may have played a key role,” Lupin continued. “Do you you recall the basic motivations of light and dark magic?”

Hermione nodded. “Light magic is traditionally practised for the greater good of society, while dark magic often arises in order to intimidate or persecute people that wizards deem to be inferior or threatening, or both.”

“Precisely!” Lupin agreed. “So as the Romans grew their empire, the Muggle administration strategically opted to grant their conquered subjects full imperial citizenship, with all its incumbent privileges. To the magical community, this meant that their small, insular society suddenly multiplied dramatically in population over the course of a few short generations. Some communities were easy to absorb — especially wizards in the Mediterranean region whose practices employed the same Greek traditions that the Romans descended from, but others were too different for the Roman magical elite to tolerate. When confronted by northerners like the Druids, the culture shock proved overwhelming.”

Harry and Hermione both nodded in grim fascination.

“The most immediate consequence,” Lupin resumed, “was the formation of dark cults sworn to protect the magical purity of their own little society. But there was a second, long-term effect that reminds me of the old adage — 'necessity is the mother of invention '.”

“New spells?” Harry inquired.

“Quite so!” Lupin agreed. “The paranoia and hatred festering in these cults toward the barbarians reached a level that spurred great creativity. Many terrible new hexes and curses were devised between about 50 B.C.E and 150 A.D. I already mentioned the Imperius, but the Cruciatus curse also came from that era; probably a bit earlier during Caligula's reign.”

“Fascinating,” Harry muttered; frowning as he reached across to serve Lupin his breakfast. “Did the book provide any descriptions of these cults? Any names?”

Lupin shook his head. “No, sorry, I don't recall reading any specifics like that, but, well...” he mused, then paused for a long moment before adding uneasily, “that's probably something you can find out for yourself.”

“Oh? How?” Harry asked eagerly.

Lupin opened his mouth to speak, then froze.

Through the kitchen door, they heard the approaching sounds of Molly arguing with Arthur about something as the two Weasley parents made their way downstairs to breakfast.

Reflexively, Hermione gestured to Lupin, urging him to answer quickly.

With a furtive final glance toward the doorway, Lupin leaned in close to Harry and Hermione. “Library upstairs,” he whispered. “The upper shelf at the back has dozens of books on dark magic!”


With every hour that the currach traveled down river, the tugging sensation from brooch hidden within Ginny's shift grew a bit weaker... but the ache that she had felt upon parting was still clear within its subtle song. For now, however, she resolved to push the faint beckoning call out of her thoughts. Instead, she fixed her eyes singularly upon the river ahead, lest a submerged branch or rock once again jolt the queen from her dark thoughts.

The departure from camp that morning had been wordless. Heanua had not spoken to anyone in days. The queen and the Publican felt no desire for further speech. And to LanossŽa, the previous night had conveyed, wordlessly, everything that could be said... upon parting from the man she loved.

Stung by the teeth of a glacial north wind, Ginny cursed silently, and propelled them steadily downstream.

In the early afternoon of that cheerless day, after traversing a wide bend, the river opened up into a broad expanse that she assumed was the confluence of the Great and Little Ouse Rivers. From here, the merged rivers would meander their way to the sea, whereas Iceni settlements lay up the smaller river to the southeast. Instinctively Ginny steered right, toward their homeland.

“Stop girl!” the queen shouted, stirring suddenly from her shrouded reverie. “Where do you think you're taking us?”

“Home, mother,” Ginny replied factually. And out of the accursed wind, she added silently.

“Be not a fool!” Boadicea excoriated. “Did you not hear me say that I had need of wands for myself and your sister. A great wand seller dwells in the woods to the west of the river, about eight leagues down stream. Steer us there,” she commanded.

“But those are Coritani lands, Mother,” Ginny protested. “They are no friends of ours!”

“True,” her mother muttered grimly. “But they despise the Romans even more.”

Without further argument, Ginny turned them back onto a downstream course. After the queen had once again pulled a heavy blanket around herself and huddled into the bottom of the currach, Ginny drew her shawl tight against the growing gale and scanned the broader, calmer waterway. In the weariness of someone who had slept little overnight, she let her mind drift... and opened her eyes to the greyish mid-morning haze of Grimmauld place.


Eleven o'bloody clock?! “ Ginny raged, shaking the flimsy timepiece that had been lurking guilty on her night stand. “I needed to be up hours ago!” she seethed, bursting from bed and indiscriminately kicking objects that cluttered the floor nearby. “Less than two days to prepare for the Ministry, and I lay about all bleeding morning like some shiftless piker!”

Wrapped in her bathrobe, Ginny's thundercloud stormed its way into the corridor and onto the stairway.

“Har!” Ron barked as she passed him. “The princess better hope there's a pea under her mattress, because there sure as hell won't be any breakfast left this late.”

“Naff off!” she declared succinctly, not wasting the barest glance at him. For a moment, she considered simply heading straight up to third floor, but a sharp hunger pang jabbed her midsection, making it obvious that concentration would be futile without at least an old crust to sustain her.

Steering herself into the kitchen, she did indeed find an old crust. He was sitting at the table, nursing something dark and sludgy.

“G'morning Princess,” Sirius proclaimed with a wink.

“Next person to call me that is going to be mopping blood off the ceiling,” Ginny snarled... but she instantly regretting it. With a look of contrition, she turned to apologise, but instead burst out laughing at the sight of the rogue cowering, halfway beneath the table.

“Sorry, sorry — the word was stuck in my head!” Sirius pleaded from his comically timourous crouch. “Just finished badgering my thick godson — gave him a right talking to! Told him he needs to spend more time embracing what's right and less time fixing what's wrong. Reminded the dope that life will only give him this one chance to find his true princess.”

“You believe that? Don't be ridic...” Ginny's protest faltered as her foggy brain began trying to parse Sirius's words.

Oblivious to the strange look crossing Ginny's face, her companion burst up energetically. “Harry's gone to the library, but he set aside a full plate for you,” Sirius announced, whisking the last hot breakfast from the stove to her place at the table. He poured her a glass of pumpkin juice and a cup of tea as Ginny, dumbfoundedly, took the well-appointed seat.

Ginny gazed at her food and blinked. Staring right back at her were two sunny eggs and a healthy serving of fine rashers, all artfully arranged about the plate to depict a cheery face. Breakfast with a smile!

The smile on her plate may not have been the precise smile she had most hoped to share breakfast with, but she appreciated the gesture. Typically thoughtfully Harry!

For the remainder of breakfast, the actress within Ginny smiled and laughed at all of the best lines in Sirius's collection of 'silly Buckbeak' stories. Unfortunately, the amusing tales were completely lost on her... because her mind had still not recovered from that offhand comment.

Something about a godson and his princess...

The stack of books from yesterday had been pushed to the side. A new tome, dusty and cracked, and decorated with mysterious old runes, had been added to the pile, but it lay unopened. Several other innocuous books had been stacked around it to largely conceal the title ('A Historie of Magicke Moste Dark ') from prying eyes, until Harry was ready to start reading it.

Harry was not currently reading. At the moment, all of his attention was absorbed by a large, blank sheet of fine papyrus that he had found inside the escritoire. Minutes went by as he stared, unmoving, into the creamy blankness. Finally, with deliberation — slowly but with surprising confidence — he dipped a quill into one of the wells, tapped the excess ink back into the reservoir and ran the tip smoothly across the page, creating a dark satisfying line.

Other marks followed — smooth curves, neat cross-hatches, sharp angles and intriguing little flecks — as another world began to take shape in front of him.

After an indeterminate time, Harry placed the quill in its holder, pushed back from the escritoire, rose from his seat and stared at what lay before him. A curious frown alighted on his face, almost as if he was not quite certain what he was looking at.

Yet what lay before him had meticulous, elegant expression. The rendering was perfectly clear, even if only two people in the world would understand what it meant...

A gentle breath stirred across Harry's cheek. “Heavens Harry,” Ginny exclaimed softly from her silent stance behind him. “This is breathtaking! Look how you captured their faces in the moonlight!”

In his trancelike focus, Harry hadn't even heard her enter the room... yet he did not startle. “You weren't supposed to see this yet,” he said simply, and turned to face his closest friend.

Ginny angled her head; a puzzled expression on her face as she waited for an explanation.

“I'm sorry Ginny,” Harry told her, looking awkwardly away. “First I was distracted, then busy, then imprisoned here in Grimmauld...” He paused a long moment, before exhaling. “So, this is the only gift I have for your birthday tomorrow...”

Ginny stared at him wide-eyed. And then suddenly she was no longer staring at him, because she had lunged forward and was squeezing every ounce of air from Harry's chest, as only a Weasley can.

“Thank you thank you thank you...” she whispered, her voice ragged like a scratched phonograph.

“Yh... ...hm,” Harry replied wheezily.

Ginny sniffled a little, pulled back and dried her eye with a corner of her sleeve. “You know, with all this insanity, I don't think even Mum and Dad remembered my birthday, but I honestly don't care,” she declared with a grin. “Because this is the best one ever!”

“Er, you mean tomorrow is... or will be...?” Harry stammered.

“No silly,” Ginny chided. “August eleventh is just another day — maybe a cake and silly song, and maybe not. But August tenth is the day when my best friend ever gave me the best present ever.”

Harry responded with a goofy smile.

Ginny returned the grin, then angled back toward the escritoire, studying the sketch of the princess and the Publican embracing above the moonlit river. “I have just one question, though?” she queried.

Harry nodded.

“Where did you learn to draw like this?”

“Well, you see,” Harry began, pursing his lips thoughtfully, “I, uh, don't have any idea...”

“Hmm... This might be useful,” Hermione suggested as she traced her finger carefully along a page in one of the older, more decrepit volumes she had removed from the top shelf.

Harry and Ginny put down their own books to listen.

“Let's see now. This is only a rough translation because I'm not very good with German...” she advised.

Ginny turned to Harry and rolled her eyes. He smirked and winked.

“Okay,” Hermione continued. “The general gist goes like this, 'We know from comparing the charters of other distinguished societies, that they share not only the ideals, but most likely the same origins as our own Gesellschaft fŁr Magische Sšuberung...'”

Hermione paused for a moment to think. “Er, I believe that translates as 'Society for Magical Cleansing',“ she explained, before continuing. “'Other societies most closely mirroring our noble objectives include the English 'Order of Death Eaters', the Italian 'Federazione della Purezza', and 'La Flamme Purificatrice' from France. Our scholars have concluded that each of these organizations likely descends from 'The Glorious Order of Letum', a courageous defender of civilized Magical Society, founded more than one thousand six hundred years ago.'”

Hermione paused to glance at the volume's cover. “This book was published in 1645, so this 'Order of Letum' must have originated in Roman times. Does that help you at all?”

“Blimey!” Harry muttered. He looked at Hermione for a moment with an inscrutable expression on his face, then fell silent, gazing off into the distance.

Ginny watched Harry perplexedly for a moment, then refocused, turning to Hermione. “So Death Eaters were around in the seventeenth century, and had their origins a lot earlier?” she asked.

“It would appear that way,” Hermione agreed.

“Interesting,” Ginny replied. “I always thought they were just cronies who followed Tom Riddle.”

Hermione looked at her curiously. “You use that name for... you know... ?”

“A name is just a name,” Ginny replied in a matter-of-fact way. “Dumbledore is constantly badgering the Order to get over their silly phobia.”

Hermione nodded. “Yes, I suppose you're right,” she agreed. “Now speaking of Professor Dumbledore, I'm sure that he or Professor Lupin would know the answer to your question, but I can only guess. If Professor Lupin is correct that Dark Magic is strongest when the insular elite feels most threatened, I'm guessing that, as an organization, Death Eaters grew and dwindled many times over the centuries. If so, the current crop probably bears far more allegiance to, er... Riddle, than to any ancient tradition. I'd bet that if any living Death Eaters existed before Riddle came along, he probably just co-opted them. If the group was already extinct, then he likely just borrowed the name to lend credibility to his movement. You've met more of them than we have, Harry. What do you think?”

With some effort, Harry summoned his focus from distant ponderings, and processed the various open questions. “Yeah, I think it's safe to say that the Death Eaters are mostly just spineless stooges,” he agreed. “As far whether the modern Death Eaters were co-opted by Voldemort, or if he merely recycled the name, I don't think it matters much. What I'm most interested in is how much Snake-face knows about the organization's heritage.”

Hermione stared at him analytically for a long moment. “The organization's heritage, in terms of a possible involvement in the Iceni Rebellion? Involvement by the Order of Letum, you mean?” she inquired.

Harry and Ginny exchanged glances. Harry nodded to her, silently conveying that he felt it was safe and appropriate to answer.

“Perhaps,” Harry answered, turning back to Hermione. “Or maybe it's something peripheral to the rebellion itself. I'm really hazy on the details, but I'm convinced that something happened around that time that could have some important bearing on Voldemort's future success.”

“Are there any other details you can provide that might narrow that 'something' down, Harry?” Hermione prodded.

“No, we might have to wait until it actually hap...”

Harry paused, suddenly recognizing just how stupid his statement was going to sound, considering that any relevant Roman-era event obviously had actually occurred – many centuries ago.”

“No, Hermione,” Ginny broke in, “it's difficult to explain, but Harry and I are just going to need more time to think about this.”

Hermione gave her two friends a hard look that darted from one of the other several times before she gave up and huffed. “Do you have any idea how frustrating the two of you are?” she scolded.

“Yes, I think so,” Harry answered with a grin.

“Uh huh and, er... sorry,” Ginny added with a small contrite smile.

Of course Harry and Ginny had to do penance for their circumspection. In order to maintain 'appearances', Hermione browbeat them into participating in a gobstones tournament that the twins had decreed for that evening.

As the evening unfolded, Ginny proved to all that she was a tough competitor in the somewhat revolting game. By the time she faced off against Fred in the tourney final, she had not been gobbed upon a single time.

Harry on the other hand, had required three trips to the loo to wash off the foul liquid, and had been the second player eliminated. While others continued to cheer and jeer for the finalists late into the evening, Harry found himself sitting quietly in the corner, gazing into the fire... feeling vaguely anxious, though he didn't quite understand why.

As often as not, Hermione took her eyes off the inane competition to steal furtive glances at her friend, wondering what exactly Harry was thinking about in his quiet fireside solitude. She also continued to ponder whether (or how) such 'thinking' could truly resolve an ancient mystery regarding one of Voldemort's supposed... advantages?

Over the course of twenty minutes, Hermione watched Harry silently tune out the chaotic room, gradually slipping into something like an open-eyed trance. And that was then it suddenly occurred to Hermione...

Dreams!

Hermione recalled how Harry had experienced terrible, disturbing nightmares in the past — some of which would later be shown to bear eerie similarities to frightening real events had had occurred elsewhere in places and times he could not possibly have known about.

Was Harry having strange dreams again?

Hermione frowned thoughtfully. The one thing that the 'dream' hypothesis did not explain was why Ginny seemed to be so intimately involved in all of his mysterious deliberations. That part did not make any sense...

Ginny, meanwhile, was not dreaming. She was taking fairly seriously the assigned chore of acting unseriously. Although she was not a huge fan of gobstones, the game was definitely going her way this evening. Half an hour into a fiercely fought final, Fred was playing with his usual intensity, but Ginny still had the upper hand. If she could just hold him off a while longer, she could probably...

A tiny sudden shiver ran down her neck. Subconsciously, she slid a hand into her pocket, touched the brooch... and felt a deep chill of trepidation.

Ginny looked quickly about the circle, at the various faces, all grinning and laughing... except for Hermione. The older girl was frowning and stealing a glance to the far corner of the room, by the fire... toward Harry.

Ginny herself twisted around for a moment to catch a quick glimpse of her best friend. Muscles in Harry's face were tense... and was that a drop of perspiration on his...?

Splattt!!

“My point!” Fred crowed jubilantly. Ron and George cheered lustily for their brother and snickered at the gob running down their sister's cheek.

Undefined trepidation sinking into her, Ginny turned back to face the gobstones circle, reflexively dabbing the slime from her face with an old kerchief as her mind raced.

“Time out, please,” Ginny called.

“Ho ho!” George chortled. “L'il Gin-Gin's feeling the heat!”

“Time out approved,” Fred agreed, “but everyone keep an eye out so she doesn't try to slip old 'Sulphur Spray ' onto her pile. That stone's illegal!”

Ginny, however, went nowhere near her pile. Instead she shuffled back several paces on knees, angling her head towards Hermione. “Can you go get some tea on, 'Mione?” she whispered, loud enough for the others to hear, before adding in the faintest murmur, “Take Harry. I'll follow soon.”

“Ginny's already ordering tea!” Ron laughed. “She thinks she's going to take you down fast, Fred!”

“You bet!” Ginny replied with a wide counterfeit grin... then she began to carefully calculate the best way to lose as quickly as possible, without raising suspicion.

“Okay Harry,” Hermione admonished sternly as she handed him a steaming cup. “No more evasion and pretense — what's the matter?”

“I don't feel very well,” Harry muttered, absently-minded drinking his tea without adding milk or even blowing on it. “Oi!” he cried, nearly spilling the hot liquid.

“Well thank you for the enlightening detail!” Hermione exclaimed sarcastically as she handed her friend a glass of cold water to soothe his burnt mouth. “Any chance you could elaborate a bit?”

“I... uh...” Harry waffled uncertainly.

“Were you having a bad dream?” Hermione inquired, her voice rising slightly.

Harry stared at her for a long moment. “Not yet,” he replied finally, then took a long drink of water, before re-attempting the tea.

“Not yet...??” Hermione parsed perplexedly. “Are you, uhhh, planning to?”

“Planning to have a bad dream?” Harry responded. The corners of his mouth twitched slightly before seriousness reasserted itself. “No Hermione, I'm not planning any of this. But sometimes dreams come... and sometimes I can sort of sense when they're likely to hit.”

“What sort of dream...?” Hermione began asking, before hesitating over how to phrase a rather strange question.

“I don't know — I haven't had it yet,” Harry answered in a matter-of-fact manner.

“Harry!” Ginny exclaimed under her breath as she stole her way into the kitchen. “Are you okay?” she breathed, taking a seat and unthinkingly grabbing his hand.

Harry's gaze flickered from the pretty little hand grasping his own, across to several sacrificial gobs trailing down the girl's jumper, to the wide-eyed look of concern etched into her face.

He smiled... for the moment grateful to just live for the moment...

It took several seconds for the warmth of Harry's smile to register with Ginny, but then it did and, hesitantly, a small smile of her own flickered to acknowledge her special friend... but then the worry returned. “Are you okay, Harry?” she asked again.

“Right now, I'm more than okay,” Harry responded. “I'm sitting here with two wonderful friends,” he beamed. “No lame jokes or tiresome horseplay. No more bleeding gobstones...”

Hermione laughed. Ginny's eyes darted down to the sticky accretions on her jumper and she groaned, reaching for a napkin.

“Anyway,” Harry continued, “I'm okay for now. I may be run through the ringer a bit tonight, but these are only dreams, right?”

Ginny and Hermione both regarded him skeptically.

“I'll be fine,” he assured them. “If you're up early tomorrow morning, then maybe we can talk it over. With luck, perhaps can learn something.”

Ginny chewed her lip tensely. “I don't know, Harry,” she said. “I feel like I should stay with you tonight. I think it could help to...”

“No,” Hermione declared, cutting softly but definitively across the younger girl. “You've made fine progress today to throw the plonkers off the scent, but there's no way we can discretely arrange for you two to spend another night together, and... well I can't think of anything else we could do, other than maybe asking Sirius for some Dreamless Sleep potion...”

Harry shook his head. “I really can't explain why,” he said, “but I'm certain that the dream has to happen. I doubt it'll be pleasant, but I think we'd be worse off if I tried to avoid it.”

Hermione nodded stoically. “So, Ginny, I think we'll just have to trust Harry to get himself through tonight, and we'll be there for him in the morning. Is that okay?”

Ginny pursed her lips silently for a long time, but did not quite disagree.

“Sure a special pleasure to see you again, my dear Publican,” the heavy, balding Roman declared jovially. “Such a fine fortune that, by merest chance, I should be called here to Camboricum on the very same day that you should choose to visit,” he oozed with a too-wide smile. “May I offer you more wine?”

“No thank you, esteemed Procurator,” Harry replied in clipped tones. “I must not take any more of your valued time. As long as you can assure me that a messenger has been sent to the Proconsul notifying him of this breach of treaty, I shall leave you to your important responsibilities, and return myself to my own.”

“Treaty?” the Procurator replied. A flicker of vexation was immediately replaced by his unnervingly effusive grin. “I'm not aware of any treaty with the Iceni, per se, but do rest assured that your message has already been sent. I am most confident that we will be quickly able to resolve this foolish little squabble to your most exacting satisfaction!”

The man filled Harry's goblet to the brim from a flagon of rich, dark wine. “Now, I bid you, stay and tell me some stories of our lands to the east. A merry folk, these barbarous Iceni?”

“They are sober, wise and just,” Harry opined neutrally as he rose and began to make his way to the door. “Now, if you may excuse my departure, I have need of...”

“You have no needs that I cannot meet, my cherished Peuerellius,” the Procurator interjected, capturing his hand. “In fact, for your sole comfort, I have obtained a ravishing young maiden of the Cantii. You must come meet her!” he urged, his fleshy lips gleaming luridly in the candle light. “You shall swoon under her pleasures! Her skin is white like the virgin Appenine snows of winter; her eyes are the brightest of sapphires, her...”

“No!” Harry shouted, tearing his hand away. “My sincerest regrets, your honour, but I have urgent responsibilities in the name of Rome and Britannia!”

Harry swept through the door and out into the dusky night... but not before casting a surreptitious glance back through the closing door, catching sight of the Procurator scurrying toward a rear chamber of his quarters.

His anxiety suddenly spiking, Harry quickly disillusioned himself, and turned from the pelagus platea running through the center of town, opting instead for the muddy paths skirting the aft edges of the numerous military dwellings and enclosures.

The Publican's quarters in Camboricum were located on the north outskirts of the military district. He spent little time there, preferring to dwell along the Roman roads and the open countryside on the eastern frontier, mostly leaving his official residence in the hands of two trusted servants of Catuvellauni heritage. In his brief conversations with the pair early this afternoon, he had been informed that, several times earlier that day, Roman soldiers had tarried nearby, observing the building... and one had stopped in late afternoon to politely inquire when the master of the residence was expected home.

None of that boded well.

As Harry drew level with an alley with a view to the platea, he heard and then briefly saw, two horsemen racing past.

That also did not bode well... yet he continued stealthily on his way.

By the northern fringe of the district, the buildings along the platea were quite sparse. Approaching within two hundred feet of his residence, he was able, even by the low light, to see clear across to his property. No lamps were lit within his quarters; nobody appeared to be on the grounds in front, but... there! On the street nearby, he spied a slight movement in the darkness.

Edging cautiously closer, he was able to distinguish the shape of a single horse, tied to a post in deep shadow, its breath rising in small clouds through the cold night air. Squinting, he descried a second shape as well — a tall man clad all in black, apparently watching the building, waiting, perfectly motionless.

Unease, even some undefined fear, prickled Harry's skin. Basic instinct told him to turn away, but he somehow felt a need... a compulsion to learn who the dark horseman might be. After all, surely the true reason for this dream was to learn deep secrets hidden far back in time...

Harry's left foot raised and moved toward the mysterious figure, landing silently on the soft ground. His right foot did the same. Step after cautious step, Harry moved toward the man. Approaching close enough to pause and observe more closely, Harry found... that he could not stop! Straining to halt his traitorous legs, Harry wrestled hard against his straining foot, forced it to the ground... and snapped a brittle twig!

The tall horseman immediately turned toward Harry, gazing across in the darkness. He threw back his black hood and stepped out of the shadow.

Ice flooded Harry's every vein as the man smiled toward him — calm, vaguely amused. The rider's face...

Could not possibly be...!

Had to be...?

... the spitting image of Harry Potter!

A pair of cold dark eyes seemed to pierce effortlessly through Harry's disillusionment spell.

“You should not try to hide from us father,” the smiling face admonished with eerie charm.

Harry was just scrabbling for his wand when he was hit in the back with a stunner. As he struggled valiantly to cling to consciousness, Harry glimpsed a second face hovering above him, waving a wand in his approximate direction to cancel the disillusionment charm. The Latin incantation, “Invenias qui honorem,” echoed hollowly through Harry's troubled soul as his mind was set adrift.


Harry felt completely numb and detached. Experimentally, he tried reaching out with his hand to touch his face... but discovered that he could find neither a face, nor a hand to touch it with...

He opened his non-existent eyes to gaze around someplace... dim. The place was not quite as dark as the cold Camboricum night, however. There were torches flickering from ornately carved brackets set about stone walls. A glimmer of twilight was beginning to show in tall Gothic windows.

It took several minutes, but Harry recognized this place... sort of. In this dream, Harry seemed to floating, disembodied, about a room that resembled the Great Hall at Hogwarts.

However, the Great Hall had never sported gleaming, pitch-black finished mahogany furniture trimmed in green velvet. It also did not have...

Bloody hell!!

Harry's non-corporeal stomach wrenched as if a dagger had been thrust into it.

Skulls!

The brackets holding the flickering torches were not ornate carvings at all — on closer inspection, each bracket was made from the wide-eyed remains of a human head.

Harry's elevated nerves spiked further as he heard noises in the distance.

Th-th-th-th-thud... Th-th-th-th-Thud... Th-th-th-th-THUD... Th-th-th-th-THUD!

The noise steadily grew, as if one's own heartbeat was drawing inexorably drawing closer... until suddenly the noise resolved itself into a procession — dozens upon dozens of children and youth, all clad in pitch black cloaks and hoods, marching into the Hall, arranged in perfect order from smallest to tallest, stepping in totalitarian unison. The procession fanned out across the Hall, shaping a broad, multi-tiered semi-circle — smaller children forming the inner ring and taller youth spanning the periphery.

The procession came to a halt. The last students to enter reached their appointed positions, and the entire assembly fell utterly silent and still...

For moments stretching into minutes, nothing happened. Nobody moved or rustled; not a single cough, whimper or giggle.

The uncanny sight horrified Harry. Impotent in his disembodied state, he longed nothing more than to rage at them. You're children! Move! Fidget! Laugh and shout! Do something!!

But he too remained frozen, transfixed by the unearthly...

SSWISSSSSSH!!

In quintessential instantaneous coordination, the right arm of every child and youth thrust forward, brandishing identical black wands, each pointing directly into the center of the semicircle.

“Good morning children!”

The thin, reedy voice saturated Harry in a chilling vapour of despair. So spellbound had he been by the horrifying children that Harry had not noticed the emergence of a massive black throne at the far end of the Hall, on the raised dais where the staff table should have been... He had not observed the vile figure seated high above his subjects, in repugnant ostentation.

GOOD MORNING OUR LORD SAVIOUR AND PROTECTOR OF THE PURE! ” sang out the haunting sound of every child's voice raised in flawless, inhuman unanimity.

“On this fine morning, after your night of diligent labours, after your year of dedication, I have gathered you all, my dear students of The Lord Voldemort School of Magical Purity, to induct our esteemed Graduate Class of 1998 in the manner of our forefathers.”

OH THANK YOU, OUR LORD SAVIOUR AND PROTECTOR OF THE PURE!

“Yes, children, you are wise to thank me! Yet I also bestow a token of my own gratitude, to each of you, as fellow protectors of the pure.”

BY YOUR GRACE, LORD SAVIOUR AND PROTECTOR OF THE PURE!

“Indeed children, I see you have all drawn your wands!”

FOR SO WE MAY DO YOUR BIDDING, OUR BENEVOLENT LORD SAVIOUR AND PROTECTOR OF THE PURE!

“Ah, very good,” droned the saccharine tones of distilled iniquity. “Then on this fine morning we together shall sanctify our hallowed walls with one more torch, to forever burn that which was once impure.”

The entire assembly fell into deep, expectant silence, before Voldemort once again raised his voice.

“Prefects! Bring forth the impure!”

For the barest moment, Harry glimpsed four stern young men and women. Dressed in black and green silk, they were entering the Hall through a high archway, solemnly levitating the prostrate body of an old woman, clothed only in a ragged white sheet...

Without wand or body, unable to even contemplate what obscene atrocity might come next, Harry knew only one possible recourse.

“STOP!!!” he bellowed.

The horrific scene extinguished.

Gasping, Harry glanced frantically about his dimly lit Grimmauld Place bedroom. His wide, anguished eyes settled upon the frightened but resolute face of Ginny Weasley.

He stared blankly for a moment, before registering the love and concern in her eyes. The remnants of his dream wall shattered, and he collapsed into her arms, sobbing.

“It's okay Harry,” she whispered as her grip tightened gently around him. “The dream is done. You're safe. You're with me.”

“I don't exist, Ginny,” Harry mumbled disconsolately. “I've never existed. I can't save anyone. I'm powerless, because now I'll never even be born...”

“You're right here in my arms,” Ginny persisted, tenderly stroking the back of his neck. “You exist, Harry James Potter! You are as good and as strong as ever. The dreams are over, and you're right here, holding me...”

“Bloody hell?!” erupted a hoarse masculine voice from the other side of the room. “What do you effing think you're doing in my bloody room?!!”

Two large feet thumped hard on the wooden floor and suddenly the tall frame of Ron Weasley loomed over them, shaking a dangerously sparking wand. “Ginny, you've got two stinking seconds to get your wretched litt...”

“Stupefy!”

Ron crumpled to the floor, revealing to Harry's and Ginny's bewildered eyes the unexpectedly sober face of Sirius Black.

Sirius's gaze darted from Harry and Ginny locked in their embrace on the bed... to Ron twitching on the floor... and finally over his shoulder to Hermione who had followed him into the room and was standing several paces back with a shocked expression on her face.

Sirius exhaled deeply. “Okay kids,” he said slowly. “Raise your hand, whoever who wants to explain to me what the hell is going on.”

Back to index


Chapter 6: Second Chance

Author's Notes:

Great gratitude to all you readers and reviewers who have been following along and commenting so enthusiastically! That has certainly made this a fun experience for myself!

I believe somewhere in my earlier comments I had made some promise about Chapter 6 containing discussion of Harry's disciplinary hearing at the Ministry. In truth, I got part way through drafting this chapter and took a bit of time off to re-diagram the plot, and everything pointed to this being a largely 'historical' chapter instead. H&G will make it to the Ministry *next* chapter instead.


Chapter 6. Second Chance (August 11, 1995)

“Harry had a dream!” Ginny and Hermione both exclaimed at the same time.

“Er yes.” Wide-eyed from the startling stereophony, Harry nodded. “I sort of had a bad dream.”

Sirius lit a soft glow at the tip of his wand and glanced around at the teens with a raised eyebrow. “Okay, well at least you all have your story straight. Er well, apart from Ron, that is..." He gazed down at the sprawled teen on the floor, whose twitches were now giving way to ordinary snores. "So how did everyone end up here then?"

Ginny edged back from Harry and shrugged innocently. “I somehow sensed Harry's distress. After what he did for me a few nights ago, I — I just wanted to help.”

Hermione nodded. “I woke up and saw Ginny's bed empty. I knew she'd been worried about Harry earlier in the evening, so I guessed she might head up here.”

Sirius nodded thoughtfully. “All right, that checks out with the ruddy traffic patterns going past my door the past half hour.” He shook his head in exasperation, smirked, then raised his wand to levitate Ron back into bed.

“So..." Harry fidgeted, establishing a bit more space between himself and Ginny. "You, uh, believe us?”.

“Hell no — I just wanted to see how sharp you were!” Sirius burst out laughing for a moment then rubbed his eyes and turned back to the scandalized teens. “Good try mates! When I was your age, I never ever prowled about after two thirty in the morning without a well greased alibi. Yours are okay, though personally I never got much traction with anything so sweet and innocent...”

“I beg your pardon?!” Hermione was practically hopping in place. “I'll have you know...”

“Easy tiger...” Sirius waggled his finger. “Save your protests for morning or you'll wake Molly. And believe me, you do not want to face her brand of inquisition tonight.”

Hermione sputtered into silence, glared at Sirius for a moment, then rolled her eyes in capitulation.

With another grin, Sirius tossed a blanket over Ron, then yawned. “Ah well. Obviously right now I'm more interested in getting back to sleep than interrogating you ruffians, so let's just forget any of this happened... on two conditions...”

“Namely?” Ginny inquired.

“If this is all fun and games, then fine. But if you three are up to anything that Albus needs to know about then, as the titular master of this shambolic dump, I expect to be told about it too. Understood?”

“Er, okay...” Harry nodded, albeit with a slight hesitation. “And the second condition is?”

“For Merlin's sake, don't rouse any other redheads next time!” Sirius gave a final glance at the snoring Ron. “Now everybody get to their own bloody beds before we all roast in hell!”


Sirius left the bedroom and headed back to his quarters without bothering to confirm that his order had been obeyed. Hermione had also stepped out of the chamber, but she lingered by the stairwell nearby, uncertain whether Ginny would willingly part from Harry's side.

Ginny was indeed reluctant to leave. Having released Harry from her embrace, she remained sitting on his bed for several minutes, her hand resting lightly on his, gazing out through the bedroom window at the murky night sky.

Harry shifted onto his side and curled his body comfortably against hers as he stared diffusely at dimly lit paint-peel patterns on the far wall.

Neither said a word.

A detailed conversation would come later — Ginny was certain of that because she had so much to ask. For the first night in a while, she had not directly experienced any of Harry's visions. Tonight's first dream she knew only as a sharp but undefined terror that had jolted her out of bed — an impetus to race up the stairs to his side. For Harry's second dream, Ginny had been fully awake, sitting on Harry's bed, silently pleading with him for some sort of response; desperately clutching his rigid, perspiring hand...

Only once before in her life could she ever recall having been so frightened. Even now, the thought of it sent a tiny quiver through her shoulders.

“Are you okay?” Harry whispered.

Ginny nodded. She took a deep breath, and turned to give him a quick, reassuring smile. “Get some rest,” she said softly, squeezing his hand and rising from the bed to make her silent way out of the room.

In truth, Ginny was not 'okay', but she did not want to worry Harry about it right now. After what he has just been through, she sincerely hoped that he would be able to relax and settle comfortably for the rest of the night to recuperate.

What Ginny did not want to burden Harry with was a deep trepidation that... it was her turn now... Just like Harry before her, she sensed that the time had come for her to find her own bed, close her eyes, and proceed, with whatever courage she could muster, into a world of strange, dark dreams.

On Ginny's way to the stairs, Hermione probably whispered something to her, and Ginny might well even have responded appropriately... but she had no recollection. Ginny didn't even recall laying her head upon the pillow, because by the time she was back in her own bedroom, the strength of the urgent summons had risen to drown out her conscious thoughts.


For all the urgency of her dream-summons, the vision confronting Ginny seemed rather anticlimactic. This dank smoky cave in the northwestern fringe of Norfolk was not at all a place Ginny could imagine herself wanting to be.

Although some part of her was fascinated by the mysterious rituals unfolding before her, it took every ounce of willpower to keep herself from bolting back into the evening... to follow the urgent plea of the brooch... back south, to find the Publican... because once again, the man who reminded her so much of Harry seemed in desperate need a princess.

However, so did the queen. For the sake of the deposed Iceni monarch, Ginny stood her ground. She watched and waited. And waited. Ginny even forced herself to remain perfectly still and silent... lest she disturb the eccentric old Druid and once again incur the unnerving scrutiny by his strange, cloudy blue eyes.

Indeed, the famous wandmaker seemed to be a rather moody and sensitive old crank.

Some time ago, when the brooch had first stung Ginny with its dire knell, she had flinched, clenching her fists to dispel the pain. She had thought she had managed to be discreet in her discomfort, but the Druid had spun immediately to her and glared, his disconcerting eyes briefly flaring with... something...

Ginny was uncertain whether the old man had been enraged, frightened, or deeply fascinated, but whatever the response had meant, she had no desire for a repeat performance. Consequently, she held herself rigid; she locked down even her facial expressions, until he had once again fully immersed himself in his labours.

Despite the fact that no interruptions had occurred since then, those labours were turning out to be long and exhaustive.

Matching a wand to Heanua had proven trivial — the Druid had devoted less than five minutes to finding something suitable for the queen's eldest daughter, but the queen herself had apparently posed to the ancient sorcerer a much greater challenge. After almost deciding on one wand quite some time ago, he had put it away, lapsed into a long meditative silence, and had then roused himself again into an agitated state of bizarre magical exploration. Oddly enough, many of the Druid's actions seemed in Ginny's view (through LanossŽa's astute perception) to focus more on raw divination than on Boadicea's magical aura. It was almost as if he was not trying to find the wand that best suited the queen's magic, but rather to discover an instrument that would someday serve a specialized need that the Queen was destined to encounter.

With every moment that the Druid spent on his strange ceremonies, Ginny grew more impatient (and suspicious). Surprisingly, however, the normally abrasive queen stood in silent forbearance.

Finally, after a fire dance in which trails of multi-coloured luminescence trailed the hobbling wizard as he thrice circled the queen carrying several different wands, he lurched to a stop. Crouched in front of Boadicea, he extended one wand — a dark, unusually long and thick stick — toward her hand.

The queen glanced down at the approaching wand and reached to accept it. The instant the wood touched her fingertips, a brilliant flash ripped through the dark cave, a resounding SNAP sounded... and the smell of ozone filled the air.

Startled, the queen nearly dropped the wand, but quickly solidified her grip and raised it aloft, where the wand continued to spark for a moment before settling again.

“A wand, so late to bloom but with untold promise, has finally chosen to commence its destiny.” The old Druid handed it to the queen. “I seek no gold, silver, cattle or grain for this wand, but offer it to you so that the wand may grow to suit your need, until that need has passed.”

The queen frowned. “I do not understand. You seek no payment for the wand?” She examined first the wand and then the seller skeptically.

The man shook his head. “I require only that you return it to me once you no longer have need of it.”

The queen regarded him with raised eyebrow... then nodded. “Once I have regained the staff of my grandfather, I shall indeed return to you this wand. If it has served me well, I shall reward your... kindness...” The queen couldn't help but stare a moment longer at the peculiar wandsmith, as if still probing for deception.

“As you will.” The man gave her a toothy, unconcerned grin. “But long before any of that, you must rest, O' Lady of the Iceni. Go forth from this hallowed cave, and please dwell the remainder of this night in the nearby stable. Take comfort in shelter and dry straw before you depart on your perilous ways.”

“Thank you,” the queen replied in a simple neutral tone as she examined the wand one last time and put it safely away. The tall woman raised a hand to summon her two daughters as she led the way toward the mouth of the cave.

Ginny held back for a moment, watching as the downcast and barely responsive Heanua began to make her obedient way from the cavern. Ginny then turned to follow... but suddenly a hand — a vice-like grip on her wrist — locked her in place. She nearly jumped out of her skin in surprise over the unexplained interference, yet she found herself saying nothing; she offered no protest as the two women walked heedlessly out of sight without her; she did not confront the mysterious old man who had wilfully separated her from her kin. She merely waited, breathless, standing with him until the cave had fallen into complete silence.

“So...” In the absence of the queen's audience, the Druid's voice had taken on an odd quality - almost a purring tone, yet also vaguely grandfatherly, “You are the lioness who speaks with two hearts.”

Two hearts?

Ginny quelled any outward response to the Druid's bizarre statement, but yet again he had succeeded in jolting her. Could he somehow have seen through LanossŽa, and perceived Ginny's spiritual presence within?

Recalling from the twins (both of whom rarely received grades worse than E in Trelawney's divination courses) that fraudulent seers routinely used strange pronouncements to provoke their subjects into providing useful information about themselves, Ginny stiffened herself further, standing in bland dispassion as the creepy character circled around to get a closer look at her.

“You speak with two hearts, and yet you also speak to two hearts...” The Druid hummed to himself for a moment. “And every voice to every heart bids you depart from here with all haste!” His gnarled hand thrust into the air, excitedly, as if he had just solved an abstract riddle.

“Yes!” Ginny nodded, blinking in surprise. Whatever disconcerting game the man might be playing, he was right about one thing - she certainly felt no further reason to hide the fact that she truly and desperately did want to get out of this cave, and longed (in all honesty) to escape the whole region.

The old man cackled in unexplained amusement and tugged on her arm. “Come thither with me, my two-hearted lioness. I will speed you on your way, but first I must introduce you to your steed!”

The Druid led her out of the cave, but instead of making for the small stable that was visible in the moonlight, he veered onto a path leading up into a thorny ravine. “You have seen death, have you not?” he inquired off-handedly as he led her hurriedly through the night.

“Have I what?” Ginny stared at him in confusion.

“Have you laid your eyes upon the dying? Accompanied them unto the moment of their release?”

Ginny would have had no idea how to answer that, but the princess within her did. “Yes, I gave comfort to my grandmother in her final moments and I... I...”

“Do tell me,” the old man urged. “I am not here to render judgment, but I am a curious old fellow.”

“I was not able to revive my father.” Ginny's mind was briefly filled with the image of strong-looking bearded man, pale and feverish... then the vision vanished as the princess suppressed it.

The Druid nodded thoughtfully as he led her past a heavy thicket and into a moonlit copse.

Ginny gasped.

Standing tall in the moonlight before her was a beast of monstrous, nightmarish aspect, yet somehow also very gentle. Horselike, but with an appallingly skeletal head and body, and huge leathery wings folded to its sides, the creature was drinking peacefully from a hillside spring.

The Druid's grip about her arm loosened, and Ginny found herself stepping freely forward. Without fear, she extended one hand toward the exotic being. A reddish eye swiveled toward her, and the beast stirred and raised its muzzle to cautiously sniff her hand.

From behind her, the Druid spoke in soft reverence. “This is a thestral. There is no animal more hallowed to our people, but few that are less understood. A distant kin to the flying horse he is, but this creature has, in all its life, only ever sported two tail hairs. And one of these precious hairs, he has donated one to the wand that just chose your mother.”

Ginny gently stroked the thestral's cheek for a moment, feeling its cool breath on her hand. She then stepped back, curiously, to examine it's peculiar, nearly-hairless form. No more than a dozen hairs clung to the ridge of the animal's neck where a horse's mane would be. From its bony tail,Ginny confirmed that indeed, there now hung only one solitary hair — long and dark, glistening in the moonlight.

Observing her actions, the old man commented. “If a thestral is to surrender even a single hair, it is a noble act of extraordinary generosity. For a thestral may live to ages immemorial, never to be slain by the hands of any man or woman... save by a wand containing one of its own hairs.”

Ginny took a step back from creature, gazing wide-eyed at it, suddenly wondering how ancient it might be; what old deeds and centuries it may have borne witness to.

“But let us not even speak of slaying a thestral.” Surprised by the Druid's suddenly ominous, sepulchral tones, Ginny glanced back at him to see that his stooped form had straightened, and his eyes glinted in the moonlight. He shook his head slowly. “Such would be an act of abomination, with consequences too horrible to contemplate.”

Ginny shook her head vigorously. “I agree. I am certain that neither my mother nor any of her subjects would ever endanger such noble a creature!”

As if weighing her sincerity, the beast turned its large head and met her eyes for a long moment. With a silent exhalation, it then lowered its front haunches.

The Druid gazed appraisingly at the animal, and then toward Ginny. “The thestral deems you worthy. He shall be your steed, my lioness. He will bear you now upon your exigent quest of heart.”

“Now?” Ginny asked.

“Of course! We are all bound to our destiny, and yours lies thither. Your steed awaits, and your patience for lesser matters is very nearly at end.”

“But mother...?”

The Druid shook his head. “The queen requires you not for what she must do now. She will have need of you again some day, but only if you leave her side will you ever be available to rejoin her at the moment of her greatest need.”

Ginny stared hard at the strange sorcerer who stood unflinching as the moonlight reflected in his inscrutable milky-blue gaze. The way he proclaimed the future with such assuredness unnerved her, but the accuracy in which he perceived the present was equally unsettling. Indeed, he seemed to sense her motivations almost as well as she herself understood them… and she had to admit that he was right — unless she turned soon to obey the brooch, it might tear her mind apart.

She focused again on the large gentle animal, which still knelt to her in obeisance and silently welcomed her approach. “Please convey to the queen my sincere regrets,” Ginny said as she gingerly slipped one leg over the thestral's back, and tucked her foot into a fold beneath its wing.

The Druid merely cackled softly in the background.

Resigning herself to the many things unknown, both what lay ahead of her tonight and what was in store for her mother and sister, Ginny finished mounting the animal. As she settled herself into a curved span between the spurs of its large vertebrae, the thestral rose gently to its feet and spread its monumental wings. In the span of several white-knuckle seconds, Ginny found herself aloft — the moonlight and crisp night breeze in her long, flowing hair.


Harry stirred to the sensation of cool air settling across his collar and lightly ruffling his hair. A faint glow of undefined hope had lodged itself in his chest, and the sensation did not depart even after he had opened his eyes to the hard grey stone walls, and a glimmer of moonlight peering in through the heavy iron bars high above him, in what he guessed to be a Camboricum dungeon.

With some effort, he stirred himself from the dusty floor and attained a sitting position. Although his back ached from the close-range stunning spell, it did not seem to him that he had suffered greatly in his abduction. No bones were broken, and the bruising was only minor. A cursory scan of his limbs revealed no major wounds.

Harry knew that a harrowing confrontation was in his near future, but he pushed the unpleasantness of that fact into the back of his mind for the time being, and instead turned to a brief consideration of his captors' possible motives. After several minutes of thought, he decided that he had no idea why they had come here to this far corner of the empire to seek him out. He was fairly certain that he would not like their reason, but beyond that speculation seemed pointless.

Unable to think of any important preparations to make before the coming ordeal, Harry decided to relax. He let his mind drift... to a vague comfort that persisted in his mind.

She will come to help. She always does...

Without conscious thought, he gazed vacantly at the fine dry silt blanketing the earthen floor. His eyes fell upon a small shard of wood that had chipped from the cell's sole wooden bench. He picked up the shard, and lodged it into the curve of his hand with the comfort of a crafted stylus.

Turning his attention back to the silty floor, Harry reached forward with his empty hand and swept carefully across the dirt several times to create a smooth, blank surface. Extending his stylus, he lowered it to a corner of his medium and, with the Publican's practiced confidence as a skilled draughtsman, he pulled the point across the silt to etch a fluid curve.

Other marks followed as a face of strength and beauty — bold and resolute, yet gracefully compassionate — took shape from moon-cast shadows across the small silt ridges. Pausing in his labour of meditation, he stared down upon his creation for a long moment, recalling wistfully the person it depicted. He reached his free hand forward, as if to caress the princess's soft hair...

A brisk, unpleasant voice sounded from a corridor somewhere above Harry's cell. “How long has he been awake?”

“I know not, your honour.”

Harry leaped to his feet. Extending a foot toward the silt, he hastily rubbed out the image. He winced in momentary regret, but pushed the sentiment from his mind and whisked the residual dirt from his hand. He listened carefully as several distinct sets of footsteps descended a stone staircase down into the underground chamber where he had found himself. For a moment, he thought he heard a third, more soft-spoken man, then the louder second (rather gruff) voice raised again. “It has been fifteen minutes since I glanced down the spy hole and noted his motions. I came for you immediately, as you requested.”

The first voice grumbled something indistinct under his breath as a torch came into view, illuminating three figures as they turned the corner toward the cell. A stocky man in Legionary armor turned a heavy metal bolt in the door, and stepped aside.

Aperiam,” spoke a voice that sounded, to Harry, rather like a somewhat more mature version of his own. The cell door flashed in low incandescence for a moment, then swung open of its own accord. Harry lifted his gaze expectantly. No longer empowered by the element of surprise, the first horseman from earlier in the evening strode into the cell, followed by a second person — a young man, barely more than a boy, with fine, straight brown hair framing a wide forehead and an intelligent, curious expression.

Harry stood in outward dispassion, examining faces that, beneath his polished shroud, stirred intense bile in his soul. Steeling his nerves, he fixed his eyes upon... the Publican's eldest son. “Twelve years it has been, Tio. Twelve years, and yet you seem no more than a manlike form of the boy I left behind.”

The tall, raven-haired man with eyes of deep coal grey gazed at Harry. “Well met, father.” His bland response seemed to convey his limited patience for pleasantries; his focus instead on a silent appraisal of the Publican.

Harry shrugged and turned his attention to the second of the horsemen. “And little Mus, you have grown tall. Were that my last memories of you had been happier.” Beneath the show of calm dispassion, Harry felt a distant, quiet ache from the Publican's bereft sense of family. Not wanting the weakness to show, however, he leveled his voice. “So, pray tell what brings you to far flung Britannia? I had never expected to see either of you set foot beyond the tall shadows and fine marble walls of Palatine Hill.”

The one named Tio sneered. “You misjudge us, as always father. We have traveled far in our young years — searching for the truths that you have always fled. And finally we searched even for you, since our destinies we cannot quite uncouple.”

Harry clenched his fists as the Publican's scorching emotions began to churn to the surface. “Truths that I fled?! There is no truth in children pledging to murder innocents! I warned you never to seek me without recanting the wicked ways of your vile cabal! And so here you are before me. Are you prepared to renounce your society of unconscionable lunatics?! Recant Tio! Recant Mus! Or forever leave me in peace!”

“Recant? Father, is it truly possible for you to remain so painfully misguided?” In the course of his statement, Tio's expression flickered unstably from feigned bemusement to cold disdain and onward to loathing. “My brother and I were misguided once too. Sadly, we led ourselves to believe that you would come back to us and lend your fatherly strength to a just cause. Yet Mother always warned us that you would never cease your pathetic coddling of crass, treacherous barbarians. Mus and I have long since accepted the truth of her words, but after all this time you still believe it possible that my brother and I would surrender our vows of truth and justice for our people, and accede to your pathetic delusion?”

Harry felt his jaw stiffen as he struggled to contain the Publican's outrage. “Misguided to believe it possible that you would rediscover compassion and reason?? No, I never quite dared to believe. And yet, in each passing year I have meditated upon you, seeking in my heart some sign that I might return you from your path of ruination, and save you from your heinous, murderous associates. Many times my heart has quailed as I heard of dark crimes mounting in your footsteps, and yet somehow I never truly abandoned hope.

The Publican's eyes bored deeply into his eldest son, daring the icy soul before him to betray some tiny vestige of humanity.

Tio met his father's glare with frigid abhorrence. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly as he stared long and icily into Harry's unblinking eyes. Seconds spanned toward a minute as the pair faced each other, unyielding, until... with a lightning flick of his wrist, the young man's wand was jabbed straight at Harry throat.

Crucio! ” Tio hissed through suddenly gritted teeth.

Harry's nerve endings roiled in utter violation; his flesh had the sensation of being shredded from his body; he quivered... and yet, a flare of defiance in his soul, coupled with the Publican's inner strength, he defied the torture! Droplets of perspiration sprang to his forehead... but Harry remained standing, glaring into the brutal face before him.

“On your knees, father!” Mus approached his brother and father with a quiver of agitation in his voice. “Down on the floor! Beg of our mercy so we may grant it!” His breath rattling, the young man extended his hand, gesturing tremulously downward.

Within the Publican's feverish mind came the memory of a soothing touch; the gentle healing fingers of his princess. Harry reached into his mind and grasped the recollection of Ginny's embrace; a sensation of her stroking the back of his neck, like cool raindrops on a sun-scorched heath.

Within one man, two hearts bound to two hearts stood tall... rose even taller as Harry and the Publican girded the elder man's pride and stolid heart; giving him the strength to resist; willing him to project thoughts, as pure as Harry could fathom, of compassion and forgiveness — the greatest defences against such savagery.

“To your knees, father!” Mus pleaded one last time. Finally, quaking in unarticulated emotion, the younger son kicked out frantically, connecting with the back of his father's knee.

Harry felt himself lurch, about to topple hard down toward the cell floor... yet somehow he compensated, staggered, and regained his footing; his eyes returning to his shaken sons with a defiant glare.

Tio finally lowered his wand. Chewing his lip apprehensively for a moment, his face slowly morphed into a hard sneer as he closed in on the Publican. “Where is your whore, father?” The young man's voice descended to a snakelike hiss. “Where is your bloody bitch's whelp!!”

Harry blinked. “My what?! What in Jupiter's name are you talking about?” Momentary distracted by the baffling statement (and still recovering from his agony) he reeled and lurched sideways, then caught himself and braced himself fully straight again.

Mus approached him more diplomatically. “Where is your lover? Mother always said that you left us to be with another woman, so where is the mistress?”

Harry stared. He could feel the Publican practically choking in a mixture of disbelief and disgust, before finally finding his voice. “That is a filthy lie! I left your mother because she took from me my two sons, and sold them into virtual slavery in the service of darkness. Finally I left my sons too, for after all my entreaties they came to the junction and chose not a path of decency, but rather pledged themselves to the most repugnant Order of Letum!

Tio's eyes flared; he trembled and began to raise his wand again, but Mus grabbed his wrist and the rage subsided into smouldering hatred.

“Tell us where to find the woman and your other son,” Tio repeated with simmering vitriol. “Tell us, and we will permit you, our foolish and unrepenting flesh and blood, to live out the remainder of your pointless days in solitude, far from here.”

“My other son??" Harry blinked in uncomprehending consternation. "I cannot tell you what cannot be told. There is no other son. There was no other woman. I left your mother not in lust but in sorrow. I sought out this distant province to escape the harrowing pain of your constant heinous crimes; to grieve and atone for my inability to save you from your wilfull insanity. I never once sought the pain of bringing into the world yet another perfidious son. I answer not because the answer is none!”

Tio glared at him. “You may dare lie to me, father...” He paused, and a dangerous glint lit in his eyes. “But no man may contradict the Oracle of Delphi!”

“Oracle of Delphi?” Harry frowned in confusion.

Tio nodded, projecting an air of superior conviction. “Yes father, the Oracle of Delphi! There is no higher source of truth available to any man, and while many years now come between oracular pronouncements, the great honour of such truth was bestowed upon me. For in my long pilgrimage, I was summoned to the slopes of Mount Parnassus, whereupon, after fasting for four days and nights a wondrous voice arose and spoke to me of the greatness rendered upon our family and its line. The Oracle instructed me as follows.”


Two chains of power
Faithless, true;

A clash predestined
Must ensue.

The union of the
Brothers two,

Shall fall unto the
Brother new.


Deadening silence fell as Tio's ominous words faded.

Mus coughed, breaking the stunned contemplation. “The warning of the Oracle is never untrue, father. We have come here only to discover from you exactly where we may find this 'brother new'. Tell us this, and this alone, and you shall live. We shall escort you from this province and release you far away into safe exile.”

With a blank face, Harry stared at the Publican's younger son. “Had I another son to betray I would not. But I answer you both truthfully. I, Paternas Peuerellius, have no sons. None!” Fully recovered from the effects of the Cruciatus curse, the Publican stood unwaveringly, fixing each of his sons with a gaze of firm resolution. “These two damaged souls standing before me have, through their sordid actions, bequeathed all rights to bear our distinguished family name, and never have I sought another woman to bear me an heir. If our family line dies with me, then so be it.”

A difficult silence followed, with Tio seething quietly, and Mus staring at the earthen floor. Harry shook his head. “I cannot imagine what you believed you could accomplish here. Surely you realize that I would gladly misguide any foul criminal if doing so meant protecting any other innocent life. In this case, I need not waste your time or mine with any misdirection; the truth will suffice perfectly!”

“You worthless old scrap!” Tio growled, taking a menacing step toward his father. “I'll tear...”.

Mus stepped forward with a restraining arm and a distant, distracted look in his eyes. “Letum, placere dimitte nobis...”

Tio gave his brother the barest glance before restoring the unwavering glare fixed on his father. “What is the matter, Mus?” .

"Tio, the Oracle may have spoken the truth..." Mus chewed worriedly on his finger.

"Of course the Oracle spoke the truth!" Tio rounded on his brother in anger. "I heard it with..."

"No, please let me finish," Mus interjected with greater strength. "The Oracle spoke true, certainly, but the prophesy said nothing of what year or season this would come about. So perhaps this 'brother new'... has not been born yet? "

Another long silence ensued.

"You believe both the Oracle and our wretched old father, Mus?" Tio ran a hand through his hair, his face twisting in deliberation.

Mus nodded thoughtfully.

"Then there is one simple way to forever put an end our worries," Tio concluded.

Mus nodded slowly. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but faltered. The younger son bit his lip and turned slowly away.

With an expression of chilling hatred that neither Harry Potter nor the Publican could ever have summoned for even the bitterest of enemies, the elder son raised his wand...


Ginny soared through the air, marking passage of the various landmarks by moonlight. Her progress had been swift, but even the fleet wings of the thestral required time to cover the many leagues south to Camboricum.

Finally, after a journey in which the brooch had sung to her for some time in tones of great hopefulness before falling back into pain and trepidation, she was able to spy flickering torches within the town, and the Roman fort perched upon the adjacent hill in Duroliponte. The thestral raced knowingly for the latter.

Although it was now the deepest, darkest hour before the first glimmers of twilight would appear in the northeast, Ginny disillusioned herself and cast a notice-me-not charm on the thestral, knowing full well that many soldiers would have seen death and would thus be able to spot the large beast.

The brooch was pulling them toward the northwest corner of the fortress. As they approached, Ginny attempted to study the structure by the dim light. The princess had never laid eyes upon a building so large and stout, with its thick stone walls and two high watch towers, but to Ginny the magnificence paled relative to Hogwarts and did not faze her. What troubled her, however, was that the brooch and the thestral were both steering them down to ground level toward a place that had no gates, no doors, and only a small number of tiny ventilation slots for windows. If the walls in that corner of the fortress were magically reinforced, she doubted that she would be able to penetrate the barriers to find the Publican.

Convinced that the straightest path was futile, Ginny pulled back on the thestral's vertebra. It seemed to hesitate for a moment, then acceded to her judgment, allowing her to guide the flying animal upwards to the high ramparts about forty feet above the corner dungeon.

The thestral lifted its wings high in a delicate braking maneuver. With graceful but dizzying aerobatics, the animal landed its hooves smoothly and quietly on the wooden platform, and lowered its front haunches for Ginny to dismount.

Suddenly feeling an unexplained sense of great urgency, Ginny leaped from the thestral. She was about to sprint for the corner tower, but she felt the beast's wise eye upon her, questioningly.

She turned and met its gaze. “Thank you, my friend. You have done me a great service; I release you now.”

The thestral continued to stare at her for a long moment, strangely conveying in its large sentient eyes a hesitancy and regret. Finally, it nodded its head, retracted its wings and, with a sudden burst of wind, regained the night skies.

Ginny turned to race for the tower, to find some way of descent, when...

Invenias qui honorem!

Recognizing the voice instantly, Ginny spun around, raising her shield just as the revealing spell stripped away her disillusionment charm. With pounding heart, she fund herself twenty feet away from a man she loathed with deep passion. Although neither Ginny nor the princess had never before set eyes upon the Legate, there was no disguising (to Ginny) a detestable grin unmistakably reminiscent of Lucius Malfoy, and the princess recognized, in outrage, what the man held in his hands...

The mighty horse-head staff of the Iceni!

Despite having no realistic hope of defeating a competent wizard wielding such a weapon, there was no time for doubt or hesitation. Ginny attacked with immediate desperate urgency. Stunners erupted from her wand with a great flaming power that her fourteen-year-old self could never have dreamed of... but the Legate had his shield in place in the merest blink of an eye, his smile not losing even a hint of its oily lustre.

With surging anger, Ginny released a torrent of offensive spells she had barely even heard of — incendio, reductor, and a choice array of penetrating and concussive spells intended to bring down her opponent's infuriating shield... but drawing from the strength of the staff, the barrier held under the onslaught, and the Legate began to sneer, mockingly.

“Fight, you sniveling coward!” Ginny shouted, hoping to goad him into offensive spells that would require him to lower his shield.

The Legate merely grinned lasciviously. “Your head is far too pretty to bother itself over the pathetic, dying prisoner below. Come away with me, my sweet thing. I can take care of you in a fashion no Publican could ever dream of! Lay down your wand and accompany me to my villa, where you may feed my many appetites.”

“You bastard!” She unleashed a visceral shriek that tore through the night, and launched a terrifying barrage of explosive spells that drove the no-longer-smiling Legate to his knees...

Suddenly, cutting across the fury of the battle, Ginny's heart was pierced with an acute pang of bitterest desolation!


Transfixed in morbid fascination, Harry stared at the tip of the wand brandished by his dispassionate doppleganger. Harry then lifted his gaze to address the barren eyes of his captor — two glittering beads of shattered obsidian embedded in ice.

Harry opened his mouth. He wanted to ask the young man what terrible insecurity or fear could drive a wizard, without provocation, to kill an unarmed man?

Neither Harry nor the Publican could detest the hateful young man. Both felt sorrow for a misguided son, and a regret for not having tried one last time to coax him from seductive darkness.

However, there was no final chance for reconciliation... because, Tio would not entertain second thoughts.

In a voice of preternatural, mesmerising coldness, the young man calmly pronounced, “Avada...”


Ginny was floating. Somewhere dim and cold. Nondescript. Meaningless.

Where was she?

Was she dead?

Perhaps...

But what had she died from? A broken heart?

From failure?

Something within Ginny had deflated like the weary compunction of a leaking balloon. Although there were many aspects of her life in which Ginny might have imagined faltering, this was a commitment where abject failure had seemed utterly inconceivable.

Had she had broken her promise?

Had she truly let him fall?

Perhaps on some level Harry would know that she had tried… He would understand about inevitable delays with the queen and the Druid wouldn't he? He would surely not fault her for succumbing to the Legate's artful obstruction?

For a moment, anger broke through the nearly impenetrable shell of cold numbness. How could she have let herself become embroiled in those exasperating delays? At the worst possible time?! Should she have landed on the ramparts in the first place? Could there have been some other way? What had she overlooked?

Now she would never know. This failure was absolute and forever, wasn't it? There could be no second chance, because in the instant that the first syllable of the killing curse had welled within some evil man's throat; at the very moment that the first pulses of green glowing hatred had coalesced in the inhuman monster's wand, Ginny knew that the Publican's life was about to end. And, although she had no real way of comprehending why that should have meant so tremendously much to her, she had now somehow grasped that an irrevocable die had been cast in the struggle of light and dark. The repercussions would extend many many centuries after the Publican and the princess went to their graves. For Ginny now truly understood that the death of the Publican meant that her best friend ever... would never be born.

There comes a point in devastation where there are no tears to shed, nor eyes to shed them. At that point, all that remains is a weariness, so ponderous that it will ever be unimaginable to those who live and struggle and strive.

Yet when Ginny recalled within her mind a voice of distant memory, saying,

There is nothing left now.

Please take me away.

She did not fade into black nothingness. Instead Ginny found herself reflecting upon an extraordinary young man who had brought meaning to her life; who had shared with her that quiet humour, modesty and compassion; who was the wizarding world's only remaining hope. He had come to her in his hour of need, seeking her helping hand so that he could bring hope to a nation teetering on the brink.

Harry had asked from her a favour, and she had made a promise.

Had she truly broken her promise? Was the favour forever voided? Would Harry never ask for anything more? Was he, himself, no more? Had he vanished from history?

Yet… if Harry Potter never existed, then how could she now be regretting her failure to him? How could she think of him at all? How could he possibly still find a way to fill her heart with some very distant (but real!) memories of joy?

Ginny focused her thoughts on simple remembrance — his perennially mussed hair, his slender hands upon a wand, his piercing eyes... In her reverie, she found she could thrust back the insidious thoughts of a world that had never contained her best friend ever. She could dispel the ghastly dystopic images of skulls, and the horrible marching, chanting children… because those were all lies!

In recognizing the lies, Ginny finally reaffirmed the truth.

“Harry...” As Ginny spoke, her voice became substance, regaining strength and clarity. “I will never let you fall.”

So utterly convinced was Ginny of this inalienable fact, that she was not the least bit startled to feel the rough but reassuring hide of a thestral braced between her legs, and the cold moonlit breeze whipping through her hair.

Bracing herself with all her strength, she crushed herself low against her loyal steed and willed it onward, onward, and downward!

Because Ginny had a promise to keep!


In the razor-sharp instant when fate hangs in the balance, always open your eyes. This is the moment when distractions fall away, and one may gaze plainly upon the face of truth.

Truth, to the Publican, was that his princess would not fail him.

Truth, to Harry, was that Ginny would not let him fall.

Truth to us all, however, is that only a fool does naught to help himself.

Neither the Publican nor Harry were fools.

The ancient utterance, 'Kedavra ', still clung to the taut air of the subterranean cell as Harry's muscles jolted with a shot of adrenaline. His eyes ablaze, Harry leaped down and to the side. One wrist and knee hit the ground rolling, as his other hand lashed out to grasp Tio's wand arm, hauling the startled captor off balance. Together, they collided with the cowering Mus, and the three men careened headlong into the far wall.

As they staggered, the wayward killing curse pulsed belatedly from Tio's wand, blasting the ceiling at the very juncture where a thunderous crash struck from above. The spot where the three men had stood an instant before suddenly rained with tons of hard, heavy stone.

Amidst the chaos, Harry extracted himself from the dazed figures of the Publican's two sons and squinted through the swirling dust. In the center of the cell block, presiding over a great pile of rubble and bathed in the silvery moonlight shining down from the open sky above, was a sight that nearly made him cry out with joy.

“You have a flair for grand entrances!” Harry grinned as he accepted Ginny's hand and leaped onto the thestral's back.

“I always liked your style too,” Ginny replied with a laugh. “And this time I don't even have to steal you a wand.”

For a moment Harry had no idea what she was talking about, but then he looked at his hand... and blinked. Somehow in all of the struggle and mayhem, he had walked away with the wand that had nearly murdered him.


Hermione rolled over, stretched, and opened her eyes to a rosy predawn glow peaking in around the curtain. She gazed across the room...

... and gaped.

“Blo...!” Hermione coughed away the raw expletive. “Blazing heck, Harry! What are you doing here?? After the close shave last night, I wake up and find...?!” A vein raised unattractively on her forehead. “Urrrghh!! You two are impossible!”

From his perch on the side of the chamber's other bed, Harry didn't stir or budge. His smiling eyes were far too occupied gazing down to the equally happy face of his best friend, whose own eyes beamed admiringly upwards with great ardour.

After a while, a quizzical look flickered across Harry's forehead as he realized that someone had spoken. He cocked his head. “Are we impossible, Gin'? Is that what all this is?”

“Impossible? Hmmm...” Ginny pursed her lips. “No Harry. Fairly inexplicable, to be sure, but there's no such thing as complete impossibility.”

“Right.” Harry nodded thoughtfully to Ginny. “No Hermione, we're not impossible — just inexplicable.”

Hermione gawked at them for a long moment.

Finally, she closed her mouth and huffed loudly. “I bloody well hope not,” she declared, with no further attempt to suppress the epithet, “because I know two people who are going to have a bit of explaining to do today!”

Back to index


Chapter 7: Hope

Author's Notes:

It's fascinating how a few small points in a plot map can suddenly expand into a full blown chapter! I admit that it's taking me forever to get to the Ministry of Magic, but hopefully you'll find the plot and character development in this chapter to be worthwhile!

It also took me longer than usual to write the thing because life has been outrageously busy. That may continue for a while, but this story has momentum right now, so it will remain a high priority.


Chapter 7. Hope (August 11, 1995)

Ginny took a seat at the breakfast table and gratefully accepted a cup of tea from Harry.

Hermione accepted neither a seat nor tea. She paced near the door, her gaze flitting between Harry at the stove, and the corridor which, at this early hour, was still deserted. After about a minute, she huffed and turned to glare at her two friends. “Okay, out with it! I don't think anyone else is awake, and we'll probably have a half hour before the others come down, so come on — I want full disclosure!”

Ginny smiled sweetly. “Out with what? What should we be disclosing?”

“Secrets!” Hermione resumed pacing. “I've been kept in the dark long enough, waiting, helping you, covering for Merlin knows what — you owe me a complete explanation.”

Harry held up a handful of field mushrooms, checking them for bruises, then shrugged. “Secrets? Explanation? Ah, well I hardly meant to be secretive about it, but the explanation for this morning's special breakfast is that today is Ginny's birthday.”

“Oh!” Hermione's hand flew to her her mouth. Wide-eyed, she turned to Ginny. “Oh my, I completely forgot! Ginny, I'm so sorry!”

Ginny grinned. “Don't be, Hermione! Harry's the only one determined to make a fuss over it. I'm fairly certain now that my entire family forgot.”

“So is that why you came to our room this morning, Harry?” Hermione wrung her hands as she resumed her pacing. “I feel terrible. It never once occurred to me that you just came down to wish a happy birthday. I thought…”

Ginny laughed. “No silly! Harry was there because of secrets! Deep, dark, eerie secrets like the ones we haven't been disclosing to you.”

“Oh… er, secrets?” Hermione scratched her head. “I, uh, well now that you mention it… ummm...” She took a seat at the table and glanced uncertainly toward her two friends.

Ginny smirked as she slid a cup of tea toward the older girl. “Well, seeing as how nicely she asked, and how helpful she's been, do you suppose we should fill her in a bit, Harry?”

“Yes, I suppose we might as well,” Harry replied as he finished sprinkling herbs over a tray of ripe tomatoes. He turned to face the two girls. “Again, it's not that we were deliberately trying to keep you guessing, it's just that things have been rather confusing, even for us, and would have been hard to explain. We're still hazy or clueless on a lot of details, but at least we're finally starting to gather enough ideas to be able to offer a rough sketch.”

Ginny nodded. “Agreed. Why don't you start, Harry?”

“Sure.” Harry turned to face Hermione. “As you probably guessed, this relates to dreams that both Ginny and I have been having. Very vivid and detailed dreams...” He paused for a moment to slide the tray of mushrooms and tomatoes into the oven and begin warming a skillet. Taking a seat at the table across from Hermione, he resumed. “Obviously Ginny and I are aware of each other's dreams. But what you might not have fully grasped is that she and I are sharing dreams.”

Hermione frowned. “Sharing? Like you tell her about yours, then she describes hers to you?”

Ginny shook her head emphatically. “No, real sharing, in the sense of one dream with two participants! Harry appears in my dreams just as if we were going on adventures together in real life, and I show up in his.”

Harry nodded. “As a result, the morning after a dream, we can sit and compare notes. Now that we've been doing it for a while, we often remember a lot of the same details.”

Ginny waggled her tea spoon to interject. “Similar details yes, but our recollections aren't identical. It's like we're seeing the same dream through different eyes. I imagine the same thing would happen if, say, he and I were to go for a walk down to Black Lake together. On the way there, he might notice the birds and the sky, while maybe I'd remember the trees and the flowers.”

Harry fixed her with a quizzical look. “You prefer trees and flowers?”

“Stay on task!” Hermione thumped the table, then jumped at the unexpectedly loud noise. She paused for a moment to listen for any resulting sounds from the rest of the household. Things remained quiet, but she lowered her voice just in case. “Okay, so what are you dreaming about? Romans and Britons?”

“Yes, there's that, and also...” Harry trailed off distractedly. Without resuming, he stood, returned to the stove and began placing bangers onto the hot griddle.

Hermione followed him with her eyes. “Yes, please continue.”

Happy and relaxed only a minute ago, Harry's eyes had taken on a grim cast. He stared blankly at the pan for a moment then straightened up to look questioningly at Ginny. She smiled her most reassuring smile, so Harry forged onwards. “Okay, well I'm also... dreaming about my own death.”

Hermione gaped at him. “What? Er, you're…? When…?”

Harry pushed the sausages toward the side of the frying pan with a fork, and laid crumpets to brown in the hot center. Both girls watched — Hermione with impatience and Ginny with concern.

Hermione cleared her throat softly. “Can you tell me about your dream, Harry? How do you die? When?”

Harry's eyes scanned the cooking food one more time, then he returned to his seat and cradled his tea thoughtfully for a long moment. Finally, he raised his eyes to meet Hermione's inquiring look, then gazed off distantly. “The death dream varies from night to night, but it seems to take place a few years in the future. Last night I finally heard a date. It was 1998.”

Harry took a long drink of tea, then pinned Hermione with a sharp glance. “It seems that I'll likely die dueling Voldemort.”

Hermione gasped.

Ginny regarded the shocked girl sympathetically and nodded solemnly. “I suppose the thought of another terrible confrontation between Harry and Riddle is almost to be expected, considering how their paths are constantly crossing…”

Ginny's eyes strayed inadvertently toward Harry… his stoic face… those ever-expressive eyes… and her breath caught. Ginny coughed slightly to ease the lump in her throat, and forced herself back onto the original train of thought.

“It's strange…” Ginny's voice sounded distant, almost like a breeze rustling in high branches, then it strengthened again. “The thought of the dream was getting me just now. But for the most part it's not been so awful lately. The last couple of times I experienced it, the imagery was, well, tolerable. It feels to me like Harry and I aren't there to die, or even to watch anybody die, but rather to solve a mystery.”

Harry nodded, but Hermione stared. “A mystery?” she asked.

Ginny put a finger to her lip for a moment. “Yes, a mystery. Something in that scene is not what it's supposed to be. It feels like the story should have a happy ending; like Harry isn't really supposed to die, and in his dream state he knows it.”

Ginny regarded Harry thoughtfully for a moment and also nodded. “Yes, I do believe that's correct — in the dream Harry is truly supposed to win! He's the picture of confidence. Everyone around is paralyzed with fear; I'm bloody terrified; even Riddle looks scared, but Harry is so calm.” Ginny's voice quivered slightly, but she persisted. “It's like Harry is absolutely certain that he has a key advantage over Riddle.”

Harry tapped his tea cup, staring at a few leaf fragments that had escaped the bag and were swirling around. “Well, whatever I'm certain about, it must be misleading… because I do invariably wind up dead.”

Hermione's eyes flared; she shook her head hard, sending a mound of thick curly hair tumbling over her face, but she whipped it aside. “Harry, this is daft! You know very well that you're terrible at Divination! I'll grant that you've had some scarily accurate dreams about the present, but these visions of the future have about as much chance of coming true as they would if Trelawney had read them from her dander flakes!”

Harry smirked, but Hermione barreled on heedlessly. “Have you considered that maybe the visions are non-magical? It could be a plain old recurring nightmare — terrible but meaningless. Or maybe it's something worse! Maybe Voldemort is messing with your thoughts, trying to break your will!”

Ginny glared at her. “If so, then old snake-lips hasn't got so much to be chuffed about, yeah?!”

Harry grinned at his friend's blazing defiance. He shook his head in agreement. “No, Hermione, if this is Voldemort's scheme to tear us down, I'd say it's going bust. A couple weeks ago, everything in my life seemed to be plummeting toward despair, but this has completely changed my outlook. There's a puzzle in there somewhere, and we're going to crack it! You may feel I'm daft, but so be it! I know there's a hard road ahead, but I haven't felt so confident in… in… well, never!”

“All that because of dreams Harry?” Hermione replied with a raised eyebrow. “Sure you've been cheerful lately, but I'm sure that's only because you're in...”

Hermione froze, leaving the statement to hang self-consciously. She chanced a nervous glance, first at Ginny then Harry, wondering whether they were going to ask her to complete the sentence, but both seemed to be lost in their own thoughts, not paying her much attention. Knowing she'd been saved from an indiscretion, Hermione quietly exhaled, closed her mouth and tried to appear inconspicuous.

Ginny sipped her tea and shrugged. “Frankly Hermione, we didn't really figure that you or anyone else would believe us. It took us a while to convince even ourselves that the dreams were worth believing, so we've been in no rush to foist them on anyone else. No point in getting ourselves branded a pair of nutters.”

Harry smiled equivocally. “I'm not going to argue the point about Divination. No way you would catch me claiming this future Voldemort duel dream as a prophesy. But the one thing I simply can't ignore is how wildly realistic and accurate the dreams from the past have been.”

“Exactly!” Ginny leaned forward enthusiastically. “All of a sudden Harry and I are spouting loads of very specific details about Roman era Britain that neither of us had ever read or been taught about. People, places, customs...”

“Right!” Harry rose to finish breakfast preparations. “We've even learned new magic. The Romans and the Britons had a lot of different spells back then and Ginny and I have been picking some of them up. The techniques are fascinating!”

“New magic?” Hermione blinked in surprise. “You think you're learning new spells in your dreams?”

Harry and Ginny both nodded.

“But how can you be sure they aren't purely imaginary?”

Harry laughed. “Well, it's true that I haven't gone off and tested many of them while I've been awake. I'm already facing one underage magic hearing, if you'll recall...”

“Pah!” Ginny waved him away. “We could show her a few, don't you think? There's so much magic dripping off the walls in this place, there's no way the Ministry would detect the occasional underage spell here. You should have seen the stuff Fred and George used to get away with at the Burrow, without even the slightest peep from the Magical Law Enforcement.”

“No! Harry, Ginny, please don't try anything. Things are bad enough already!” Hermione shook her head emphatically. “But as I said, if you haven't tested the spells, you have no way of knowing they're not imaginary.”

“Agreed — we'll try to behave ourselves Hermione, but to answer your earlier question, remember that I said I haven't tested 'many '.”

Hermione stared at him. “You mean you've tried something? From a dream??”

Emaculo!” Ginny whistled softly in recollection. “It's a beautiful spell!”

Harry prodded at the crumpets with his spatula to loosen several from the bottom of the pan, then put the utensil down to return his attention to the table. He nodded. “Yes, Emaculo. The healing spell.”

“It's easy, powerful and very useful. It makes Episkey seem like salt and sandpaper by comparison,” Ginny said with a grin to Hermione. “We can teach it you when school starts.”

Hermione blinked. “Wasn't that… the spell you cast the night Ginny hit her head?”

Harry and Ginny both nodded.

“Oh my.” Hermione gazed blindly toward the pantry. “You really are learning completely new things, aren't you…?”

Ginny and Harry exchanged a momentary glance. Ginny mouthed something inaudible out of Hermione's line of sight, and Harry nodded.

“So, I'm with Harry in saying that we're not claiming to really predict the future...” Ginny paused for a moment as Hermione snapped out of her reverie, then continued. “But one thing we've both found fascinating and mysterious is that the amazingly vivid dreams of the past seem to have an influence on the dreams of the future.”

Hermione scratched her head. “Er, can you run that by me again please?”

Harry leaned forward to catch Hermione's attention. “It's like there's some dreamland equivalent of cause and effect. If the wrong things happened in ancient Britannia, then the situation in 1998 will really fall apart.”

Ginny nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, and it seems that if we fix the right problems with the Celts and the Romans, the conditions in our own dream future get better.”

“This sounds so preposterous.” Hermione exhaled wearily, massaging her eyes. “The two of you are thumping about at all hours of the night helping each other interfere with one set of dreams so that you can make a different set of dreams turn out better?”

Harry and Ginny exchanged another glance. Ginny rolled her eyes dramatically, and Harry smirked.

“To be honest, I don't much care whether or not you think there's any substance to this, Hermione,” Harry said as he began assembling breakfast plates. “At the very least, it's been an interesting diversion. Touring around Roman era Britain is a far sight more entertaining than getting slimed by Gobstones or listening to Weasleys snipe at each other. Er, aside from Ginny, that is!”

Ginny sniffed theatrically. “I'm so touched that you find my sniping entertaining, Harry!”

Harry and Ginny shared a quick laugh, but after a moment Ginny's face reverted to an earnest, engaged expression, and she leaned in close to Hermione. “Seriously though, these dreams aren't just fascinating. They feel so real that when things go well in one of them, it seems like a huge accomplishment. I'd swear, Hermione, that when things go well in our dream or we find out something interesting, there's this rush of adrenaline — almost as if we're truly doing something useful to thwart Riddle!”

“You may well be,” Hermione said, just as her mouth disappeared behind a tea cup.

Harry blinked. “I'm sorry, could you repeat that please?”

“I said that you may well be doing something to fight Riddle.” Hermione lowered her tea and shrugged. Waving off their surprise, she poured herself a fresh cup and blew on it before resuming. “If you recall, I didn't say that it truly was preposterous — I just thought it sounded that way.”

Ginny burst out laughing. “Okay, I'll grant you that! As a bystander to most of the Harry Potter capers to date, I have to admit that they've all sound a bit outrageous.”

Harry chuckled as he began circling the table, laying down breakfast-laden plates at their places.

Hermione tapped her chin thoughtfully. “One thing in particular makes this all rather strange but very compelling, Ginny. That is this whole thing about you and Harry actually experiencing the same dreams.” She pursed her lips thoughtfully. “Are you certain you're not imagining all that? You're aware of the power of suggestion, aren't you?”

“We're not deluding ourselves,” Ginny stated. “When Harry and I compare notes after a night of dreams, we're like two gossips whispering over tea, digging slightly different shades of dirt on the same story. Until last night, that is...”

“Why not last night?” Hermione lowered her gaze to her plate for a moment. “Oh! Lovely breakfast, Harry.”

“Thanks Hermione!” Harry smiled as he took a seat and met Hermione's inquisitive gaze. “Last night was different in that we didn't share much of our dream time. Our dream characters were sundered by circumstance… until the end.”

Ginny huffed. “End indeed! It was damn near the end of us, too! We can't let them go off in different directions like that again, Harry! We both knew full well it was a bad idea to separate. Look what a blasted mess it nearly caused!”

“Well, yes and no.” Harry's head bobbed equivocally. “We managed to salvage things at the end, and maybe they truly needed to break apart for a while. I learned some interesting and puzzling things that I might not have discovered if the princess had been present to moderate the Publican's judgment. But I admit fully that if we'd lost the Publican right now, it probably would be disastrous for us. It's also clear that he misjudged the situation. From what I could tell, he truly did have a bad feeling about splitting off like that, but despite the fact that you and I had all that foreboding about Camboricum, his worries were misplaced. He was fretting dreadfully that the princess and the queen would be ambushed by the plotters. It never seemed to occur to him that he was the one who would need rescuing. He basically hoped that maybe he would be able to rush down to the garrison, bequeath his responsibilities to the empire, and then race back north to rejoin the princess, hopefully before anything bad happened to her.”

“Yes, well obviously not, yeah? But you do plan to tell me what happened, right Harry?” A harder edge had crept into Ginny's voice than she intended, but her face quickly softened. “You gave me such a fright. Twice!”

“Sorry.” Harry smiled contritely, before continuing. “So, yes, we definitely need to go through as much detail as possible and brainstorm about it, but not yet, okay? Let's first enjoy your birthday breakfast!” Harry gestured toward Ginny's untouched plate.

Ginny gave a small rueful laugh. “Sorry — you've gone to all this trouble, and I keep obsessing about dreams!”

“Don't be sorry! I put us both through a rough ride last night, and now I'm trying to make up for it.” Harry paused a long moment to savour a tender mushroom. “Mmmm! So, did you learn anything interesting while you were up north?”

“Learn?” Ginny gazed distantly for a moment. “That's a tough question. Did I see anything interesting? Yes! Did I hear anything interesting? Absolutely! But, did I learn anything…?”

“So the story got a bit confusing?” Harry surmised.

“Well, let's say a few things left me a bit mystified.” Ginny sliced her tomato thoughtfully. “Did you realize that the thestral we rode was sentient?”

“Oh really? Helpful sentience or just, like you said, mystifying?

“Both! It was really the thestral that rescued you. He was acting completely on his own in charging straight through the wall and floor to break you out of there.” Ginny smiled in contrition. “Everything leading up to that was all bollixed; my own plan failed miserably. I have no idea how or why he took charge, but I'm bloody grateful Harry! I really thought for a moment that it was all over...”

Harry pushed back from the table for a moment, steepling his fingers. “Don't sell yourself short, Gin'. Maybe the thestral was feeding off your subconscious — kind of like my wand does at times. Every once in a while, in the tightest spots, it fires off spells without me realizing it.”

“Could be… but I don't think so Harry. I just get the feeling that the thestral felt some vested interest in the outcome and basically decided to overrule me.” Ginny paused for a moment to stare at her plate. “But is that even possible? Has anything been written about whether thestrals have intelligence, Hermione?”

Ginny and Harry both turned to their unexpectedly subdued friend. “Hermione?” Harry prompted. “Hermione? Yoo hoo! Is there anybody in there?”

Hermione's shell-shocked stare tracked slowly from Harry, to Ginny and back again. Slowly, she blinked her round eyes and her throat rasped a bit as she finally spoke. “You dreamed all that?”

Harry gave her a quizzical look. “Er, yes. That and a lot more.”

Hermione shook her head. “This is incredible! It's silly to call it gossip — you two sound just like old friends rehashing a memorable vacation!”

“Vacation??” Ginny grinned. “Oh no no no Hermione! Adventure, maybe, but last night was certainly no vacation.”

Hermione nodded. “Sorry, poor metaphor. But this level of detail is extraordinary!”

“That's what we tried to tell you earlier,” Harry agreed. “Now eat your breakfast, Hermione. It's getting cold!”

Hermione stared at her forgotten plate; she picked up her fork then paused. “Wait Ginny… we still never really discussed how you could possibly be sharing dreams with Harry.”

Harry gazed at Hermione unconcernedly. “Yes, well it's an interesting question but we really don't have much to go on yet. I guess for the time being we'll just have to chalk it up as one of life's little mysteries. Right Gin' ?”

Harry and Hermione turned to find that Ginny had frozen in mid-chew.

“Is that correct, Ginny?” Hermione asked. “You have no idea how it is that you're getting caught up in Harry's dreams?”

Ginny held her rigid pose for another few seconds, before finally finishing her mouthful and taking a long drink of pumpkin juice.

“Well, I… So, you see...” Words, suddenly, did not seem to be Ginny's strong point. For lack of a good phrase, Ginny finally reached inside the pouch of her cardigan. She hesitated for a moment, then pulled out a silver brooch...


Hermione growled and slammed the book back onto the shelf… then gaped in horror. A small new crack had formed on its centuries-old binding!

“Sorry,” she whispered plaintively, gently fingering the crack. For a moment she thought of using her wand for a simple Reparo spell, but quickly reminded herself of Harry's underage magic hearing tomorrow.

With a final apologetic glance at the book, she turned and slumped into the chair by the cold library fireplace. She took a deep breath and scowled; her ire focused not on the three remaining tomes on the table beside her, but rather on the two friends she had been arguing with earlier.

“Irresponsible, inconsiderate, impetuous…" Chewing furiously on a loose lock of hair, Hermione reached for the nearest book, and continued to mutter to herself. "Ginny, Harry, if I find out that your blasted little chunk of silver is even the slightest bit dangerous, I swear I will kill you!”

With nobody else around to point out her hypocrisy, she took another calming breath and opened (somewhat more carefully) the “Encyclopedia of Ancient Magic”; leafing her way toward the end of the C's.

Cupla mysticum: charmed object designed to communicate emotions from the object's owner to the object's bearer (frequently a relative or loved one). The magic underlying Cupla charms was considered to be basic but very effective, enabling the transmission of simple communications over vast distances. In most cases, only vague sentiments could be conveyed although, in rare instances of superior craftsmanship, the exchange of complex emotions, images or even messages may have been possible.

The magical concept underlying the Cupla Mysticum was believed to have originated during the time of Alexander the Great (ca. apprx. 350 B.C.E.), and likely spread to Roman wizards via the Ptolemaic Academy of Magic. The use of Cuplae likely peaked in the Roman Empire sometime around the reign of Emperor Hadrian (117 — 138 A.D.), but began falling into disuse shortly thereafter, as the Roman magical community became increasingly insular, with minimal participation in Roman Imperial affairs. The last known written specifications for the fabrication of Cuplae Mystica were lost in the Theophilline destruction of the great Library of Alexandria (391 A.D.).

Hermione scrunched her face reflectively at reading yet another description of what appeared to be harmless light magic. By all accounts she'd found, it seemed that Ginny and Harry might indeed be right. The brooch itself might truly be both innocuous and helpful.

But that did not excuse their recklessness!

Hermione still couldn't fathom how Ginny could let herself use a strange magical object to connect with Harry's dreams without telling him. And Harry…?! Upon seeing the brooch, had he recognized the risks of a young, inexperienced girl employing an unproven, potentially dangerous charm to tap into his private subconscious? No, of course not! Harry had merely laughed — as if this was merely a delightfully simple resolution to some amusing brain teaser!

Needless to say, Hermione had not found the situation as amusing as Harry might have… and her bad mood had proven fairly contagious. Hermione hadn't really meant to start a controversy; she had only been looking out for everyone's best interests when she had requested that the brooch be taken away so that Professor Dumbledore or Lupin could examine it for dark magic, but the proposal had not been well received. Especially by Harry...

This is not some Christmas gift broom stick to mess with, Hermione! There's more than a Quidditch match at stake this time — our very survival could hinge on that thing, and who's to say what critical events we might miss while some disbelieving adult goes off to tinker with it!”

Hermione's eyes stung as memories of the bitter Firebolt episode from third year streamed back to her. Low blow, Harry — that hurt!

But happily for all, that had been the worst of it. The vitriol had evapourated fairly quickly. The situation had proceeded to get better; calmer heads had prevailed, and Hermione was (despite some residual anger) very relieved to avoid a reincarnation of one of the infamous spats from years past.

Hermione wondered for a moment if, in the last year, she and Harry had matured, and were starting to learn how to resolve arguments like calm adults? Perhaps that was part of it, but Hermione also had to admit that there was one other key difference now. They had swapped Weasleys within the trio… and the whole dynamic had shifted.

Hermione pushed her hair back from her face, contemplating how things had changed. For reasons she didn't fully grasp, Hermione truly still had a soft spot in her heart for Ron. She couldn't help but admire how Ron set his convictions and stuck by them — rather like his own mother — but the more Hermione thought about it, the more she understood that in a constant swirl of shifting circumstance, it was the flexible pragmatist who could best keep the peace and get things done. Indeed, among the younger folk in this house, that was proving to be Ginny.

Although Hermione often found herself thinking of Ginny as a sweet but naive younger 'sister', she had to admire the maturity the girl had shown this morning. In the course of Hermione's nearly ten minute diatribe, she knew that Ginny's initial contrition had to be giving way to anger… but Ginny had managed to defy the Weasley way. She had not let personal feelings get in the way of common sense.

Indeed, with Ginny at the table, the three of them had (despite some edgy words) worked past their differences and managed to achieve a viable truce. Hermione had backed down from requiring that the brooch be immediately turned over for examination. In exchange, Harry and Ginny had agreed to at least put the charm securely out of reach until after tomorrow's visit to the Ministry.

Now, as morning stretched past noon, Hermione felt her bitterness and stridency continue to lighten. In fact, as she put down the encyclopedia and massaged her temples, she actually sensed the corner of her mouth begin to curl upward a little in satisfaction. After all, Harry and Ginny had left the breakfast table acknowledging that a broochless day and night might be a good thing. They would probably get a welcome break from distractions, as well as the good night's sleep they needed in order to have a productive trip to the Ministry tomorrow.

Correspondingly, Hermione now could admit her own bit of personal growth. She was actually finding more relief than annoyance in uncovering more and more evidence to suggest that perhaps her instinctive worries about the brooch were unfounded. Yes, this was one time when it was good to be wrong — if her friends were safe, then she didn't need to be right.

Hermione's mouth slid into a genuine smile. Sometimes one had to take a step back and cherish life's little victories…

That, however, did not mean that her work was done. She rose and reshelved the books on ancient charms, and turned her attention to prowling the shelves, tracking down one final reference — a book of condensed biographies of famous wizards and witches.

Settling back into her chair, she began scanning the index, searching for the name she had seen inscribed on the brooch.

Peasegood… Pennifold… Penrose… Perkins… Peverell…

Hermione frowned. The inscription had said “P. Peverellivs”, but Harry (whose suddenly detailed grasp of Roman culture and society both amused and somewhat irked her) had reminded her that Imperial Latin did not employ the “v” consonant sound, suggesting that the proper transliteration was Peuerellius.

But then Ginny (whose acquisition of the subtleties of old Gaelic had also piqued Hermione's curiosity and envy) had reminded both of them that the Britons had a habit of condensing or splitting Latin diphthongs. In a Celtic culture without Latin educators, the pronunciation of a name like Peuerellius would probably evolve after a few generations. Exactly what it would change to was difficult to predict, but Petherellis, Pefferells or Peerlis were all possible. So were Peverellis and even Peverell.

Hermione browsed back to the P's, and located the following:

Peverell, Antioch ( ? - ? ). See 'Peverell, brothers'.

Peverell, brothers. The three brothers Peverell, Antioch, Cadmus and Ignotus, were semi-mythical wizards of reputedly prodigious magical skill and ambition. As featured in Beedle the bard's famous children's fairy story, “Tale of Three Brothers” (see 'Beedle, the bard'), the brothers Peverell were depicted as having encountered and attempted to inveigle a ghostly personification of death. In the course of this confrontation, the brothers supposedly brought into human possession three powerful magical artifacts, including the Wand of Destiny, the Resurrection Stone and the Cloak of Invisibility (sometimes referred to collectively as the 'Deathly Hallows').

While such a death personification is almost certainly fanciful, the existence of the Peverell family was documented in antiquity, and magical historian Edessa Skanderberg (see separate listing) wrote in 1498 that the dialogue between the brothers Peverell and 'Death' was most likely a metaphor for dealings with one of the dark magic cults that have existed in European society for most of written history. The existence of three artifacts bearing the superior powers attributed to the Deathly Hallows is unproven and doubtful, but the Peverell family was recognized throughout the first millennium A.D. for producing charmed magical objects of exemplary craftsmanship, and may have devised commodities of a formidable nature that might have inspired such fables.

The patrilineal lines of all three Peverell brothers are long extinct, with the last known records of any English wizarding families bearing the Peverell name (probable relations to the youngest brother, Ignotus) dating to the late thirteenth century in Godric's Hollow, West Country. Various families in magical Derbyshire claim matrilineal decent from the second brother, Cadmus. Antioch Peverell, the eldest of the three brothers, was not known to have produced any descendants.

Peverell, Cadmus ( ? - ? ). See 'Peverell, brothers'.

Peverell, Ignotus ( 1214 - 1291 ). Prominent craftsman with widely celebrated mastery of magical charms. A resident of Godric's Hollow, West Country, Ignotus was the last recorded wizard of the male lineage of the British Peverell family, as rendered famous by Beedle the bard's “Tale of Three Brothers” (see also 'Peverell, brothers', and 'Beedle, the bard').

Hermione sat back for a long while, pensively scanning the text and then staring off into the distance. Finally she leaned back over the table and took out a quill and parchment to write a short note.

Ginny,

Some interesting coincidences:

* Brooch inscribed to Peuerellius = Peverell?
* Brooch more powerful than most Cuplae Mystica charms?
* Peverells = masters of charms?
* Peverells lived in Godric's Hollow?
* Potters lived in Godric's Hollow?

I'm writing these down for you in case you have time tomorrow to look into any of these possible connections.

- Hermione

Hermione carefully rolled up the parchment and slipped it into her purse. She sat for a long while, thinking quietly, before finally rising to put the books away and make her way downstairs for a late lunch.


Harry had a pile of books stacked by the side of his bed, and for the past hour he had been gazing haphazardly at various of them, ostensibly trying to learn about the Oracle of Delphi, about dark magic societies in the Early Roman Empire, and various other topics that had flitted through his mind.

But no such luck…

Harry's concentration was probably suffering from the disrupted night and an early morning. He knew his brain would work better if he took a nap but, when it all came down to it, he wasn't sure that he wanted to. He realized that it was all a bit silly, but he was willing to wager that if he was to lie back and close his eyes he would quickly fall asleep and… not dream.

At least, Harry was fairly certain he would not have the right type of dreams. Harry knew that Ginny had hidden the brooch away in a deep corner of her trunk and, if he guessed the implications correctly, that would probably mean that she would no longer be joining his dreams. He also suspected that all those imaginary trips to Roman era Britain, or to the Hogwarts Great Hall of 1998, were quite possibly canceled for the time being.

The brooch, after all, seemed to be the key. He was almost certain now that it was at the very heart of many of the strange, exciting things that had been happening to him and to Ginny since he had arrived here at Grimmauld Place a few days ago. It was very likely the source of the fascinating dreams. It might well have been prompting the surge of renewed optimism he'd been experiencing. Maybe it explained why… a certain someone… had become such an addictive part of his life?

Perhaps.

If, indeed, Harry had started to experience something like addiction, then perhaps he was now beginning to learn what withdrawal was all about — feeling diffuse and distracted; melancholy, uncertain and insecure.

In short, the way he felt today was rather similar to many past days in his young life. Having known confidence, exhilaration and a burgeoning sense of fulfillment, Harry cringed at the thought of what the rest of his (probably short) life might be like if someone took the brooch away.

Alone. Disheartened. Quite possibly doomed.

Cynically, he could sum all of that up in a single phrase... 'Harry Potter'.

Harry shook away the doldrums and girded his resolve. Yes, he was having a bad day. There were plenty of logical reasons why he might feel worn and weary, and most of those reasons did not condemn him to be forever alone, disheartened and doomed.

Even if Ginny had put the brooch away today, there were still many grounds for hope. Ginny was still his friend, after all. She was quite certainly still poring over books herself at this moment, all for the sake of a project that she would never have gotten embroiled in if she didn't care about him.

Or course, it was fair to wonder whether she would ever have gotten embroiled in all of this in the first place if she hadn't found the brooch?

Harry frowned as his mind shifted track onto that still-unexplained issue… how, exactly did Ginny find the brooch??

Ginny herself had no explanation; the best that she could offer was to shrug and say that 'the Publican gave it to her'. She had gone to bed one night having never seen it before, and then woken to find it clutched in her hand.

Needless to say, that had not exactly satisfied Hermione. The thought of how much Hermione bristled at such a preposterous claim, and how Ginny had rolled her eyes theatrically in response, was enough to bring a smile to Harry's face.

For a moment.

Then he stopped smiling. He was too tired.

Grumbling to himself, he finally pushed the book away, kicked off his shoes, and stretched out flat on the bed. Closing his eyes, he let go of the six different trains of thought competing for access to his mind, and let his other senses wash over him. He felt his heavy head sinking into a down pillow. The quilt somehow felt far softer than he had remembered it — warmly ensconcing his aching limbs. The usual inane noises from around the house buzzed lightly in his weary ears… Ron and the twins bickering about something in the drawing room... the portrait of Mrs. Black cursing and groaning down near the entranceway...

Entranceway…?

Funny, there was no shrouded portrait in the entranceway. The room was actually rather quiet. Harry paused to listen carefully, and could make out no sounds except footsteps… his own footsteps, tapping rhythmically along a hard polished floor. Puzzled, he looked around and realized that the entranceway must have been remodeled — the room was much longer, narrowed and darker. The peeling wallpaper and worn carpet were gone…

As Harry walked along, his eyes adjusted to the dim light and he focused on the only feature he could detect in the otherwise unadorned corridor — a plain black door set at the far wall.

Harry had seen that door before, though he couldn't quite remember when. Perhaps he had seen it in a dream. The dream must have been some time ago, though — back before he had started having more interesting ones about princesses, duels, horse-headed staves and thestrals who crashed through ceilings.

For a moment Harry thought about the princess and Ginny. In that brief moment, he dearly missed them both… but he quickly pushed them out of his mind. This was not their dream! Wherever it was that Harry had found himself, he did not want to drag them along because, frankly, he did not want to be here himself!

Unfortunately, Harry was too tired to resist. His feet kept carrying him, one step after another, onward, forward. The forbidding black door at the end of the corridor grew closer, larger.

Hairs prickled on the back of his neck. He once again found himself wrestling; his brain locked in a losing battle with compulsive legs.

Harry tensed himself, attempting to retreat, but failed to halt his progress. Frustration tore at him. “I don't want to be here!”

Stay Harry.

Harry gasped at the subliminal voice.

Come along through the door, Harry.

“No! This is not my dream! I'm going to wake up now!”

Stay… You're going to stay, because you are ever so curious… aren't you Harry?

“No!”

Surely you want to know what's behind that door?

“No! I don't care!”

Yet Harry's hand was already reaching for the door. He pushed the cold dark slab inwards… and he found himself stepping across the threshold into an eerie circular room. In the dim light, he gazed down at a gleaming polished floor that reflected twelve flickering blue candle flames and eleven black doors identical to the one he had just stepped through.

Still struggling, Harry staggered and lurched toward the center of the chamber… He stumbled to one knee, grunted… then burst upright again! He whipped around, back toward the entranceway…

And saw the door closing! He lunged for it just as…

SLAM!!

“Oi mate! Easy does it!”

Blinking like mad, it took Harry several seconds to resolve the figure in front of him. It was Ron. His hands raised defensively in front of him, the tall boy wore a sheepish look on his face. “Sorry Harry — didn't mean to wake you! I didn't think you'd be in here; reckoned you'd be off with Ginny or something...”

Harry exhaled and settled back down onto the bed. “No worries, Ron. I'd just dozed off; I must have been dreaming...”

Ron laughed. “Blimey, there's a lot of that going around these days! Why just last night I had this barmy one about you lying in bed… you were snuffling or something, and Gin...” Ron stopped and frowned to himself for a moment. “Anyway, yeah, I had a strange dream myself...”

“Do you suppose this place is all driving us mental?” Harry asked with a chuckle.

“I've, uh, well, been meaning to ask you the same thing. You doing okay, mate?”

Harry met Ron's quizzical gaze. “Sure — things are fine, but thanks for asking, Ron!”

Ron eyed him. “Really? Because, I know you have that thing tomorrow at the Ministry which isn't likely to be much fun, and… you see, this morning I was lying in bed and heard you and Hermione mouthing off at each other.”

“No, things are okay — really!” Harry offed his best artificial smile. “I'm sure tomorrow will go all right, and don't worry about Hermione. She, Ginny and I patched things up before we left the breakfast table.”

“You serious??” Ron scratched his head. “”Hermione doesn't usually give up that easily. Neither do you!”

Harry shrugged. “Give a little; take a little. We're fine mate!”

“If you say so… but listen, if she goes all... Hermione... on you, don't forget that I'm always here for you. I know how to handle her, okay?”

Harry suppressed a smirk. “Sure Ron. I appreciate it.”

Ron sat on his own bed, staring at the floor for a long moment. “Say, about tomorrow…”

“It will be fine, Ron,” Harry assured.

“Er yeah, good… but, uh… So Ginny is going with you and Dad?”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “She's coming along too, yes. Not to the hearing though — she's going to put in some time in the Archives, doing some reading.”

Ron nodded. “Yeah, that.”

Harry gazed at him for a moment as Ron sat silently, uncomfortably, staring at the floor. With the conversation seeming to dwindle, Harry reached for the book he'd been working through a while ago and began hunting for his page.

“Interesting stuff?”

“Huh?” Harry put the book down again and looked over to see Ron watching him.

Ron shuffled his feet. “Er, the stuff Ginny is going to be reading about in the Archives — is it interesting?”

“Sure!” Harry sat up to face Ron again. “Magical society in Britain during the early Roman Empire. Learning about it actually tells us stuff about how things got to be the way they are today.”

“Huh...” Ron did not seem particularly convinced.

“Death Eaters, blood purity — all that seemed to get started around then.”

“Huh...” Ron appeared more pensive this time. “Huhhh. I suppose it beats doing nothing, yeah? Chess, Gobstones and Snap don't seem to be your thing.”

“Too true.” Harry shrugged and began, once again, to leaf through the book.

“Bet you wish we could be playing Quidditch in the paddock, though?”

Harry raised his head to gaze at his mate who wore a wistful, almost plaintive expression. Harry returned a soft smile. “Yeah I do Ron. I'm sure we will again. Someday.”

Ron nodded. He fell silent, fidgeting slightly, but otherwise letting Harry read in peace. After a while, he quietly (almost wearily) rose and left the room.


Ginny's fourteenth birthday had started well enough! Opening up one's eyes to gaze straight into a brilliant pair of green ones — how could one top that?

Not easily, it turns out. The day had rather slumped a bit after that.

Although revealing the brooch had set into motion a spiral of consequences that had thrown things off track, Ginny's conscience kept telling her that she had done the right thing. After all, Harry deserved to know how she had become such an integral part of his dreams, and Hermione would probably have kept doggedly tugging at loose threads, so it made sense not to delay any further. The initial conflagration had left a few scars but the outcome could have been far worse. They had walked away from the table peaceably enough, especially considering that Hermione, other than promising to do some personal research, had agreed not to take any drastic actions.

The only problem was Harry…

No, no, that wasn't right at all!

Harry did keep featuring in Ginny's thoughts, but he certainly wasn't the problem. He had handled the revelation perfectly well — a bit of surprise and a few minutes to synchronize his own memories and knowledge with those of the Publican but, unlike Hermione, Harry had not seemed the least bit upset to discover that Ginny been using it. He had stood by her in countering Hermione, arguing that the charm was very helpful to them, and that no tangible harm had come to anyone from it.

But had that belief been correct after all? Had the brooch truly been harmless?

That question was at the heart of the problem.

Might the brooch instead have been very subtly treacherous and misleading?

This morning, when she and Harry had first awoken to each other's eyes in the sparkling dawn, so many things in their world together had seemed so simple and straightforward. Each of them was the best friend that the other had ever had; they understood each other; they could smile and laugh together as they could with nobody else; each would go to the ends of the Earth (or the ends of time) to protect or save the other.

Then in the moment when, by mutual agreement, Ginny had locked the brooch away in her trunk… everything had changed.

The change was not cataclysmic. Most people would have noticed little difference, but as the morning slogged its way into dreary afternoon, Ginny could sense that things were definitely off, and evening had brought no respite. Harry was still friendly, but he was weary and taciturn. He still smiled at her whenever their paths crossed, but it was clearly his I-want-you-to-think-nothing's-wrong smile. Ginny herself had begun feeling fears and childish insecurities she thought she had long since discarded.

In short, it seemed like she and Harry had suddenly run short of hope.

Several times, when she was supposed to be reading, Ginny had caught herself staring at the trunk into which she had stowed the brooch, asking herself what would happen if she never again picked up those charmed silver wings? Or worse, what would she be left with if the brooch was taken away for study and she never saw it again?

For the time being it seemed, more than anything, that she would be left with questions...

Was the brooch truly the cause of the visions? What did they mean? Where they truly a key to fighting Voldemort, or merely elaborate hallucinations?

Was she truly being helpful to Harry? Without the brooch, would she ever again be of use to him?

Those feelings she had when she was with him… the ones that the brooch helped her believe were being reciprocated… was any of that real?

Ginny exhaled deeply, kicked idly at some clothes strewn on the floor, and finally convinced herself to return to the study desk that her mother had asked Sirius and Lupin to haul into the bedroom.

Taking a seat, she took a book from the top of the stack, opened it to a random spot in front of her… and collapsed, face down onto the page, emitting a long, slow groan of ennui...

“Harry, we need to talk...” she murmured to the paper stuck to her cheek.

Knock knock.

Ginny burst upright. “Who is it?”

An awkward pause, followed by an intake of breath, then... “Er, Ginny… it's me. Is this an okay time to talk?”

HARRY!!!

Ginny leaped across the room, and popped the door open like a Champagne cork.

“Erk!” Bereft of its resting place, Harry's left shoulder lurched through the doorway, pulling the rest of his body into the room. Ginny's hands darted out to steady him, one catching his upper arm, while the other unthinkingly grasped his right hand.

They stood there, blinking at each other in their impromptu embrace.

“Hi...?” Their hesitant queries and shy, bewildered looks almost perfectly coordinated, the pair gazed at each other quizzically for a moment, then emitted light-hearted laughs.

After the cathartic chuckle, Harry offered her a comfortable, relieved smile. “So, have you been doing okay since… you know?”

“Not really. You?”

Harry shook his head. “Kind of glum and, uhh, well, angsty. I suppose some people would say I've been acting like a right old 'Harry Potter '.”

“You? No, that's impossible!” Ginny shook her head sternly, then broke into a grin. “So sir, what brings you down here this evening?”

“Well, as you asked, I jotted down some suggestions for things to look into tomorrow.” Harry decoupled his hand and reached into his back pocket for a parchment to offer her. “But mostly I just wanted to reach out… make sure everything was okay with you and, errr, with us?”

“With us, Harry?” Ginny wore a quizzical expression.

Harry's eyes went suddenly wide, as if he hadn't really thought through this line of conversation. An unintelligible rasp followed; his vocal cords apparently losing much of their resonance.

Having not yet released Harry's upper arm, Ginny squeezed it gently. “I don't know what the brooch may or may not have been doing to us, but it didn't make me do or think anything that I wouldn't have done or thought on my own.” She lowered her gaze and took a fortifying breath. “So, if you meant to ask whether I'm still as keen to help you as I was before putting the brooch away, then the answer is yes."

Taking another breath, she raised her eyes to find Harry nodding. Heartened, she continued with more confidence. "If you're wondering whether I still consider you the perfect best friend I never knew I had, then the answer is yes.”

Despite obvious sincerity in his eyes, Harry could still do little better than mouth a creaky whisper. “Yes!”

She smiled and met his eyes.

He met hers.

Above the coursing beat of her own heart, Ginny distinctly heard her voice (sounding bolder than she ever remembered it) saying, “So, was there anything else that you were going to ask about us, Harry?”

Gazing deeply into those exquisite emerald pools, Ginny inhaled… her lips parted…

Harry closed his eyes; Ginny followed suit and tilted her head back, just a little…

And then Harry spoke.

“Would you, uh, be…?”

Harry's vocal cords were still having difficulty. He coughed awkwardly.

Ginny opened her eyes and peered at him questioningly. She nodded her head slightly, encouraging him to continue.

“I, er…, well, was just wondering if you would…?”

Ginny nodded, wide-eyed.

“… if you'd still be such a great friend… even if it, uh, took me a while to sort through, errr, some things?” Harry finally finished.

Ginny deflated… but then the great actress took charge, and smiled gamely. “Of course, Harry. I will always be your friend — as good a friend as I can be.” She met his gaze for long enough to make her words seem convincing, before letting her eyes drift downwards.

As Ginny lowered her gaze, Harry could not help seeing, for just a flicker of a second, the downcast expression in her face. His heart sank, feeling immediately so dreadful for... well... for whatever he'd just done to sadden this kindest and bravest friend of his. And yet, a slow wave of astonishment washed over him, for in that moment he began to understand, on this strange and dismal day, what it was that he had just said… or not said.

Harry opened his mouth. He longed to tell her what his heart had been proclaiming so fervently these past days; he longed to see whether he could once again brighten her eyes, back to those glowing beams of life and energy he had seen many hours ago when this evening's setting sun had first just risen.

But not yet. His brain told him the time was not yet right... for pleasures that implied promises... promises he wasn't sure he could keep.

His straining heart conceded… he denied the longing in his tongue, and closed his mouth. And yet in a day filled with compromise, his brain and heart reached an accord. A glimmer of moisture in his eyes, Harry reached his free arm around Ginny and, with an awkward tremor, he pulled her close.

“Thank you Ginny,” he whispered.

“Uh huh.”

Ginny leaned forward. Reaching her hand and pressing it firmly to Harry's back, she buried her face into her dear dear friend's shirt, discreetly hiding… emotions.

A vista of complicated, sparring emotions…

Not the least of which was hope.

Back to index


Chapter 8: Knowing

Author's Notes:

Well, it's taken longer to get to this point than I'd originally thought, but hopefully worh the wait. Longer chapter than usual (I'd planned to keep them short and snappy for this story) but there was a lot that had to happen. Hope you enjoy!

Many thanks for readers and, especially, reviewers. This story was a looser shell than most of my previous ones, so some of you will see your feedback echoed in what later reaches your eyes.


Chapter 8. Knowing (August 12, 1995)

Harry's eyes flickered open, and he blinked away the sleepy haze.

It was morning… albeit still rather early. The light creeping its way through the ragged curtain on the west-facing window was quite frail, but it was truly dawn, which meant that Harry had actually slept through the night! No dreams or nocturnal trips up or down the stairs — at least none that he could remember.

If only a good night's sleep was enough to make him feel a bit better. Harry rolled over and groaned as he remembered what today held in store for him — a hearing. More precisely, it was a hearing likely to involve lots of misinformed, judgmental adults scrutinizing him with jaded eyes and hypocritical postures, all acting according to their own untold agendas.

With that thought, Harry squeezed his eyelids shut again and stuck his head under the pillow.

But suddenly, in the dim muffled world between pillow and mattress, everything suddenly felt... okay… Even better than okay!

Still puzzled by the sensation — almost like his first experience with Pepperup potion, Harry pulled his head back out of hiding and looked around at a fresh new morning — one that braced him; invigourating like a fresh dry breeze blowing in after a storm.

Harry rose to his feet without even lingering at the edge of his bed. He quietly opened a drawer and withdrew the last clean, pressed pair of trousers and shirt for the big day, and was just fastening the final button when he heard a soft knock on the door.

With a glance at the still-slumbering Ron, Harry slid quietly across the room and peaked through the door… to find a disheveled Arthur Weasley.

“G'morning Har...” Arthur coughed a bit to clear his froggy thoat. “Sorry about that — I'm barely awake...”

Harry stepped quietly out into the corridor and closed the door. “You're up early, Mr. Weasley?”

Arthur nodded. “So I am. It was the strangest thing; an owl banged on my window a little while ago with a note from the Associate Curator of Records — odd fellow by the name of Achaius Duff — saying that Ginny had been granted an extra hour in the Archive. The rub is that we now need to get her into the Ministry by 7:30, which is bloo...” He coughed awkwardly. “… which is unusually early by Ministry standards.”

Harry glanced at his watch. “Okay...”

Arthur looked him over. “Ginny's already up. I was going to see if you thought it possible to pull everything together to catch the 6:46 train, but by the looks of it, you're already nearly ready to go?”

“Sure. Do we have time for breakfast?”

Arthur nodded. “A quick bite or two. Ginny offered to start some toast for us.”

“Just need to get my shoes on.” Harry edged back toward the bedroom door. “I'll meet you in the kitchen in two minutes.”

Arthur gazed at him for a moment then smiled wistfully. Ah, the energy of youth!



The security wizard, a scruffy bloke named Eric Munch, handed Harry his wand back. Pocketing the wand, Harry gazed back at Ginny and spontaneously, for about the fifth time the morning, grinned at his friend, who happily reciprocated.

Caught up in their shared good spirits (so glad for the company on what might have otherwise been a bleak and stressful venture) neither Harry nor Ginny noticed as Munch's thin metal rod twitched on its circuit of Ginny's jumper. Munch frowned momentarily, then shrugged and asked Ginny for her wand.

A minute later, Harry, Ginny and Mr. Weasley all made their way across the Atrium toward the ostentatious and somewhat vulgar 'Fountain of Magical Brethren' where they paused to regroup. Arthur glanced over at a large timepiece that was levitating at the far end of the Atrium and then scanned the crowd for the Associate Curator of Archives who had suggested that they rendezvous here.

Ginny watched as Harry wandered over to the edge of the monument and gazed down into the rippling pool at a marble surface sprinkled with numerous Knuts, a few Sickles and, here and there, the occasional Galleon.

Ginny came up softly behind Harry and brushed lightly against his arm. “Going to make a wish?” she asked. Smiling, she held out a few Knuts that had collected, forgotten, in the pocket of her jeans, and gestured toward a sign indicating that the proceeds would go to magical maladies research at St. Mungo's.

Harry nodded. “Sort of, yes. I just promised myself that if we learned something really useful today, I'd toss in a few coins on my way out.”

“Each to their own wish!” Ginny winked at him. Without bothering to elaborate, she tossed in her Knuts, and turned back toward her father who was now talking to an attractive but serious-looking witch wearing the rust-coloured robes of the Archives Department.

Arthur beckoned Ginny over, and Harry followed.

The witch extended her hand to Ginny. “Rosalind Hilliard, Magical Archives. A pleasure to meet you, Miss Weasley.”

Ginny grinned and shook the woman's hand.

“Mr. Duff asked me to come up to meet you; he said to apologise for his absence and to thank you for your willingness to appear an hour earlier than originally scheduled.”

Arthur's eyes widened. “Thank us??”

“Oh yes!” Rosalind nodded to Ginny. “Mr. Duff has made Miss Weasley's visit a personal priority, and was most gratified to receive approval from our Department Head for a second hour to ensure a successful visit. We're grateful that you too were flexible enough to accommodate the change in plans”

Arthur blinked then shrugged. “Oh, well you're perfectly welcome Miss Hilliard. It's no bother to us all... well aside from Harry here having to spend an extra hour sitting on a stack of books waiting for his own, er, appointment.”

The witch glanced over Arthur's shoulder to where Harry was listening in curiously. “Oh yes, and so this is Mr. Harry Potter, then?”

Harry fidgeted uneasily, half expecting the woman to stare at his fringe of hair, looking for the scar. When he reluctantly turned to face her, however, she had her hand extended and was projecting a crisp, professional demeanour.

Harry shook her hand, a bit surprised by the firmness of her grip. “How do you do, Ms. Hilliard?”

“I do well, thank you Mr. Potter. And you yourself would do well to reconfirm your own plans. I strongly suggest that you ask Mr. Weasley to escort you down to the Minister's suite for clarification regarding the time and location of your… appointment. Mr. Duff believes that there might have been some last minute scheduling adjustments, and that you may find yourself with a fair bit less free time to spend… sitting on books, as it were.”

Harry, Ginny and Arthur glanced at each other, startled. Arthur nodded. “Er, yes, thank you Miss Hilliard. May I ask you where this information is coming from?”

The witch shook her head. “I'm not the right person to ask — I'm simply conveying Mr. Duff's message. Exactly where he came by the information, I don't know; he is a very private person and very rarely involves himself in others' affairs. Yet, in my experience, if he bothers to offer advice he is very rarely, if ever, wrong.”

Rosalind turned to Ginny with a brusque efficiency. “Now please come along Miss Weasley. We would like to ensure that you're able to derive the maximum possible benefit from your Archives access.” Without another word, the witch spun on her heel and began striding toward the lifts.

Ginny turned toward her father and Harry, with a slightly bewildered look on her face.

Arthur rolled his eyes. “Don't worry sweetheart — Harry and I will sort out his situation. But in the meantime it looked like you're off and running — places to be and things to see! Good luck, and please meet us right back here when you're done!”

Ginny nodded. She flashed Harry a hurried smile, basking for the slimmest split second in his look of gratitude, then she turned to rush after Rosalind, catching her just as the lift door opened.

“My apologies — I didn't intend to be unduly short, but time is of the essence,” the archives witch said the door closed. She pulled several scrolls out of a rucksack and began examining them as the lift plunged an indeterminate depth down into the ground. “Mr. Duff is somewhat eccentric, but rather exacting as a superior, and his instructions were quite explicit. He has not shared with me the precise motivations for your investigations, but...” Rosalind paused to give Ginny an analytical once over, noting with satisfaction the earnest, engaged expression on Ginny's face. “… they clearly must be important. Mr. Duff is prepared to extend you the rather uncommon courtesy of personal assistance in your labours.”

“Oh?!” Ginny hoped that in her surprise she managed to hide the sense of discomfort suddenly weighing upon her. An extra pair of eyes might certainly seem useful, but it was rather unsettling to learn that a Ministry official had found some reason to take an interest in something she and Harry had both hoped to pass off as a simple, non-controversial scholastic exercise.

Unconcerned, Rosalind directed her focus back to one of the scrolls from her collection. “Of course, you are free to accept his offer, or not, as you see fit.”

“Oh, well thank you!”

The witch nodded. “Think nothing of it.” She off-handedly pulled out her wand and pointed it at the scroll, causing several phrases on the parchment to glow bright green.

The lift door finally opened, and Rosalind strode through it, leading Ginny down a torch-lit, stone corridor, around a corner, and into a cavernous chamber with huge shelves of books, scrolls and documents, all annotated with a mixture of seemingly random letters and strange symbols that Ginny assumed were runes of some sort.

“You'll pardon the dim, reddish lighting I hope. Low light is best for old documents, since even magic can't preserve them forever,” Rosalind explained as she led Ginny along through the stacks. She paused briefly to examine her annotations, then reached up onto a shelf to retrieve a scroll which she handed to Ginny. The title, embossed along the side in elaborate Gothic lettering, read:

Fall of the Queen's Magic: the Decline of Brythonic Shamanism after A.D. 61

The witch continued leading Ginny along through the gloomy stacks for several minutes, handing her various scrolls, and other books, such as:

Classical Darkness: The Rise of Magical Xenophobia in the Greco-Roman Era

The documents continued to pile up in Ginny's arms as she hurried to keep pace. Most titles she merely skimmed or didn't catch at all in her haste, but for obvious reasons one book in particular did catch her eye:

Dream Magic from the Neolithic to Modern Times

The exceptional relevance to questions on her mind struck her, but more disturbing was the fact that nowhere in her Archives access request letter had she ever mentioned anything about dreams. Had the rather useful book ended up in her arms by coincidence and accident, or…? Or what??

After collecting another half dozen documents, Rosalind led Ginny to an open space with a cluster of chairs and research tables, gesturing for her to take a seat. “That should keep you busy until Mr. Duff can see you. If not, then here is a summary of the Archive shelf indexing system.” She handed Ginny a scroll, with a lengthy list of numbers and strange symbols, accompanied by a plain English translation key.

“Thank you so much for your assistance!” With an effusive smile, Ginny hoped that she was effectively disguising just how disoriented she was by all the unexpected attention. No prior visit to any library had ever prepared Ginny for this sort of… experience.

As Ms. Hilliard strode off, Ginny stared diffusely at the research material arrayed in front of her, then shook herself into focus and began sorting through the books and documents.

As she browsed through the remaining items, Ginny noted that most did cater directly to the specific topics she had outlined in her original letter — the circumstances behind Boadicea's defeat and possible magical interventions therein; possible Roman motives for undermining truces with Celtic tribes in Britain, and general surveys of magical skills and objects from the early first millennium A.D. However, one old scroll that had accompanied her to the table was just as perplexing to Ginny as the Dream Magic book. When she carefully opened the scroll, she read the title.

Time Paradoxes from Spirit Magic to Contemporary Turner Technology

Ginny frowned, shaking her head at the title and the implications it might have to her and to Harry; wondering how anybody not named 'Hermione Granger' could possibly have guessed that the subject might be of interest. She began to skim quickly through the essay's introduction to confirm that it really did treat what she expected it to.

She was several inches down the scroll when she suddenly felt a strange chill… It took her a moment to diagnose the sensation, but soon recognized it as exactly the same sort of dire but vague premonition that… the princess might feel when the Publican was in trouble!

Her breath caught. Trembling slightly, Ginny's hand crept to the neck of her jumper and slipped inside. Beneath the thick wool, closing the neck of the blouse she wore underneath, was an object that almost nobody knew that she had on her possession. Her fingers reached down to caress the polished silver, and…

Door!

Dim, stone corridor... a single black door at the end!

Concentrating on the vision that had popped into her mind, Ginny detected a blur of other extrasensory inputs — the feel of thick, stagnant subterranean air; her father's voice chatting amicably about something or other; the clop of his loafers on a polished stone floor, and the scuff and squeak of Harry's trainers. Yet none of those mundane details blunted the sharp, sudden feeling of alarm she had detected from Harry's first glimpse of that... black door!

Ginny's focus shifted as Harry turned a corner and made his way toward a staircase leading down to another level of the Ministry. The intensity of Ginny's vision slackened. She was vaguely aware of her father grousing about how ludicrous it was to be meeting down here… then the scene faded…

Disconcerted by Harry's visceral emotion, but completely unaware of what it meant, Ginny withdrew her hand from beneath her jumper and stared straight ahead of her…

It took her several seconds to realize that she was staring, open-mouthed, at the Associate Curator of Archives… who was speaking to her.

“… but your friend has nothing to fear...”

“Huh?!” Ginny gasped in confusion as she registered the figure and voice in front of her. Blinking away the vestigial effects of the vision, she beheld, in profile, a hunched old wizard with wild white hair tumbling all about a wrinkled set of rust-coloured robes, similar to (but far less stylish than) Rosalind's apparel. Slowly, he turned to face Ginny…

And she looked into his… eerily clouded… blue eyes.

The man's face crinkled like an arctic ice flow in June as he grinned. “I said that your friend may have a somewhat unpleasant morning, but really he has naught to fear. I suspect that his… appointment… will go fairly well, and there are no perils — known or unknown — awaiting him here.” He chuckled softly to himself. “Or none for the time being, anyway. But be a good dear, will you? Please consider all facts very carefully before you ever let your friend return to the Ministry… Oh, and I suggest that you leave the dog at home.”

Ginny was still so baffled by everything about the bizarre old wizard that his cryptic statement was largely lost on her. “Er, I beg your pardon??”

The man looked kindly on her, but ignored the question. “So very pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Ginevra Weasley — I was most concerned that I might never have the opportunity. Now, may we speak about your research project?”

Ginny wrestled her perplexity aside. “Uh, you're Mr. Duff I presume?”

The wizard nodded earnestly.

Her eyes narrowed. “Mr. Duff, while I greatly appreciate your offer of assistance in this project, could you tell me why you're interested in this work… if you please?”

“If I please?” He tilted his head to the side and cackled softly under his breath for a moment, before returning his diffuse gaze toward her. “Oh, nothing would please me more, and I dare say it might please you too... but no.”

Ginny blinked. “No??”

The old man shook his head. “No, I cannot give you a clear explanation. I would have expected you and your friend to know much more about why I should be interested in your research than I myself do. Or if you do not already know, then I assume you will learn long before I do. If so, would you be so kind as to tell me all about it some day? I can only imagine it will make for a fascinating story.”

Ginny stared, speechless.

Duff gazed at her curiously, studying her bewildered expression. “I gather than my answer was not to your liking. I have never been very good with answers, and nor am I very adept at questions.” He smiled benignly. “Would it help if I simply assured you that I truly do know almost nothing of your situation, and would be most disinclined to make any attempt to interfere with your work or tell anyone about it? You can simply consider me your servant. Assume that I have orders to assist you and that I will do so discretely, humbly and unquestioningly.”

“Errr, okay...” Ginny bit her lip for a moment as she continued to try to distill some sense from the situation. In spite of many strange, half-glimpsed contradictions, her instincts told her that she could trust him.

“Splendid!” The wizard renewed his enthusiastic, if ancient, grin. “In that case, I will assume that you already have many elaborate plans mapped out for searching our archives. I shall not distract you from those, but would merely wish to borrow a few minutes to discuss what you appear to be overlooking.”

Ginny stared at him dubiously. “Yes, and what would that be?”

“Time, my dear! You have such a limited grasp of time!”

Ginny's left wrist inadvertently twitched, exposing the inexpensive watch she'd been given several years back before starting at Hogwarts.

The old wizard burst into laughter that quickly spawned a sputtering cough. “Oh merciful Circe! Your humour delights me, dear princess! But of course you know that I speak of time not as a schedule or calendar, but rather as an atlas of wonderful places.” Duff gazed fondly off into the dimly lit rows of stacks. “Time is our great adventure. The present is our home. Each memory is a place we have visited. Tomorrow is our next destination.”

Ginny nodded, as she processed the abstract analogy.

Duff smiled and continued. “In every past destination, we had many opportunities to meet people — enemies, friends, family and so on. Yet our most important temporal acquaintances are none other than our past selves. You, my dear, may have fond memories of little Ginevra sitting on her father's knee, but recognize that she was not exactly the same person as the self-assured young woman sitting across from me. You know little Ginevra well, but she would scarcely have recognized you.”

Ginny gazed diffusely, then slowly nodded again.

“The past, of course, is a very expansive land. It has many places we have never visited, but some of them we have heard about them from recollections or books.” Duff gestured at the books and documents Ginny had just begun to examine a few minutes ago. “These are really just travel brochures, opening your mind to exotic lands of the past. But consider how wondrous it would be if we had so many detailed brochures of the realms of our future?”

Duff paused to meet Ginny's eyes. “Yes, just as little Ginevra has never met you, there are future Miss Weasleys whom you have never yet encountered, even though these charming women of tomorrow might claim to have intimate knowledge of this studious young researcher sitting before me.”

Ginny was about to signal her understanding when, in the instant before Duff opened his mouth again, she had the sudden eerie anticipation of his next question… “And yet you, Miss Weasley — so much younger than a goat such as myself — have traveled and seen much. You have visited places that I could barely even dream of, have you not, young lady?”

Ginny looked pointedly away, not daring to meet the man's disconcertingly clouded yet perceptive gaze.

Heedless of her discomfort, the old man's gaze drifted off and he continued heedlessly. “I have always wished to wander and explore. I do believe that some day I will, but in the meantime I must simply envy you.”

Ginny eyed him warily for a long moment, but then nodded slowly. “Yes Mr. Duff, I have… traveled.” She took a deep breath and met his gaze. “But haven't you also traveled? How would you know what Harry and I have experienced, if you haven't experienced it yourself… Mr. Druid wand-maker?

Duff tittered and shook his head. “Ah, my dear friend, once again I assure you that I remain but a humble servant, blind to the powers of those such as yourself. I know not this Druid Wand-maker acquaintance of yours, although I have been indeed told a little about him.”

“Told by whom?” Ginny's eyes narrowed again.

“I'm not certain… but I assume he is my future self.” Duff shrugged. “He is a dream visitor; he seems somehow reminiscent of myself… but also a bit different — more learned; more cautious; somehow vaguely frightened.” He paused for a long moment, stroking his beard. “Whoever he may be, the visitor implies important reasons for sharing with me some modest aspects of your goals and interests. Perhaps he knows your future or past selves? Perhaps he knows a friend of yours? Maybe he has heard only stories. He was ever vague on circumstances, yet specific in his instructions...”

“His instructions?”

The old wizard nodded. “Yes, instructions to help you. My future self is the reason that I am sitting before you right now, speaking to you about time.”

Ginny rubbed her temples, exasperated with the abstract circular responses. Out of the blue, however, a very basic question occurred to her. She raised her head and fixed his gaze. “How is any of this possible?”

“Ah, young lady, now that is a question for an Unspeakable!”

Ginny smiled wryly, frustration beginning to wear through her veneer, but Duff tittered under his breath. “Ah, despair not Ginevra, for the Unspeakable who shall answer you is none other than myself. Until two years ago, I researched within the Time Office of the Department of Mysteries.”

“Oh, okay then.” Ginny examined him skeptically. “So do you know how it's possible for your future self to instruct your present self?”

“It is not.” The old man smiled in an inscrutable manner that Ginny was beginning to find increasingly aggravating.

Ginny took a deep breath. “It is not what?”

“Strictly speaking, it is not possible,” Duff explained. “Yet it is happening. Unless I've simply imagined it all…?”

For a moment, blood coursed hot through Ginny's veins… then she suddenly imagined the state of apoplexy Hermione would be in from a doddering, tortuous conversation like this. She couldn't help but laugh…

The old man joined in; his eyes twinkling in the lamplight. The mirth, stretching for nearly a minute, seemed to clear Ginny's mind of the distracting irritations, and she was hit with unexpected insight. “So, by all current principles, what your future self is doing in contacting the present you is impossible…” She gazed thoughtfully over the man's shoulder. “But perhaps he's found some way to do it in the future?”

Duff giggled in delight. “Almost, almost, almost exactly!”

With a quizzical look on her face, Ginny waited patiently for the wizard's agitation to subside.

Finally restoring his equanimity, Duff continued. “Yes, my visitor seems capable of casting his influence across temporal barriers in ways that remain very likely impossible. However, I do not believe that he himself was the one who 'found some way to do it '. Rather, I am led to understand that it became attainable for him due to circumstances outside of his influence.”

Ginny frowned, grasping the distinction. “So something, errr, changed, that is allowing him to reach back to you?”

“Yes, exactly.”

“Do you have any idea what?” Ginny asked.

Duff shrugged. “Perhaps… It's highly theoretical...”

“Can you speculate?”

“Of course I can, young lady. Neither answers nor questions are my fortť, but I excel at speculation!” Duff grinned toothily. “Let me begin by stating my belief that this bears no semblance to the function of any known Time Turner.”

Ginny nodded, silently urging him to continue.

“Time Turners act by tearing small holes in time — large enough for a human to physically enter into a different era for a while, yet small enough and short enough in duration that the holes can quickly heal themselves. The last time I experienced a visitation, I was able to probe myself and surroundings for the magical signature of a Turner, and found none.”

Ginny examined the old wizard thoughtfully. “So, without using a Time Turner, your visitor has been able to connect with you in your dreams?”

Duff shook his head. “No, no. Not in my dreams. He travels to me in his dreams. I am often quite awake for the visits; awake but disoriented — voices in my head; thoughts that are not quite my own but not exactly somebody else's.”

Ginny cringed inwardly as she began to imagine what her own dreams might feel like to the princess. “So, are you sure that this will only be possible in the future? That it isn't yet possible for someone in the present to dream into the minds of people in another time? Because Harry and I have… er, I mean we would be interested in, um, knowing a bit more.”

“Because you and your friend have interacted with people from other times, you mean?” The old wizard winked knowingly at Ginny. “I may be wrong, but I do not think your dreams have actually influenced any events past or future. Not in any way that will affect your present lives.”

“They haven't??” Ginny's eyes widened in dismay. “The dreams have no effect?”

“Well, for all the wild happenings in your dream past, you have never yet managed to complete negate your existence or do anything else to irreparably alter your real waking life, correct?”

Ginny shook her head. “Okay, I see your point, but they seem so real — I can't believe we're only just... dreaming...”

Duff's eyes twinkled. “Well now. I hardly said that it was mere dreaming.”

Ginny stared at him dumbfoundedly.

Duff shook his head. “What you have experienced is far more interesting and powerful than the dreams that most people have. However; based on all of the studies recorded in the Time Office, I am guessing that your dreams may be among the most amazing temporal effects we have ever seen to have not occurred.”

Ginny blinked. “Er, amazing non-occurrence??”

“Allow me to explain.” The old wizard jittered in his seat excitedly. “Miss Weasley, are you familiar with the three D's of apparition?”

Recalling the twins' recent obsession with the skill, Ginny resisted rolling her eyes. “Yes. Destination, determination and deliberation.”

“Well, in our Department, we always considered the Time Turner to be comparable to a portkey that pulls you through time instead of space. From that analogy, we have long theorized that it might also be able to push oneself through time, the same way that one apparates through space.”

Duff struggled to his feet and began to pace. “Compared to Time Turners, there would be clear advantages to such temporal apparition. Turners are dangerous across long temporal expanses because the further you go, the greater the size of the temporal hole that is opened, and hence the greater the destabilisation of time itself. Theoretically, however temporal apparition would not be limited by temporal distance — if the apparator has an excellent sense of destination and determination, an excursion across many centuries should be no more disruptive than a short hop of several hours.”

Accepting the distinction, Ginny nodded.

“What I am theorizing, my astute listener, is that you have found some way to accurately perceive several interesting destinations in time, and you are somehow able to focus on them with the same level of determination required for apparition…”

Ginny frowned at the concept. The old wizard had never made any explicit mention of the brooch, and perhaps was not aware of its existence, but she herself could well imagine that the cupla might be giving them the clear visualization of past and future scenes required for 'destination', and that the charm's powerful emotional tug could mimic the 'determination' process.

“Destination, determination...” Duff held up three fingers then lowered two of them. “That leaves only deliberation — the intense infusion of magic required to actually make it happen. In order for Time Turner charms to be capable of tearing the fabric of time, multiple wizards must cast multiple spells over and over again, gradually suffusing the Turner with the immense power required. We have always assumed that no witch or wizard, save perhaps Merlin himself, has ever been able to summon an instantaneous burst of magic strong enough to open a temporal hole — not even the tiniest prick required to transmit a bare mental message.”

“I don't understand.” Ginny fixed Duff with an exacting stare. “How is it that Harry and I feel like we can dream our way across years and centuries, but you believe it's not real time travel? At the same time, you believe that a future 'you' actually is able to send a message from the future, and this message seems to imply that Harry and I need to understand more about time?”

The old wizard grinned bemusedly. “Once again, I believe that you are better equipt than I to explain how you and your friend dream the future and past, but perhaps you wish for me to speculate what it means?

Ginny shrugged.

“I can see two possible implications of your dreams, Miss Weasley.” Duff's hazy blue gaze swept analytically across her face. “One interpretation is that your minds have somehow acquired remarkably detailed and accurate information about several stories from other times; your understanding may be so accurate that when you explore this information in dreams, you are able to reliably infer how actions in one time frame would affect situations in another.”

Ginny frowned, unconvinced.

Duff noted Ginny's expression and continued. “The other possibility, is that you are truly seeing other times, but that your involvement in affairs of those times is bound up within bubbles.”

Ginny massaged her brow and exhaled. “… Bubbles?”

“Yes, yes, bubbles!” Duff paced excitedly. “It's highly highly theoretical, but despite not actually tearing through into another time, the strength of your determination might have actually been sufficient to produce a bubble — some equal copy of those times, within which your actions produce consequences identical to those in what you view as real time. As long as the bubbles remain distinct, however, those consequences are walled off from the historical tract that your waking self would consider to be normal.”

Ginny continued to massage her brow. “Uhhh, okay… but where does that leave your future self? How is he able to speak to you?”

Suddenly showing signs of pronounced weariness, Duff took a seat. “I can only assume that something will break… or has broken.”

“Sorry, but what will break? A bubble? Time itself?”

Duff equivocated. “Yes, one or the other, but I'm uncertain which. Something like a devastating Time Turner accident could possibly open a permanent tear in the fabric; the instability of such a tear would be frightening and unpredictable, but a daring and knowledgeable wizard might be able to exploit it for untold temporal meddling. The other possibility is that if there are multiple bubbles close to the surface of real time, that may perhaps weaken the barrier, making is possible for ordinary people to achieve 'deliberation'. The latter is less terrifying perhaps, but either would represent a serious breach in the integrity of time.”

Ginny took a sharp breath, then released it. “Do you know when the future breach will occur?”

The wizard gazed distantly as he pondered the question. “Ehhhmmmm, likely not in the future.”

Ginny stared, uncomprehending.

Duff shook his head. “My best guess, as extracted from vague thoughts and memories that I was able to extract from my visitor, is that...” He tapped his nose distractedly. “Eh, forgive the foolish guesswork, but my best wager is that someone from the future is somehow going to break... the past...”

“Shite!” Ginny gaped in distress. “I mean, uh, sugar!”

“Shite or sugar — either way, my dear young lady.” The old wizard offered her a tired but bemused smile. “I, myself, have said worse.”



Harry sighed in relief.

Given the relentlessly asinine articles printed all summer in the Daily Prophet, Harry had come into the trial expecting nothing better than a farce. The fact that he had first heard about the rescheduling and relocating of the trial from none other than an assistant to the the Associate Curator of Magical History Archives only confirmed his doubts for a fair hearing... but he had been wrong. The final gavel had just fallen upon the Wizengamot's verdict — a nearly unanimous declaration of innocence.

Harry rose from the uncomfortable chair and smiled. Until this moment, he had struggled to sustain an ambivalence about the outcome. If he was expelled from Hogwarts, his absence might lessen the danger to other students but conversely, he would have been unable to help protect his friends. Yes, he would be still be able to maintain an emotional tie to Ginny through the brooch, but no, he could not presume to court her affections if he wouldn't see her again for months…

But now, finally, none of that mattered! He was definitely returning to school!

With a surge of cheer, Harry moved purposefully toward his headmaster (his saviour!), intent on expressing his deepest gratitude… but no sooner had Harry turned toward Dumbledore when the man cast a nervous glance about himself and darted hastily from the room, shouldering his way past several departing Wizengamot members as he did so.

Harry stared in dismay. For a moment he thought about chasing after Dumbledore, but could not imagine jostling his way through a dozen members of Wizarding society's highest elite to do so… especially considering the fact that they had just done him the favour of honest legal deliberation.

His sense of victory draining away, Harry stood dumbfoundedly as the courtroom emptied. However he was not yet quite alone. Gathering her purse and shawl, old Mrs. Figg came up beside him and patted his hand fondly.

Startled, Harry returned her warm greeting. “Thank you so kindly for coming to my aid, Mrs. Figg!”

“Ah Harry! That was the least I could do.” She smiled sadly. “Would that I had been there for you long, long ago but, well… you know how the Order operates, right?”

Harry frowned to himself. No, to be honest, I have no idea how the bloody Order operates… Several uncharitable thoughts about the mysterious organization flitted to the edge of Harry's conscious, but he suppressed the thoughts. No, it was now time to focus on cheerier subjects.

With renewed smile, Harry escorted Mrs. Figg out of the chamber. Refocused by his appreciation for the old lady's sudden expression of friendship, Harry's good humour was further lifted as he thought about his immediate future — especially the excitement of soon rejoining Ginny and finding out what news she might have!

Encountering Arthur outside the courtroom, Harry left it to Mrs. Figg to recapitulate the hearing, while he walked along behind them, letting his thoughts drift back to the many issues Ginny had offered to look into. His mind ran through the various questions he had written on the parchment he had passed her last night — points about the Elder Wand, about the Peuerellius family, about whether any historical texts from the Boadicea era contained any mention of the posting to Britain of a certain…

Legate!

“You!” Harry glared down the corridor; his utterance, uncharacteristically deep and ominous, boomed in the narrow confines.

Arthur and Mrs. Figg jumped aside in alarm, affording Harry a clear, unfettered avenue to confront the startled figures of Cornelius Fudge and Lucius Malfoy.

Fudge's hand flinched back from whatever he was about to accept from Malfoy, while the tall, silver-haired wizard turned slowly, stiffly, to face Harry.

“Well, Mr. Potter…” Malfoy's face twisted into a grin. “It seems you've escaped yet another brush with the law.”

Fresh visions of the Legate 's treachery ran together with smouldering memories of Malfoy's despicable crime against Ginny several years ago. Harry's self-restraint faltered for a moment, but he tamed his rage, channeling it into a hard, acrid glare that tore through Lucius's feigned bravado. “You're messing with fire, Malfoy.” Harry's voice dropped to a menacing whisper. “You can't hide. We're onto you. We know your ploy.” His mouth slid into a frigid smirk. “Let me assure you — when we expose it, you're going to have your own day in this court — begging for mercy!”

Malfoy's eyes darted rapidly from Harry to Fudge and back as one of his hands, semi-discretely wielding a wand behind his back, attempted to magically banish something in his pocket. “I, er, have no idea what you're jabbering about Potter!”

Fudge fidgeted uncomfortably. “Errm, some sort of misunderstanding I'm sure — wouldn't you say Lucius? Now, Harry dear boy, do you suppose you could join me for a spot of tea? Mend a few fences from this morning's… unpleasantness?”

“No thank you sir.” Harry glanced dismissively at the Minister, then turned toward the lift. “Some other time perhaps, but right now I have far more important obligations.”

The lift door sprang open the moment Harry's finger grazed the button, and he strode through with Arthur and Mrs. Figg hurrying after him.

The moment the lift door closed and the creaky platform had begun its ascent, Arthur released the pent-up air in his lungs and gasped. “Blimey Harry! I, uhhh…” By his wide eyes, it was unclear if Mr. Weasley was appalled, on the verge of riotous laughter, or perhaps both. Instead he opted to wheeze. “Er... do you suppose that was a, uh... good idea?!”

Harry lifted a wry eyebrow. “Do you suppose I care?”

Mr. Weasley and Mrs. Figg both stared at him, but Harry merely shrugged. “Why should I pretend to be friendly with either of them? One is a lackey and a thug who wants me dead. The other is a deluded, self-aggrandizing peacock who wants me to disappear. Neither would ever offer me anything other than a bad end. Mr. Weasley, I do promise you that I'll learn diplomacy someday, but not today and not for them.”

Arthur continued to stare at Harry for a few seconds… then he chuckled. “Ah Harry, son… You're truly something else!”



Clutching a dragon-skin portfolio that Rosalind had given her to keep her notes safe, Ginny drifted through busy mid-morning atrium. With her thoughts completely occupied by bizarre revelations — strangely shaped puzzle pieces that had not yet been fitted together — Ginny's feet carried her along a random path toward the fountain.

A lot of purple drifted past the corner of her eye…

Ginny whipped around to see a sizable cohort of purple-robed witches and wizards make their way out from the lifts. It was the Wizengamot!

Ginny had been in the Ministry complex many times before, but only rarely when the Wizengamot was in session, and she had never seen them trooping past en masse before. Looking discretely to the side, she pulled a random parchment from her pocket (her Mum's recipe for Bakewell tarts) and pretended to study it intently, effectively disguising her true interest — eavesdropping upon the passing conversations.

“… fully corporeal Patronus at his age??”

“Younger, in fact! Supposedly he was only...”

“… rather suggests to me that Fudge is losing his grip...”

“So, do you suppose, er, you know who, is really back?”

“Well, Potter ought to know, right? There's supposedly some sort of link...”

The conversations continued to drift past, but they vanished from Ginny's mind as, out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of a familiar mane of long white hair and beard emerge from the lift. “Professor Dumbledore!”

Dumbledore lurched to a halt; his gaze darting around anxiously.

Ginny hurried up to him. “Professor Dumbledore, could you spare a moment?”

Dumbledore's gaze fixed on his student; his tension diffused and he offered Ginny a warm smile. “Miss Weasley, how wonderful to see you here! And how might I help you this fine morning?”

“Sir, I was wondering if I could ask you a question for some independent research I've been doing?”

“Ah?” His eyes twinkled merrily. “Independent research in August? I do believe this is the finest academic spirit I've seen from a Weasley since William's final two years at school — how lovely of you my dear! What is your question?”

“Er, I was wondering...” Ginny paused to rifle through her portfolio to find a parchment and a self-inking quill. “I was wondering what you might know about the Elder Wand?”

For a split second, all colour drained from Dumbledore's face. Then he assembled a tremulous smile, and cast several wandless, nonverbal privacy spells around their vicinity. “Er, well Miss Weasley, the Elder Wand is another term for what was known as the Wand of Destiny in Beedle the bard's 'Tale of Three Brothers'. I would assume you've heard the story?”

Ginny nodded, discretely studying the unease apparent in her headmaster's face. “Yes sir, I know the children's story, but I'm more interested in a hypothetical scenario involving a real wand.”

Dumbledore's non-twinkling eyes narrowed. “Do continue.”

“In this hypothetical case, the Elder Wand truly does exist, but there is a question of who is the master of the wand?”

Dumbldore nodded, frowning.

“My question, sir, is... what does it mean to be the master of the wand?”

Dumbledore's face relaxed somewhat, and he stroked his beard thoughtfully. “Well, strictly hypothetically, if the Elder Wand did exist, it would sustain an allegiance to anyone who had earned the wand's trust.”

Ginny nodded. “How does one earn the Elder Wand's trust?”

Dumbledore coughed. “Speaking hypothetically, Miss Weasley?”

Ginny raised an eyebrow. “Yes, hypothetically speaking.”

“Well…” Dumbledore began nervously curling a fold of his beard around his finger. “On the barest level, the wand would theoretically shift its allegiance to anyone who defeats its master in a duel.”

“But supposedly the wand can never be defeated?”

“Yes, the wand may never be defeated, but no bearer of the wand has been so infallible.” A momentary twinkle returned to Dumbledore's eyes with this opportunity to engage in rhetoric. “As master of the Elder Wand, one is assured that no spell one casts will be outdone or undone by one's opponent, but… dueling is not merely about casting spells...”

Dumbledore's expression turned somewhat grim. “The Elder Wand has inspired more folklore than what was written in Beedle's tales. The history of the wand… I mean of course, the collection of anecdotal musings about the mythical wand… is strewn with cautionary tales of miscalculation and death. Indeed, many duels are won or lost in moments of hesitation or indecision. Thus even someone in possession of the Elder Wand may lose a duel through inaction or omission. It has been whispered through the centuries that the Elder Wand confers a curse of a sort on its bearer.”

Ginny have her headmaster a quizzical look.

Dumbledore met her look and nodded. “Yes, a curse. A very human curse — that of overconfidence.”

Ginny stared thoughtfully into the distance. “Could a situation ever arise where somebody had possession of the wand, but was not its master?”

“Certainly.” Dumbledore nodded sagely. “ However, the possessor would find the experience fairly disappointing. For example, if someone was to steal the Elder Wand, their attempts at regular magic with it would achieve mediocre results, and any attempt to wield it against its true master should produce utter failure.”

Ginny chewed her lower lip and scratched out a hasty note on her parchment. “Now can you imagine a scenario where one person is the legitimate master of the Elder Wand, but some other wizard was nonetheless able to use the wand to kill its master?”

Dumbledore's eyebrows shot up. “Again, you're speaking hypothetically, of course?”

Ginny nodded.

The old wizard thought for a long moment, then shook his head. “Not that I can think of, Miss Weasley. That is not how the wand operates. In theory.”

Ginny leaned against the edge of the fountain for a contemplative moment… then rose again. “Sir, might I ask just one more thing?”

Dumbledore examined her thoughtfully. “Yes, I believe so. One more question, then I must be on my way.”

“Professor Dumbledore, may I see your wand?”

Dumbledore's eyes flashed in momentary alarm… but the look subsided. With a resigned nod, he reached into his pocket and held out his wand for her to view.

Without touching, Ginny leaned in to examine the instrument. It was coloured a rich, dark brown; the handle was worn smooth from extensive use over a long time of unknown extent. The carvings — far more elaborate than any other wand Ginny had ever seen — showed a very distinct, repeated motif… graven clusters of elderberries…

Ginny was about to pull back and thank her Headmaster when something else caught her eye. She drew closer and clearly discerned, running diagonally across much of the midsection of the wand, a faint hairline crack. She reached her finger towards it. “Sir, did you ever notice...”

Dumbledore yanked the wand away. “My apologies, Ginevra, but I just realized how terribly late I am for...”

A slight cough obscured Dumbledore's final syllables. The man swept away and, in scarcely the blink of an eye, he had (seemingly impossibly) crossed half the length of the atrium, blending into a crowd of foreign visitors.

Watching Dumbledore's hasty departure in bafflement, Ginny didn't notice as her father and best friend approached from behind.

Harry snorted. “What the…?? I'm really starting to think that man doesn't like me.”

Ginny turned and beamed a quick smile to Harry and her father. She shook her head. “No Harry — not your fault. I think I scared him off by asking him too many questions.”

Eyes wide, Harry's mouth formed an 'O' shape, then he nodded slowly. “I think you and I are set for an interesting chat, yeah?”

Arthur turned on Ginny, rolling his eyes. “Not you too, Ginny! I swear, you're both getting as bad as Fred and George — let you out in public for a few hours, and you scandalize every second person we meet!” He chuckled for a moment then refocused on his daughter. “So, did you learn anything useful this morning, sweetheart?”

“Yes.” Ginny held up her portfolio for the others to see. “Yes, I've learned a lot more than I've had a chance to even contemplate.”

Harry met her eye inquiringly.

Ginny nodded.

Harry smiled. He turned toward the fountain and withdrew from his pocket a bulging sack.

As they walked together toward the exits, the tinkle of gold raining down into the marble basin followed them, resounding in their ears.



The afternoon at Grimmauld place had been uncommonly cheerful and boisterous. Lively discussions of Harry's Wizengamot experience had held sway before, during and after lunch, and by the time Arthur, Tonks and Kingsley returned from work, an improvised party had sprung up. Consequently, it wasn't until well after supper that Harry and Ginny finally managed to discreetly escape from the bustling downstairs and make their way up to the library. A heavy rainstorm had turned the evening unseasonably cool, and the upper floors of Grimmauld Place were dank and draughty, so they had lit a fire and were sitting side by side on the ottoman, leafing through Ginny's notes.

Harry furled the scroll he had been reading and put it aside. “So you're telling me that Malfoy may well be the perp, but it's quite possible — quite likely even — that he doesn't yet have any idea… er… about any of this?”

Ginny shrugged. “Yes, basically.”

Harry's eyes widened. “Oops...”

Ginny giggled. “No worries. We can rest assured that he's up to no good anyway, so might as well keep him off balance, yeah?”

Harry grinned.

"In the mean time, though...” A serious cast came over Ginny's face again. “The key is going to be to figure out what he might eventually do to disrupt the past, and hence the future.”

Harry frowned thoughtfully. “Well, we know who he cavorts with among the Romans, so that gives us something to work with. And those are rather interesting inferences you've made...” He browsed through the other scrolls and unrolled the one marked 'lineage'.

“Okay, here...” Harry tapped on Ginny's diagram about half way down the scroll. “On one hand you have what we knew of Tio and Mus Peuerellius. So you juxtapose them with what's been written about Antioch, Cadmus and Ignotus Peverell?”

Ginny nodded. “It lines up pretty well. Tio and Mus are natural diminutives for Antioch and Cadmus, and you recall how they were obsessing over the coming of a third brother.”

“Hmmm...” Harry ran a hand through his hair. “A third brother who, at that time, is unknown… and Ignotus means unknown...”

“Exactly!” Ginny shifted to trace imaginary lines of connection on the parchment with her finger. “I have to admit that I was biased by how much the Publican and Tio resembled you, but what most sold me was that you and Ignotus, or at least his descendants, both derived from the same small village. I really think that you're descended from the Publican...”

“Sounds logical.” Harry arched his neck back and gazed at the flickering shadows on the ceiling. “So, the Elder Wand…?”

Ginny nodded.

Harry fell silent for a moment, then turned back to face Ginny. “The Elder Wand may have originated in our family? Somehow Dumbledore has become its master… except that he'll lose it to Voldemort….?”

“Yet, in 1998, you'll believe that you're the rightful master,” Ginny added quietly.

“And, that would imply… what? That I'll kill Dumbledore?” Harry shivered. “Blimey — no wonder the man hates me all of a sudden!”

Ginny shook her head emphatically. “We don't know any of that. Besides, he came to your defense at the hearing, right?”

“What, and let me be thrown out of Hogwarts?” Harry scowled to himself. “You've heard the old adage, right? Keep your friends close, and keep your enemies closer?”

“Harry, don't be ridiculous — you're not Dumbledore's enemy, and you're not going to kill him!”

Harry winced at Ginny's ferocity; he stared into her eyes, watching as they softened from frustration into pain. ”I'm sorry, Gin'… I don't mean to sound so negative, but his behaviour around me has been so bizarre. Ever since I arrived at Grimmauld, he's been avoiding me like the plague, and, well, I guess I'm just scrabbling around trying to make sense of it...”

Ginny held his gaze for a long minute, then sighed and looked away. “Apology accepted… but you have to stop underselling your strength. You're far too kind and far too smart to ever let something ghastly like that happen, regardless of the circumstances.”

She turned her head back to recapture Harry's eyes. “Harry, listen...” Ginny's tone remained level, but her expression gleamed like hard, polished steel as she caught Harry's hand in a fierce grip. “There are countless ways was that Dumbledore could lose the wand and leave you as the master. For all we know, it might somehow even happen in the course of you saving his life, yeah?”

Harry nodded. “I suppose so. And ultimately, so many aspects of that possible future keep changing because of the past, so who knows what will truly happen, right?”

“Know...” Ginny laid her hands on Harry's shoulders, gazing intently. “ 'For all we know ' this, and 'who knows ' that. Harry, who knows?”

Harry gave her a quizzical look and shrugged. “Sorry, I'm not sure I know what you're asking?”

“Who knows, Harry?” Ginny gave his shoulders a small shake. “We will know — that's who! The brooch and our dreams are perfect laboratories for learning all we need to know. Through trial and error, we can solve all of these mysteries in ways that nobody else would even dream of!” She grinned.

Harry nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, I agree… but we can't afford to get so wrapped up in learning things that we lose sight of trying to prevent Malfoy from meddling with time.”

“Yes.” Ginny frowned. “Do you think it's worth the risk?”

Harry nodded without reservation. “Yes, we can give it a shot — as long as we're careful and smart.” He grinned. “It sure doesn't hurt that you're so brilliant.”

Ginny blinked at the unexpected compliment. “I, uh… well so are you!”

Normally Harry would have blushed or stammered a weak denial, but… everything tonight was just a bit different. He leaned in a bit closer than they already were, and offered a smile of genuine affection. “Thanks Gin'. Thank you especially for all of your hard work!”

“You're welcome, Harry,” Ginny breathed, suddenly aware of just how close they had become…

Their noses were practically touching.

And neither of them pulled back.

“Er, Ginny?”

“Yes?”

“I think our situation has changed a bit...”

“Situation?” Ginny studied his face curiously. “Changed?”

“Yes, I mean now that we know that we'll both be at Hogwarts this year. Together.”

“Yes, so we will, Harry.”

Harry began to speak, but his breath rasped nervously. His eyes flickered shyly to the side, but then he restored them to their intended focus and found his voice again. “I think that's a good thing...”

Ginny nodded, her hair tickling Harry's forehead. “Yes, of course it's good news. I know you wanted to be brave about the possibility of being expelled and didn't want me to worry, but I would truly have hated to go off to school without you.”

“Yeah, and the uncertainty was sort of a barrier… to, er, you know...”

“Yes, I know… I think.” Ginny searched his eyes.

“There are some other little barriers, though.”

Harry looked down uncomfortably, but Ginny continued to study him. “Such as?” she asked patiently.

“Well, you see, things are soon likely to get, well, a bit dangerous. I would hate to put y-pffh...”

“No!” Ginny shook her head sternly, then removed her finger from his lips. “Do you want me to list a dozen reasons why that argument makes no sense, or should I leave you to come up with them on your own?”

Harry chuckled shyly. “I didn't think I'd get too far with that.”

Ginny's face remained utterly serious. “Are there any other barriers, Harry?”

“Just one more...” Harry fell silent for a long moment, then he nodded to himself. He lifted his gaze. “Gin'… you, errr… you've been wearing the brooch all day, right?”

Ginny nodded. She hung her head sheepishly for a moment, then dared to meet his eyes. “Yes, I put it on when I got up. I thought it would help give you the courage to face the morning.”

I know — I could feel it,” Harry whispered. “And it did help.” He reached across to find her hand and give it a squeeze. “Thank you.”

Ginny's face brightened a little, although Harry remained solemn. He shifted awkwardly. “So, does Hermione know that we, uh, went back on our word?”

“Yes.”

Harry gaped. “Yes??”

Ginny nodded. “Yes, I asked her first thing this morning.”

Harry blinked twice. “Seriously? And she… said that it was okay??”

Ginny's mouth twitched. “Er, well technically she said 'Ginny, do you have any idea what time it is?!' But after I returned the pillow she'd thrown at me, she calmed down and decided that since we had respected her request, she would respect our judgment… er, as long as I'd please be quiet and let her go back to sleep.”

Harry grinned broadly for a moment, then refocused. “Anyway, having the brooch to prop me up was wonderful — especially in those vile first twenty minutes in the courtroom, facing the Wizengamot alone before Dumbledore arrived...”

Ginny shivered, and stroked his hand consolingly.

“But the issue is...” Harry met Ginny's eyes earnestly. “When it comes to you and me — I want to know that whatever we have between us truly is US, not some magical charm. I mean, what if the brooch was acting like a love potion or something?”

Ginny stared deeply into his eyes for a long moment, then she pulled back.

Harry was about to protest; to ask her not to leave; to urge her to stay and talk things through… but then he realized what she was doing.

Without letting go of Harry's shoulder, Ginny reached her other hand into the loose neck of her jumper, and she withdrew the brooch. She weighed it in her hand for a moment, then tossed it gently onto the carpet by the fire. Exhaling, she returned her attention to the young man beside her.

Harry's gaze flickered toward the brooch for a moment, then back to the beautiful girl in front of him. He studied her wide, glistening eyes — eyes that were searching him, seeking from him the same truth that he sought within her.

Harry understood very little of the mysterious ways of love, but he somehow understood that seeing was not the same as knowing...

… so he closed his eyes.

Without the reassurance of the brooch, without the benefit of any experience with girls, Harry leaned forward, propelled by hope — a profound hope that what he was about to do was not merely permissible, but expected… and maybe even longed for.

Harry knew what Ginny had meant to him in the difficult days since he had arrived at Grimmauld Place. He knew that she had done everything in her power to help him prepare to face some of the most terrifying prospects that the Wizarding world might ever encounter. In return, she had asked for nothing.

Or almost nothing…

And so, even without the steadying pulse of the brooch, Harry's modesty and insecurities could no longer hold him back...

Unseen by eyes, but sensed by every yearning, tingling nerve in both of their bodies, two pairs of lips… brushed tentatively.

A faint, tantalizing tickle of two nervous breaths… grew ever-so-slowly into soft, indescribable warmth…

Their limbs wrapped and threaded together in ways that seemed perfectly natural. Although Harry could scarcely have dreamed the incredible luxury of such an embrace, it was mere harmony within a powerful, joyous melody...

It was euphony that Harry had not known in many many years.

It was a sensation of trust…

Of love...

Of home…



Draped together across the ottoman some time later, Harry stirred. His eyes flickered open to the distant sound of outraged howling and cursing.

He yawned — standard Grimmauld Place fare — Walburga excoriating some poor soul in the entranceway…

He shifted slightly to better balance the warm weight placed restfully on his chest. Mesmerised for a moment by the glimmering reflections of the dying fire playing on fine coppery hair, Harry's eyes had nearly drifted off into a happy dream, when he suddenly jolted, waking Ginny.

“Hmm? Ev'thing okay, Harry?”

Harry pressed his lips on his sleepy girlfriend's forehead for a moment. He sighed and whispered, “Mrs. Black just started yelling at people in the foyer, Gin'. I think that means the party is breaking up.”

“Oi!” Ginny leaped to her feet. “Must get back to our rooms before people notice!”

Harry smiled sadly. “Yes, I'm afraid so...” He captured her hand and was about to hurry out of the library with her when he remembered something. “The brooch!”

Harry reached down by the hearth and picked it up, handing it to Ginny.

“Right… thank you...?” Ginny gave him a smile, tinged with pensive inquiry.

Harry gazed at her knowingly.

The question that she had asked, without speaking it, was important. Now that they had set aside the brooch; now that they had discovered who they truly were without it… was it time already to pick it up again?

Harry wrapped his hand around hers, and they both felt the magic of the brooch coursing through their bodies and minds.

Harry nodded. “Yes, we're going to need it. I have the feeling that tonight is going to be… one of those nights.”

Back to index


Chapter 9: Knife's Edge

Author's Notes:

Lo and behold, here is chapter 9! As promised, our story returns to our neglected princess and her Publican who have been, er, busy...

You'll see that I now must let go of my original convention and make clear distinctions between Harry vs. the Publican, and Ginny vs. Lanossea. The point-of-view focus has gotten looser than any of my other stories but heck -- you've forgiven a lot of other quirky writing in this story, so hopefully you'll still enjoy the tale.


Chapter 9. Knife's Edge (August 12-13, 1995)

Harry knew a lot about dreams. He could generally tell, even before the opening image, whether or not he was destined for a bad one. And at this moment, floating in the languid twilight of semiconsciousness, he somehow sensed that he was headed to special niche of space and time where he truly felt… safe.

How novel?

With no sense of urgency, he began to let sensory inputs filter in, starting with a deep breath of air — one that soothed his mind with a gentle fragrance...

Earthy sweetness of ferns; a cleansing hint of recent rain…

Then he listened carefully.

A swell of early morning bird song… the faint rustle of leaves in high tree boughs, setting loose a distant staccato of water drops that spattered down, leaf to leaf to… forehead!

Harry jolted instantly into his dream world. Blinking some intensely chilling droplets away from around his startled eyes, he glanced about to find himself fully upright, gazing through a grove of tall, slender birch and poplar trees toward a rosy sunrise, just as it burst anew across a shallow vale still shrouded in mist.

A puff of breeze from on high fluttered merrily astray, somehow finding its way down to the forest floor, rustling his hair. It blew cool across the fresh tracks of moisture on his face, but despite the early hour, the air was that of a very pleasant morning — far milder than the harsh winds he recalled from his journey south on the Great Ouse, or the spine-tingling final night in Camboricum.

With a start, Harry realized that a fair bit of time must have passed in this ancient world since he had last dreamed his way into the mind of his very distant ancestor. He was just beginning to speculate how long it might have been, when he sensed the Publican entertaining a very similar thought, almost as if the man had heard the question and was preparing to answer.

The Publican withdrew a scroll and magical stylus that he kept in a dry fold next to his emergency rations. Examining the parchment (it seemed to be something of a field journal; likely a log that he kept as part of his imperial administrative duties) the man scanned down to locate his various annotations from the previous day. He drew a thin line beneath them, and inscribed a new date.

Reading the crisp Latin letters, Harry stared in surprise. This morning marked day XI of the month of Junius! More than two months had passed in the Publican's life since the dramatic escape from a Camboricum dungeon!

Before Harry had any chance to wonder what great or terrible adventures or hardships might have occupied the Publican's attention through all the intervening time, he was afforded a bit of a clue. From a short distance behind him came the sound of a feminine voice — a soft, inarticulate groan; groggy yet contented. He turned to see a very familiar face — LannosŽa, princess of the Iceni — stretching from within their shared bed of furs, shaded beneath a magically reinforced bower of branches and leaves.

Her stretch complete, the princess smiled at him — an expression of honey and spice. Gleaming red hair fell about her in waves; vivacious eyes sparkled in the morning sun; delicately upturned lips just slightly parted — everything about her reminded Harry of an early morning image of Ginny.

Errr, well, except for the… lack of clothing.

Eyes wide at the glimpse of an immodest (but utterly tantalizing) expanse of smooth, lustrous skin, he twisted away bashfully… then cringed. That instinct — an epitome of respectful diffidence — had just betrayed him. He knew it immediately; he had blown his cover!

Yes, Harry did not need to look back toward the princess to feel her incisive eyes suddenly upon him; to know that her face had almost certainly turned from simple happiness to an expression of curious calculation. After all, prudish discomposure was very likely not the reaction she would have come to expect from a man who had, quite obviously, become her lover.

Harry silently cursed his carelessness, but he had to admit that cohabiting someone else's mind was never easy. Although in previous dreams he had felt quite at home experiencing the ancient world vicariously through the eyes of his ancestor, he knew there were parts of the role that he wasn't cut out to play very well. Despite the many close similarities between Harry and the Publican, there were definite differences — not the least of which involved how they each related to females.

That, of course, was understandable; it came down to culture and confidence. After all, Harry had been raised in a very repressed and repressive environment where his experiences with women (such as Petunia, Aunt Marge and Mrs. Figg) were perfectly calibrated to stifle warmth and affection. Thanks to Dudley and his thugs, girls Harry's own age at primary school had been effectively persuaded to shun him. Even at Hogwarts, his notoriety and constant state of peril had kept him from forming real friendships with any girls other than Hermione… and even she was not especially feminine. His discovery of Ginny had been full of brilliant revelations, but he was only a few days along that wonderful path and, even compared to the average clueless fifteen-year-old boy, he still had a lot of catching up to do.

By contrast, the Imperial Publican Paternas Peuerellius had been granted a tremendous head start. He been born into a Roman society in which girls and women fully expected flirtatious affection from the boys and men in their lives, and were rarely shy about returning or even initiating the attention. For someone like the Publican, born into a household of some privilege and admired by virtue of his family name, casual courtship had always been second nature. By the age of ten the Publican had been regularly beset by girls (mostly daughters of his father's associates) who adored the ground he walked upon. By the time Peuerellius had reached his fifteenth birthday, he was a man of the world — an apprentice Imperial administrator, already betrothed to a wealthy and rather beautiful maiden who would soon become his wife.

Not everything had been easy, though. Without exaggeration, the resulting marriage had been an unmitigated disaster — one that had brought Harry's ancestor to within mere inches of untimely death. Only by his quickest of reflexes had he evaded the worst intent of a deadly cursed blade. Decades later, in the depths of night, he could sometimes still see that hand… those soft, delicate fingers of a thousand velvet caresses… suddenly lashing out in homicidal mania.

The experience had left him scarred (some metaphorical wounds to his spirit, and that single thin white mark remaining from a not-so-metaphorical gash on his face), but it had not completely quelled the Publican's fondness for the fair sex. Through his many travels in service of the empire, he had always found it very helpful to cultivate casual friendships with local leaders and their families. Over the years, many sisters and daughters (and more than a few wives) had fawned over the man's polite, quiet confidence, his empathy and well-honed attentiveness.

In return, the Publican had enjoyed their company but, in the long years since leaving his wife, he had always abstained from any relationship that might grow too intimate or serious. It was not that he remained true to the murderous witch. No, instead he was faithful to a fundamental conviction, treasured in the depths of his heart, that somewhere in what remained of his life he would find one woman (and one woman alone) whom he could truly love.

And indeed he had.

And at the moment, this very woman was, as Harry had rightly guessed, examining her lover with a suddenly curious look of calculation and concern.

LannosŽa raised her eyebrow. Her eyes scanned the Publican's oblique profile analytically. She put placed a thoughtful finger to her lips for a moment. “Terna?”

The Publican nodded.

“Terna, that visitor spirit you used to sense…” She tapped her head. “Has he returned ?”

Inwardly Harry groaned to hear his fears confirmed so quickly. Self-consciously, he tried to pull back from the dream but it was too late — almost instantly, he felt the weight of the Publican's internal scrutiny.

Harry braced himself, prepared to be driven from the Publican's mind; prepared to forfeit any chance of ever figuring out the real purpose of these dreams.

However, no rage or fear arose within Harry's ancestor. Much to Harry's relief, the probe ended without violent expulsion or panic. There was mostly just a sense of curiosity.

“Yes Lano, I do think you are right. The visitor does seem to have come back again.” The Publican frowned pensively and stepped back into their humble bower, taking a seat beside the reclining princess. “The Coritani wandmaker you met must be a very skilled Druid indeed to have perceived these little spirits. Their presence within us is subtle and well hidden, except if they are startled or angry. Over the past weeks since our blissful exile began, I had rather come to disbelieve the idea of us being possessed. I had nearly convinced myself that any memory of their presences was a shared delusion — a trick we played upon our own minds following those harrowing spring days of fear and peril.”

The princess nodded. “And yet, this morning we have neither fear nor peril, but we do both have visitors within us, do we not?”

“Er, yes. You do too?”

“Yes.” LannosŽa gazed up at him in thought, draping her arm casually over his leg. “The instant I deduced a presence you, I felt one in myself as well — a fleeting sense of someone fearing discovery. It is strange, though. These do not seem to be spirits of evil, or even mischief.”

The Publican shook his head.

LannosŽa stroked his arm unconsciously. “It goes against all of my lessons — I was raised to ever guard against intrusion, yet this voice who has chosen to visit me from time to time — she inspires no more fear in me than does the little songbird perched above our bower. Of course, at one time I cursed her, and despised her weakness, yet now my mind has changed. She has become like a friend to me — one with a peculiar innocence that warms me, and a wisdom that intrigues.”

“That is somewhat how I feel,” the Publican agreed. “I never truly feared or disliked my visitor, but I must admit that it took me far longer than you to even recognize that I actually had one.” He scratched his head reflectively. “Now that I know what to look for, I realize that I had unknowingly sensed his presence many times before without recognizing him as a foreign spirit. I mistook him for… for some overlooked part of my own soul. When my visitor is with me, it feels as if a long-forgotten shard of my youth has returned — almost as if a part of me broke away long ago to live a different life… only to finally now return, bringing a wealth of very unusual knowledge and perspectives.” He trailed off for a moment. “Sorry my love, I know not how to explain it.”

The princess found his hand and squeezed it gently. “I understand you perfectly, Terna.”

The Publican smiled warmly for a moment, then gazed off into the distance, his smile fading. “So what do you suppose it means that they have returned?”

LannosŽa lay back and gazed through the sparse leafy structure that, through magic, sheltered them every bit as comfortably as the stone roofs of a sturdy Roman fort. She frowned slightly. “Do you recall how I told you that the Coritani Druid foretold that I was fated to return to my mother in the hour of her greatest need?”

The Publican nodded.

“Well, my love...” LannosŽa reached for his hand and held if firmly. “I suspect that the hour is approaching.”

The Publican regarded her quizzically. “Do you mean that these visitors are harbingers of fate?”

“No, it is more complicated than that.” The princess paused a long moment, her expression slightly pinched as if she was trying to read a distant signpost. “It is very strange, Terna. My visitor speaks to me; she seems to know things that I myself cannot know.”

“Such as?”

“She seems to read my future. Or parts of it anyway.”

The Publican eyes widened. “She is a seer?”

LannosŽa pursed her lips. “Not exactly. Not in the manner of my grandmother, who would meditate and see vague images of days to come. My visitor seems to truly read things. It is as though she recites my future — as might an old bard recount a story from deep in the past.”

The Publican frowned. “Your future is like her past? You speak in riddles, my love.”

The princess laughed. “Yes, well it is all a great riddle to both of us, and perhaps to her as well. But tell me Terna — you read the scrolls of your Roman and Greek historians, do you not? Just as I may read the great field stones of my ancestors?”

The Publican nodded.

“The voice in my mind bids you to suspend disbelief.” LannosŽa gazed intently into the Publican's eyes. “Imagine that you were to read of the plot against your great Caeser Julius, and find some magical way to reach back into the past to warn him? Or imagine some scion of mine was to see from the inscription on the Iceni stone by our river that my father would be felled by a Coritani poisoned arrow, and somehow bid him not to cross the Ouse on that fateful day?”

“These voices hail from days yet to come? They have heard the ends of stories that we have just begun? They offer guidance?”

The princess smiled. “I believe so.”

“That may be useful.” The Publican frowned. “Well, let us say that your visitor has read such a standing stone that describes your fate — what might it say?”

“I can grasp but little of what she thinks, Terna. But I believe we must be in… Camulodunum… seven days before summer solstice...”

The Publican's frown deepened at the mention of the Legate's stronghold. “Seven days before solstice — that is three days hence!” His exhalation coursed with concern. “What is to occur in Camulodunum in three days?”

LannosŽa turned back to stare vacantly ahead into the flourishing sunrise. “A great battle, my love. The long years of peace are at an end. The Iceni… my mother… shall rise.”

The Publican bit his lower lip. He cast his eyes about their humble bower, still glimmering in the leaf-filtered light. He thought about the weeks of placid seclusion spent with this young woodland princess — a perfect complement who had finally brought meaning to his strained and tumultuous life. He thought about how close their time together come to complete and utter bliss, and he took a deep breath.

The land was on the brink of war. His own store of peaceful days, too, had seemingly run out.

Ginny was astonished to see the changes that had come over the princess and the Publican in their well-deserved peaceful interlude. To her discriminating eye, the man's stoic visage had softened; the subtle but impermeable barriers to his heart (one that had known great disappointment) seemed to have given way to an embrace of mutual trust and affection. The princess's uncompromising fire had dimmed to reveal the warmth and wit required to tame her man. Both of them still bristled with power (Ginny was certain that they would be fearsome forces to be reckoned with in the coming battles) but both also seemed to be more human now.

Perhaps it was love; perhaps neither the princess of the Publican had ever before truly known nature's most potent and fundamental force, and maybe their acceptance of each other had transformed them. Yet, there somehow seemed to to something more. There was a hidden force in the pair that Ginny had never sensed before. Although present in both of them, this unusual new power seemed strongest in the princess — a new and different magic of some sort… but Ginny couldn't quite place what it might be.

For the time being, it was difficult to concentrate on such abstract speculation, however. Once the princess and the Publican had committed to leaving for Camulodunum, it sparked a rapid transformation from the morning idyll. Ginny was fascinated by how rapidly and efficiently they worked together to secure their sparse belongings and magically restore their bower to a pristine boreal state.

Ginny also paid very close attention to their conversation. She was intrigued to learn that, according to the Publican, their current location placed them at a little more than forty leagues from Camulodunum — a distance that could indeed be covered in two hard day's march.

The Publican had remarked about the fortuitous timing — they had learned about the prospective uprising just barely in time to join it. The princess, for her part, had simply shrugged. Ginny had come to understand LannosŽa better than most people ever would. She knew that, in the mind of the Celtic princess, very little ever occurred by pure chance; that fate had decreed a time that was neither too early nor too late.

Although she would have been very curious to know what LannosŽa might have hoped or feared to see in the coming confrontation, Ginny was left in the dark. The princess, although apparently now quite tolerant of an extra voice in her mind, had grown more guarded and opaque.

Recognizing that the princess was entitled to privacy, Ginny could still not help (for what would not be the last time) feeling concerned about these barriers. Ginny had tremendous faith in the purity of LannosŽa's spirit and intentions, but there was something about a person so powerful and impulsive that still gave her pause.

Ginny was not the only one who had been engrossed by the Publican-princess partnership. Harry was similarly impressed by the strength and synergy that had evolved between them in the past couple of months. He was moved to see how two people, both so proud, strong and independent, could so readily come to agreements on virtually everything that they needed to. They seemed to understand each other's perspectives and needs, despite factors that would normally have posed major complications — their very different cultural heritages, distinct temperaments, and some rather touchy issues regarding what different loyalties they might have in the coming conflict.

The latter could have crippled many long-standing marriages, but to Peuerellius and LannosŽa it was mere water off a swan's back. They would be loyal to each other; they were both sworn enemies of the Legate. For everything else, they could only stand together and await the winds of fate. Thus resolved, it had taken less than a minute to decide to break camp and move onto the commensurate preparations for the journey ahead.

Now why couldn't everyone work together like that?

Harry couldn't help but be somewhat chagrined. Since when had he, Ron and Hermione ever decided on anything without a raging quarrel? Had they ever shown each other such even-tempered respect? Progressed so effortlessly to useful compromises? Achieved closure without the least whinge or bicker?

Of course in fairness, Harry couldn't recall having seen such equanimity among any other friends or relations — not with any of his acquaintances at Hogwarts and not really even the Order of the Phoenix. The Dursleys had never worked together particularly well. Harry would not even (or especially not) hope for such cooperation among members of the Weasley family.

In truth, this partnership between his ancestor and this dynamic young woman (so much like Ginny) was an epiphany! Even under strain and disruption, the best of friends could actually act… like the best of friends!

Harry continued to watch the pair's considerate give and take as they made their way quickly through the woods, debating their route and travel strategies. Deciding on the very first leg of the journey had been trivial — they would make their way down to the nearby banks of the River Waveney (where they had concealed a currach ) and follow the river southwest at least until it reached the Roman road.

Beyond that, the choices became more ambiguous. The debate was still on-going as the Publican canceled the disillusionment charm on the small boat. He handed the princess a coil of rope and gazed at her thoughtfully. “The Roman road is a straighter and shorter route than continuing south by currach.”

The princess took hold of one end of the vessel and helped the Publican to settle it half-way into the river, securing it to a nearby tree. As she dusted her hands and reached for her sack she shook her head. “Actually, I would guess that apart from the portage overland from the Waveney to the Gipping, it should be easier to travel by river. One person may rest while the other pilots. We may even travel by night.”

“I suppose so.” The Publican nodded as he stepped knee-deep into the stream. Glancing across to the far bank of the stream he nodded again, more vigourously. “Lano, with all of the recent rain, the streams are very high. What is often a mere trickle cluttered with scrub and rock may now be easily navigable.”

The princess nodded. “This is good news. So by river then we may be able to reach Camulodunum with time to spy and plan?”

“I think so.” He helped his companion settle into their small vessel, hoisted it free of the bank-side gravel, then wrestled himself over the frame as the princess steadied the boat with her wand. After he gave the currach a quick glance to ensure that their supplies were properly stowed, he smiled to his companion. “The only remaining question, Lano, is whom you would prefer to encounter on our way — Romans on the road, or Britons on the river?”

LannosŽa laughed. “Neither, I hope! The queen will wring my neck for desertion if she catches us before we save her. And the Romans… the Roman necks you and I shall wring aplenty before we are done, but for every Roman we fell, three more will always rise in his place. No Terna, today I am in no mood for companions.” She raised her wand. “Before we go too far south, let us not forget to disillusion ourselves.”

The Publican's assessment was correct — recent rains had raised the streams by more than a foot's depth, giving them deep, level water to navigate. Although the first part of their journey was against the current, their magic still permitted them to make swift progress, and it was not until mid-morning before flotsam first forced them to step from the currach to tug the vessel along by hand. Even then, the debris was a good omen — it had been swept into the stream by the confluence of the River Dove. They had not expected to reach this point on their journey before noon time — they were already hours ahead of schedule.

The princess and the Publican paused to scan the mouth of the fast running tributary. In the course of their discussion of whether to remain to the east of the Roman road and make use of the fast-running Dove, they described to each other enough of what they knew about topography and local landmarks for Ginny to finally realize exactly where they were — right along the northern border of Suffolk. From that location, they were just about to cut straight through what had historically been the heartland of the Trinovantes tribe.

All throughout the morning, Ginny had been scouring her mind for details relating to the Iceni rebellion, trying to put their current situation within the historical context. As she sifted through multiple (somewhat conflicting) accounts of the Camulodunum battle, historical maps of the various Brythonic tribal lands, the layout of Roman roads and locations of major towns and outposts, she started to get the glimmers of an idea.

Trusting that the princess was likely monitoring her, Ginny began to focus her thoughts onto some specific details that she guessed might be useful.

Just as LannosŽa was just about to re-enter the currach, she hesitated and stared at the Publican in puzzlement. “Diras!” she exclaimed.

The Publican tossed the rope into the boat and met her eyes. “Diras? Diras who? The renegade leader of the Trinovantes from decades past?”

LannosŽa shook her head. “If you are speaking of Diras the Dispossessed, then no. I am thinking of his grandson.”

“Ah? I had no idea the line has survived.” The Publican regarded her curiously. “So, what of him?”

”He will rise up, Terna! He will heed mother's siren call to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression. Trinovantes, so long persecuted, shall rebel even if the Iceni remain unconvinced!”

“Trinovantes?” The Publican stared at her. “Are you certain?”

LannosŽa laughed. “No, of course I'm not certain! Without the eagles of Amaethon to soar the four winds gathering the harbingers of war, I am reduced to trusting the voice in my head.”

The Publican nodded. “Well I can see a certain sense to it. The Legate has almost certainly promised peace and prosperity to your own people in return for their passive obeisance, and even your mother thought it unlikely she could sway the Iceni to join a battle without the reassurance of the Staff of Scavo. By contrast, the Trinovantes have had more than fifteen years to dwell upon the hollowness of Roman promises.” He paused for a moment to steady the currach as the princess settled into it. “So, what do you know of this grandson Diras? He is not named in Roman records.”

LannosŽa, in turn, helped the Publican aboard and the pair began to steer their way up the brisk Dove current. Once they had established a stable pace, she settled back and gazed into the dark thickets lining the river as she summoned memories of the mysterious Trinovante. “Diras was rarely spoken of in my father's court, and he only ever visited once. He is quiet and wary, short and swarthy, in the manner of the Picts of the north.”

“Oh? Does he have Pictish blood?”

“Yes.” LannosŽa nodded absently. “After Diras the grandfather was murdered in his sleep by Romans, Brocius the father fled into the hinterlands with a small band of loyal followers. They were away for many years, during which Brocius likely wedded the daughter of a Pictish chieftain.”

“So they truly dwelt among Picts?? ” The Publican shuddered. “It is said that among all two-legged creatures in the great Empire, we shall never find any craftier, wilder and less human.”

The princess shrugged. “That is a very Roman manner of thought… but we the Iceni have been trained for many years to think like Romans so I will agree with you. In any case, upon the death of Brocius, Diras quietly returned south with several dozen descendants of the original Trinovante fugitives. They were hardened warriors, yet moved among the trees with a noiseless guile that baffled even our very best trackers. Their band visited father more than ten years ago. It was an awkward meeting in which Diras proclaimed the long friendship of the Trinovantes and Iceni, as if the former was still a kingdom, proud and free. He almost seemed not to understand that his people had long since become a ragged rabble — half dispersed like wolves into the wilderness; the other half bred by the Romans to be docile sheep.”

The Publican nodded grimly, but said nothing.

“Diras announced that he was restoring Trinovante sovereignty to the lands south of the Waveney,” LannosŽa recalled. “He assured my father that there would be peace along the border as long as the Iceni did not object. He also demanded that we never betray to the Romans any news of his return.”

“And as always, your father was a man of his word...” It was a statement; there was a hint of inquiry to the Publican's tone, but no anger.

“Yes. Father was no fool though. He resolved to keep his promise, but I do know that he would have informed you of the development if he had ever descried a clear threat to the Iceni-Roman alliance.”

“He never perceived a threat then?”

The princess shook her head. “No. If Diras ever did establish dominion over the northern reaches of the old Trinovante kingdom, he must have done so in preternatural silence and secrecy.”

“If he did…?” the Publican probed. “And am I to now assume that you do believe that Diras succeeded?”

“I do, and my little friendly voice believes this too.”

“In preternatural silence and secrecy…?” The Publican stroked his chin.

LannosŽa nodded.

“Very interesting...” The Publican paused and corrected their course to avoid a sharp snag concealed below the shimmering waters. “And now your mother shall seek him out?”

“She will.” LannosŽa pursed her lips as her eyes strained southwards up into the trees and low rolling hills that lay ahead. “I do not see why Diras should agree to help her… but I imagine that mother sees no other way forward.”

In the late afternoon heat, with a bright sun bearing down and the soothing sounds of trickling water and breeze in the high branches, eyelids grew heavy. The Publican, piloting carefully through the upper reaches of the Dove, had let his princess slip into a doze off some time ago, and Harry took the opportunity to gaze surreptitiously at the young woman.

Harry wondered whether Ginny's consciousness had remained with the princess, even as she slept. He, Harry, had never experienced any of the Publican's dreams; whenever his ancestor had lost consciousness, Harry had always found himself pulled back either to Grimmauld Place, or to some new version of the horrors of 1998.

So, if Ginny wasn't dreaming the princess's dreams, what was she experiencing? Had she been summoned off to some other dream? Was it interesting or important? If so, what would happen to the other dream if LannosŽa suddenly awakened.

That latter question was about to become an issue. The currach was running out of water — it would very soon be time to rise from the boat and begin their portage.

As they reached the last viable pool, the Publican looked for the softest place to land. Ever-so-gently, he edged the vessel up onto the fringe of a silty bank.

The princess startled. “Amaethon, I was asleep?!”

The Publican gazed toward the sun. “Yes, for perhaps a half hour.”

“How odd — I never require midday rest. Whatever has come over me today?” The princess frowned. “And Terna! How could you have let me sleep?”

“You looked so peaceful.” He shrugged sheepishly and stepped out on the soft bank. “It brought joy to my heart to see your comfort.”

Her eyes blazed. “The time for luxuries is over. We are two of the most hunted people in all the land, straying into parts that are likely crawling with watchful eyes — we need all our wits about us!”

The Publican gazed around, gathering his bearings. “Yes, I suppose so. Good fortune has been with us so far, but we shall definitely need all of those eyes and ears now.” He dropped his voice. “We are less than two hundred feet from the springs of Dove. The waters at our feet pour straight from cracks beneath the Roman road. The springs are one of the most-frequented rest places for foot travelers, and we have little choice but to cross near them.”

LannosŽa's eyes widened. She quickly cast disillusionment spells on herself and her sack. “How long is the portage?” she whispered.

“Fairly short I believe — less than two leagues if the Gipping is as swollen as the Dove.”

Proceeding in silence from that point, the Publican miniaturised their currach, shook it dry, and placed it carefully in his sack. He then disillusioned himself and their remaining supplies.

Treading carefully along the soft river bank, they had gone no further than the next bend when they pulled up short.

Voices! Romans!

At the base of a steep incline of soft stones were four legionnaries, chatting casually as they filled water vessels from the clear spring.

The Publican and the princess crept closer to listen.

“… other reports of Britons on the move. Are you being summoned back to defend Camulodunum?”

“Defend? No, as far as we have heard, Old Silver is calling us home for reassignment.”

“Reassignment? Yourselves and half of the Spanish Ninth Legion, you think? You're the fourth Century we've seen marching south today alone. Methinks your silver fox is spoiling for a fight.”

“Don't be daft — the only good fighting to be had is way off in the mountains of the west. This territory is brilliantly pacified now. Quiet as a dead Dacian.”

“Not as quiet as you might think. Something queer is afoot in these parts; it may remain out of our sight, but only because it pokes our eyes every time we try to look for it — we've lost four scouts in these woods in the past month.”

“Hah! As likely as not, your scouts ate some bad mushrooms, or fell into a bog after a heavy rain...”

The Publican carefully reached for the princess's invisible hand, and whispered to her. “A useful bit of gossip, but I have heard enough. We must find a way around them without getting caught.”

He guided them in a wide arc around the unsuspecting soldiers. As they made their way carefully through the underbrush, the Publican analysed the disjointed conversation. He nodded to himself. Most importantly, the Romans' idle chatter confirmed key details from the voice in LannosŽa's head. The region was indeed coming to life in a rather unusual and potentially hazardous way.

As the Publican led them to a roadside clearing a safe distance from the springs, he scanned the sizable gathering of soldiers milling about. They evidently belonged to two different Centuries proceeding in different directions along the road, having likely encountered each other by chance. Inferring from their standards, he recognized one as a local patrol unit from Camboricum, while the other had been making its way down from encampments at Branodunum.

The princess leaned in to whisper to the Publican. “Do you think the Legate is aware of imminent attack?”

The Publican gazed thoughtfully toward the rival groups of soldiers, still engaged in casual verbal sparring. “I'm uncertain, though I would guess he sees nothing imminent. He is calling troops back to his capitol, but has not commanded great urgency. Most likely he has reached a certain point in this wily scheme of his; he has perhaps been destabilizing the region enough that it is now time to prepare for the intended fallout.”

“Do you think Mother will not catch him by surprise…?”

The Publican exhaled softly for a moment. “Not a complete surprise perhaps… though she may well still catch him with his tunic hitched.”

The princess snickered quietly to herself as the pair carefully crossed the road and slipped into the bushes on the other side.

Minutes later, they had not quite even reached the wooded portage path leading from the springs of Dove across to the springs of Gipping, when LannosŽa suddenly tugged the Publican's arm. Rather than try to point (useless, since they were both disillusioned), she found the Publican's hand and oriented it obliquely toward a spot adjacent to the path, about forty feet away.

The Publican scanned the spot — just in time to see a bush jostle slightly, and catch a quick glimpse of a leather boot pulling back into the shadows.

So there are other spies lurking about!

After a moment of silent watching, LannosŽa tugged the Publican's hand again, this time to urge him to follow. Although he himself caught no more than a bare glimpse of the spy every minute or so, the princess guided then unerringly through the woods, maintaining a gap of 50 to 80 feet back from the mysterious figure, yet never losing him.

The spy spent several minutes weaving artfully through the underbrush, but then he returned to the edge of the woodland path and stood still for a long moment. The man (now plainly visible to the Publican as a Celtic woodsman) was listening and watching for signs of pursuit, but his attention was clearly directed back up the path toward the road, and not in their oblique direction.

Having apparently satisfied himself that he was untracked, the spy stepped out onto the path and began to run westwards toward the Gipping.

LannosŽa held the Publican back. She counted softly to five in her own language to give the spy a safe head start, then took off running, with her mate in tow.

Ten minutes later, they were brought again to an abrupt stop by the sound of multiple voices — Celtic voices this time. Creeping around a final bend in the path, they came to the edge of a small muddy clearing to find the spy. He was reconnoitering with a small group which, by their appearance, seemed to include another woodsman, and four Celtic warriors.

The Publican strained his ears but, despite fluency in all of the main Brythonic dialects in southeast Britannia, he was unable to follow their hushed conversation. He was able to make plausible guesses for perhaps one out of every ten words, but the strange speech was otherwise unintelligible.

Despite this, it was fairly apparent from tone and hand gestures that one of the warriors — a man of some influence — was ordering the two woodsmen off on separate quests. Gesturing to two currachs that could be seen off in the distance on the edge of a shallow pool, it seemed that he meanwhile intended to lead his warriors down the Gipping.

The Publican and the princess stood stock still as the Celts ran through a series of quick final instructions, then disbanded.

After remaining frozen in silence for another long moment until all had fallen quiet, the Publican finally leaned close to LannosŽa. “Well?”

“I'm certain by looks and dress that they were all Trinovantes, yet they spoke Pictish,” she whispered. “Perhaps they use the barbaric dialect as a secret code? I could not grasp much, but they are rapidly spreading the word.”

“The word? Of what?”

“A great gathering. A reckoning of some sort. On the fens of Gipping tonight in the rising moon.”

The Publican nodded. “Well then my love, would you fancy accompanying me to a gathering?”

LannosŽa squeezed his hand, and they broke into a brisk, silent run over the sodden ground toward the distant pool across which the two Trinovante currachs were just now slipping from sight.

Ginny could not have guessed exactly how a fugitive princess of the Iceni might be received if she had been detected by Trinovante warriors en route to a great mustering, but one thing was brutally obvious — under these conditions, an Imperial Publican would be distinctly unwelcome. Consequently, the excursion down the Gipping made for a rather spine-tingling game of constant evasion, whose complex challenges mounted by the hour. If they had only needed to carefully tail a quartet of warriors in two currachs, it would have been a simple proposition, but seemingly every bend of the river seemed to produce more Trinovante boat traffic.

The quiet woods were coming to life!

Harry deduced that the two woodsmen they had encountered earlier were likely part of a network of couriers despatched around the countryside to rally able-bodied warriors to the assembly. That network was clearly proving successful. By mid-evening, men and women of diverse ages were emerging from the woods in great numbers. The Publican had quietly estimated that this stretch of the Gipping alone likely contained a greater number of fighters than the garrison at Camulodunum generally hosted. Fewer than half of the Celtic masses were truly armed for war, but at some point their numbers alone might prove to be overwhelming.

Of course there was little time for idle speculation. With so many small vessels taking to a river of only modest width, the Publican and LannosŽa were both constantly taxed trying to avoid drawing any form of attention to themselves (collisions, noise, even a wake from their currach) and by mid evening they were both exhausted.

Fortunately, after one last narrow turn, the river opened into a wide stretch of stagnant wetlands. On the western side rose a sloping green hill near which hundreds of currachs had landed, and a much greater number of Celts had already gathered. The rapidly flowing streams had delivered them all to their shared destination!

By silent agreement, the Publican and princess landed their vessel a quarter mile north of their destination, and they completed the final short leg of the day's journey on foot along a path that few of the others had chosen.

Although they had kept some space between themselves and the densest groups of Trinovantes, the Publican and princess were nonetheless able to gaze about the fens in the final glimmers of sunset and marvel at the mass of humanity gathering here in this inhospitable wilderness. Harry was about to try to estimate the size of the crowd, when the Publican (quite skilled in such militarily useful assessments) did it for him — there were tens of thousands of Celts congregating on the hill.

The Publican reached for his partner's hand and gripped it with anxiety. “This is astonishing. Such a gathering is unprecedented!” His breath whistled softly through his teeth. “What can it mean??”

“I know not!” LannosŽa gazed around at the crowds, her attention distracted as lit torches began to circulate. Indeed, disregarding the fierce battles that had raged during the first year of the princess's life, she had never lived to experience any Iceni skirmishes involving even as many as a thousand combatants — a total that could be exceeded many times over if this mustering strode into battle!

As they walked about the base of the hill, gazing up to where a large beacon fire had been built upon the crest, Ginny wondered how the princess and Publican could possibly make their way through the crush of humanity to get close enough to the summit to figure out what was truly going to emerge from the gathering. Fortunately, almost as if fate himself had heard her concern, a group of tall, purposeful warriors began massing at the eastern base of the slope. All painted in red and black war colors favoured by the Trinovantes, the elite warriors approached the disordered masses with a confident authourity and began shouting instructions.

The crowd immediately fell silent, except for buzz of whispers as people began edging back at the behest of the warriors. Within minutes, a wide path had been cleared from the edge of the water all the way to the top of the hill.

It was then that Ginny glanced southwards, down stream. In the darkening night, she saw a dozen bright, regularly arrayed torches approaching. After a couple of minutes, the lights had resolved to reveal a barge occupied by a group of similarly impressive warriors, standing guard around a darker, shorter man endowed with vivid paints and a wild mien.

“Diras,” LannosŽa whispered.

The Publican nodded solemnly. He pointed upstream to where, just barely visible in the twilight, a sizable cluster of unlit currachs was making its way downstream. “And might that be your mother?”

The princess stared for a long moment with wide-eyes. Very slowly, she too nodded.

Diras and his entourage reached the bottom of the hill first and, without yet acknowledging the approaching Iceni delegation, strode up to the high central bonfire and turned to face the masses.

A heavy, expectant silence had fallen over the large crowd as everyone's attention fixed upon the mighty queen of the Iceni. Recognizing a brief window of opportunity, the Publican tugged LannosŽa's hand, leading her quickly (and invisibly) up the cleared path to the hill's crest, upon which they found, somewhat to the side of the fire, an unoccupied location where they could watch and listen with little risk of detection.

Ginny stared down in fascination as several Iceni warriors stepped out of their currachs into the water, and steadied the queen's vessel so that she could step proudly onto dry land. The monarch's fierce eyes blazed in the flickering flames; the wavering light danced upon her lustrous hair, giving her an aura of power, like an awesome earth-spirit or phantasm.

Hushed exclamations spread throughout the crowd, yet Diras himself watched with polite dispassion as the proud woman ascended the hill, trailed by her daughter Heanua and several dozen steadfast Iceni champions.

Ginny wondered whether the renowned queen, backed only by several scores of true warriors and at most a few hundred volunteers, would bow before a renegade woodsman in the presence of his many thousands of willing combatants?

She was not altogether surprised to see that Boadicea would do no such thing. For a long, quivering moment, the tense multitudes stared as the deposed lady of the Iceni stood in silence before the strange lord of an unheralded, yet powerful and mysterious, wilderness dominion.

Finally the queen spoke. “Diras, son of Brocius, son of Diras the Dispossessed.” Her voice that boomed from the hilltop with great force and majesty. “Master of the hearts of all Trinovante faithful, I come to you in peace, and yet it is war that I seek.”

While a zephyr of gasps swept across the hillside and nearby fens, Diras met Boadicea's blazing eyes without flinching. Yet he said nothing.

Undaunted, the queen continued. “Join with me, my long-standing ally. Join me and together we shall shake free of the yoke of foreign oppression. I entreat you to march upon Camulodunum and expel the Romans. No more shall sacrilegious outsiders despoil the sacred grounds of Camulos, our divine god of war. Diras, it is time! Take back the great capital of Trinovantes and free your land and people! Join me!”

Diras eyed her expressionlessly. “Who should be joined by whom, o' Lady Iceni?”

If the queen was rattled by the odd inquiry, she was too proud and too skilled in statesmanship to show it. “Please clarify your question.”

“Who should join whom? Shall, the master of thirty thousand courageous fighters fall in step behind the chieftainess of three hundred? The legends call your Iceni the People of the Horse, yet where is your cavalry? Where are your chariots? Show us your strength, my renowned Boadicea, daughter of Scavo!”

The queen fixed Diras with a glare. For a moment Ginny thought she would turn away in anger but then she slowly sank to her knees, finally lowering her tall stature below the level of the short, dark Trinovante. Her words, although still spoken to project far into the surrounding crowds, contained a measure of humility. “I shall join you, noble lord of our southern neighbour. Once we have, together, brought low the tyranny of Camulodunum, the Iceni shall ride to us by the thousands. Chariots shall rumble over Roman roads like a thunder of approaching doom, and together we shall drive the scurrilous invaders off the chalk cliffs to break upon the rocks and waves.” Boadicea withdrew the strange Coritani wand from her shift and held it out, laid across her two palms in a gesture of supplication. “I show to you my strength, Lord Diras. I bring to you the great and holy powers granted unto us by Scathach, She Who Strikes Fear, Goddess of Healing, Prophesy and Protection.”

Diras regarded her coldly, then he too drew from his cloak a wand. He raised it slowly toward the rising moon, stiffened for a moment… then a deafening bolt split the darkness, struck his wand tip, briefly ensconsing the man in a blue glow, as the cleansing scent of ozone drifted down through the crowds.

“You are not the only one here tonight who is versed in the arts of Scathach, O' Lady Iceni.” Diras sneered slightly at the sight of the queen's widened eyes. “Your father was very powerful, but are you as well? Pray tell, my lady, why have you come to me bearing such a crude stick? Why not arm yourself with greater might?”

A long silence hung between them, then Diras glared contemptuously at the queen. “Where is the Staff of Scavo?!”

Boadicea did not flinch, but she still said nothing.

Diras gazed southwards for a moment then returned his focus to the kneeling figure before him. “You have not seen fit to admit, dear lady, that your father's staff is cradled, at this very moment, within the pasty, perfumed hands of a Roman wizard, perched in the tallest tower of Camulodunum?”

Ever so slightly, Boadicea nodded.

The short man turned away dismissively. “The hour is late, and I have other concerns, but yet I shall bid you again. Show us your strength, o' lady of the erstwhile great family of Scavo.”

The queen rose to her feet. “Staff or no staff,” she said, “the powers of Scathach run deep in myself and my daughters.”

“Daughters? I see only one daughter.” Diras angled his head slightly to peer past Boadicea toward Heanua, who was gazing vacantly into the night sky. He raised a skeptical brow. “This young woman looks to strike great fear into the hearts… of flowers in the forest glade, whose stems she might pluck with maidenly truculence. My lady, your fair princess bristles with all the ferocity of a lame dove.”

Heanua did not blink or even alter her gaze, yet Ginny felt tremors course through LanossŽa as she valiantly suppressed a bitter vitriol that longed to blaze forth.

Oblivious to the mounting rage of the queen's other (invisible) daughter, Diras raised his finger toward the sky. “I see an omen, your ladyship — a cloud verges upon our meeting moon. Let this be our measure — if you do not drive me cowering to my knees before the dusky grey vapour shrouds Rhiannon's great silver lamp, then leave here and disturb me no more!”

The crowd fell deathly silent as many thousands of eyes stared up toward the thick dark cloud that had already begun to gnaw on the edges of the waxing moon. Ginny's eyes fell upon the queen, however; watching as she slowly shifted the Coritani wand from her palmed gesture of supplication…

For some reason, Ginny trembled as the fingers on Boadicea's right hand crept around the handle, collecting the wood into a firm grip…

A spasm wracked Ginny, tearing across her from somewhere deep in her midsection. Agony! Feeling as though she had burst into flames; the princess writhed as coarse, raw power burst from inside herself. The power sprang invisibly through the air, coupled with the Druid's strange wand and exploded into the night's sky as blazing, thunderous pyrotechnics.

Wracked by terrible convulsions, Ginny's senses swirled — a cacophony of shrieks, gasps and cheers racing through the crowd… a confused swirl of fiery apparitions blazing across the sky — the aethereal image of a bizarre ram-horned deity wielding the great horse-headed staff, smiting down huge ghostly towers amidst great claps of thunder… Diras sinking to his knees with a confused, giddy grin upon his barbaric face… Boadicea gazing upwards in a state of dazed stupefaction.

Amidst the fiery din, a single whisper escaped the queen's lips…

“LanossŽa??”

As the darkness overcame Ginny's vision; as the torrential noise faded into the soft pulse of a single beating heart, she was aware only of the Publican's strong hands sweeping his lover away from the confusion. She felt his coarse tunic pressed firmly against her face. She inhaled one final reassuring breath, graced with a hint of pollen, musk and applewood smoke… then she fell into a strange swirling vortex...

Dazed nearly to nausea, Ginny spit away the dust and acrid fumes, staring wildly about herself in bewilderment. Her gaze fell upon the two fighters circling each other warily among the char and debris of the Hogwarts Great Hall.

Jaw set, and a pure glint in his piercing eyes, Harry Potter twitched his wand, commanding the attention of hundreds of breathless onlookers. "So it all comes down to this, doesn't it?" he whispered. "Does the wand in your hand know its last master was disarmed? Because if it does . . . I am the true master of...”

Harry paused in confusion. Voldemort turned, with a quizzical look on his face.

It took Ginny a moment to realize that they were both staring at her!

More accurately, they were both staring at what she held in her hands.

With the entire Hall frozen in silence, Ginny gazed down to see her hands cupped in front of her, bearing a white light.

She had no idea what it was — the light seemed to have little or no measurable weight, and imparted no sensations to her hands, except perhaps for a slight warmth. The glow was not harsh, but her eyes couldn't penetrate within it to discern any shape or features.

The light seemed to be pulsing slightly — a rhythm that was somewhat, but not exactly, in tune with her emotions… or perhaps her heartbeat.

She looked up again to find the Great Hall gone. She was alone in some vast dark vacuum. All that remained was her light.

“What are you?” she asked softly.

The light's pulse quickened at the sound of her voice, then settled into its normal rhythm, just a bit faster than her own heart beat.

Ginny raised it closer to her face. “Who are you?”

For a fleeting instant, Ginny thought she felt… a feeling. The barest, vaguest emotion. A sense of comfort. Empathy.

She was just beginning to imagine within the light some sort of simple, ephemeral sentience, when her thoughts were interrupted. She felt something just as comforting yet far more tangible — the soft caress of fingertips on her cheek.

Opening her heavy eyelids, Ginny smiled weakly upwards into the darkness of her Grimmauld Place bedroom, knowing that she would find Harry… knowing the exact look of love and concern that would be on his face, even without any light to illuminate it.

Ginny ignored whatever whispered question or exclamation Hermione was making in the background, and instead lifted her quivering arms from her sides. She clasped Harry by the shoulders and pulled him gently down onto her bed.

“Are you okay?' Harry asked as he let himself be guided to her side.

“Uh huh.” Ginny's hand tracked downwards to rest on his chest. “But I feel very strange. I feel somehow that we're on the knife's edge, Harry. We're on the verge of great opportunity… or disaster.”

Harry frowned in consternation. He had just opened his mouth to say something, but Hermione got her words out first. “Ginny, you're going to have to give us more context. What opportunity? What disaster? We can't exactly read your mind, you know!”

Ginny closed her eyes. “'Mione… I'm so tired...”

“Hermione, please.” Harry angled his head around to speak toward the other side of the room. “Not now, okay? Can't it wait until morning?”

Ginny smiled in weary gratitude. She pulled closer to kiss her considerate boyfriend… but she didn't quite make it. Her lips trailed moistly down his cheek and she sank limply into the pillow.

Hermione huffed. “Listen Ginny! Harry bursts into our bedroom in the middle of the night and rushes to your bedside. A few incoherent mumbles hardly make an adequate explanation! I demand a full...”

Hermione's words trailed off as she registered their soft, slow undulating breaths. She flumped back down onto her own bed, the noise of the plaintive springs failing to jolt the two younger teens out of their peaceful slumber. She scowled and shook her head. “What is it about sleep that those two find so bloody exhausting?!”

Back to index


Chapter 10: No Greater Sacrifice

Author's Notes:

So, if aspects of this chapter catch any of you readers a little off the hop, then you're not alone. On a chapter by chapter evolution, this story probably surprises me as much as if does you. The tale has grown quite a bit in the telling, but in (I believe) rather fulfilling ways. Somehow, while still adhering fairly well to the original plot-line, the subplots are taking on rewarding and rather unexpected lives of their own. How fun for me; hope you enjoy too!


Chapter 10. No Greater Sacrifice (August 13, 1995)

His feet barely seemed to touch the floor. Every swirl seemed to be dizzying euphoria.

If he'd thought about it, Harry could probably have guessed that this was a dream, but it was clearly unlike any he had experienced lately. He was in his own body. There were no Voldemorts or Legates, no charred Great Hall apocalypse, no cold stone dungeons. It wasn't the future or the distant past; it merely was. All that mattered to him in this unforgettable moment was that he was with Ginny.

Within their own treasured solitude of a low-lit ballroom, they moved together, arms-in-arms, making time to a slow, lilting ballad. He marveled how there was nothing awkward, no clumsy hesitation, no feet in the way. It was almost as if their bodies had become one.

He nestled his chin into her hair. “You enjoying yourself, Gin'?”

She nodded slightly, her face warm against his chest.

He sighed contentedly. “I never would have guessed that dancing could be fun...” He paused in thought. “Fun is barely even the word for it.”

With her pressed so close, Harry could actually feel her cheek curve into a smile. He grinned to himself for a moment before returning to contemplation.

Every time the strings or the oboes sobbed in just the right way, they uncovered a little more of… an emotion — one that he had never thought much about before, and that he had no experience with. And yet, there it was within him, seeking to be addressed.

“Ginny, could I ask you a question?”

Although the music was still playing softly in the background, she slowed to a halt and pulled back from him a bit — just far enough to look into his eyes…

In this low, moody light, she looked so radiant. Stunning!

“Uhhh…”

Ginny giggled; her hand touched his face. “Harry, you might want to see Madame Pomfrey about that jaw of yours — it's fallen open again.”

Harry blinked, shut his mouth, and chuckled shyly.

Ginny's smile transformed into an engaging look. “So what was it that you wanted to ask?”

What was it that he wanted to…??

What indeed? Harry was suddenly struck by the realization that he didn't really know what to ask… how to express… It probably wasn't even a question, was it?

A statement? Declaration?

“Uh… I, well… I was wonde…” Harry wracked his mind for a safe and witty way to share what was on his mind. “No, what I meant to say was...”

On one hand, it pained him to not be able to tell her how he felt, but every way of expressing it seemed to be pocked with the emotional pitfalls that scar a person trained for disappointments. He exhaled in defeat. “Sorry, Gin'. I forgot what I was going to say. Never mind.”

“Don't give me that, Potter.” Ginny winked saucily, then offered him a conciliatory smile. “Whatever it is, you can tell me, Harry. Don't worry about finding the perfect words — just say what comes to mind, and we'll sort it out together, yeah?”

“Er, okay.” Harry swallowed. “Well… you see, I know that we've only kind of gotten close in the last few days, and I realize that a lot of blokes go months or years before they ever say anything like this to their girl, but...” He took a deep breath. “But, I figured maybe it's different for us because, well you know how we share each others dreams and all… and sometimes I worry that life is so uncertain and I may never get the chance, but I'm also worried that if I say this too soon you'll get angry or embarrassed or...”

Harry's awkward babble dwindled and he looked shyly away from Ginny's quizzical expression. She again reached her hand to touch his reticent cheek. “It's okay Harry. I promise I won't be angry or embarrassed. I won't tell anyone. But I do want to know.”

Harry fidgeted, steeled his jaw… then nodded resolutely to himself. “Okay, here goes… Ginny, I-I've never felt this way about anyone.” He inhaled deeply. “I think I lo… “

“Freak! Everybody look at the Freak!”

Dudley Dursley?! Harry cringed in horror. What's that idiot doing here??

The candlelight was gone. The beautiful music had been subsumed by the garish throng of obnoxious, leering knobbers, barking in voices bristling with scorn, anger, malice and mockery. Dudley and his thugs were circling, laughing, puffing out their chests and making obscene gestures. Most of Slytherin House, and a few Hufflepuffs, were parading about, brandishing “Potter Stinks” badges. In the background, a cohort of red-headed male Weasley brothers (there somehow seemed to be ten or twenty of them) shook their fists, shouting for him to get his hands off their sister. An irate Molly was fighting her way through the crowd, glaring at him accusatively. Then, suddenly at the fore of it all, was Colin Creevey's camera.

FLASH!

Harry winced, recoiling to escape the blinding…

Sunlight??

Harry blinked! The first rays of the morning sun had just found a crack in the bedroom curtain, landing squarely on his brow.

Shaking off some final vestiges of the dream, he turned his head away from the glare. His eyes scanned across a wall decorated with Holyhead Harpies memorabilia, pictures of cute Pygmy Puffs, and some bold-lettered inspirational posters ( Ashes to Glory! I am… Phoenix! ). His gaze trailed downwards to the soft feminine warmth nestled into his side.

Ahh…

Ack!!

His brief joy at waking up next to the most wonderful person in the world vanished in a flash of dread. Merlin! What if someone walks in on us?!

Harry listened for a long breathless moment. He heard…

His own heart thudding. Argh — shut up heart!

Straining his ears to labour past the dull pounding, he heard… Ginny's soft exhalations against his chest… Hermione's light snores from across the room… the usual array of non-human groans emanating from the restive house itself, but nothing to remotely suggest that anyone else was up yet.

Whew!

Three cheers for last night's party! Everyone was apparently still sleeping off their wild celebratory exertions!

As relief swept over him, Harry resolved to take at least a moment to savour his current situation. Waking up next to Ginny might be a very risky proposition in this house, but it was certainly delectable — a perfectly acceptable compensation for that crummy dream!

He gazed lovingly at the girl at his side — her hand still resting against his chest, hair fallen loosely about her pretty face.

He could not help noticing, however, that this very pretty face had a slight frown. He longed to somehow assuage it; to soothe away any underlying troubles. But he also knew that, after last night's extraordinary dream magic, she needed her sleep.

What could he do without waking her?

Very carefully, Harry lowered Ginny's hand onto the bed, and edged back until he was able to slide to the floor without disturbing her. Getting to his feet, he leaned over, and delicately brushed aside a lock of red hair, giving him just enough space to place a small kiss on her forehead.

As Harry straightened up and began edging toward the door, he took one last glance back toward the bed. Ginny's frown was gone, replaced by the hint of a dreamy smile.

Her hand, lying on the mattress, had begun creeping toward the place where moments ago he had been resting. Encountering only a bare sheet, her slight frown returned.

Harry gazed wistfully at his girlfriend, and at the empty place beside her, but he quietly shook his head and made his way silently out of the bedroom.

Ginny's eyelids flickered open at the faint sound of a latch clicking into place. As her eyes adjusted, she spied the empty, sunlit depression on the mattress beside her. Glancing toward the bedroom door, she felt a sudden sense of yearning.

In one sense, the emotion was irrational. She knew that the object of her desire was in the same house, probably less than a hundred feet away… but she still somehow felt unsettled… subdued...

She shook her head.

What's wrong with you, womanl?! Life is brill! You have Adventure… Romance! You've got Harry! Everything you always wanted, right?

Well, not exactly.

To begin with, it was hard to ignore the venue. If Ginny was to pick her favourite thousand places in the world to begin nurturing a treasured relationship, this dilapidated stress-warren crammed full of meddlesome cranks would not factor favourably.

Admittedly, this past week at Grimmauld Place had gone remarkably well — an Archives appointment whose preparations justified lots of time working with Harry in a room where few others dared to tread (the library); a party in Harry's nominal honour whose guests all seemed barely to notice Harry's prolonged absence (a certain poetic irony there), and a remarkably accommodating (if generally crabby) Hermione covering for them at every turn. But how much longer could that string of luck possibly last? Looking realistically at the rest of the summer, their prospects for intimacy seemed rather bleak.

But that was hardly the real problem, was it?

No. If that was their only worry, then life would actually be pretty rosy; a few more weeks in this dump, then they would run off to the comparative emancipation of Hogwarts — a castle spacious and convoluted enough for two crafty paramours to find occasional seclusion… especially if they could tap into her boyfriend's encyclopedic knowledge of the school, and his mysterious knack for disappearing.

She definitely need to ask him about that...

But yes, by many counts, their relationship seemed chock full smashing promise, but only if they both actually… lived to enjoy it.

Now, that was the real problem.

Despite all of the thrilling victories that she and Harry had claimed in their adventurous dreamscapes, the images that Ginny found most difficult to banish from her waking mind were those of the horrifically dystopic 1998 — a setting three short years from now when so much would come to a reckoning. Even under favourable circumstances, Harry (or even both of them) might still perish, and in the worst case, the world would be plunged into a holocaust of abominable mindless intolerance, with no memory that two daring, virtuous teens named Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley had ever even existed.

Would things really end up like that? Could that truly be the price of failure??

Oi! No pressure there!

Ginny exhaled, blowing a stray lock of hair from her frowning eyes.

Was this what it was like to be Harry's girl? Was this, in a sense, what it was like to be Harry Potter?

Probably.

Having personally experienced the Chamber of Secrets, Ginny had always believed that she understood Harry better than did most of their fellow schoolmates. Although she knew few details of the strains he had been subjected to over the subsequent years, she never doubted that if Harry harboured the occasional dark sullen cloud, it would surely be for good reasons.

Good reasons?

Yeah, right! They were cleary very valid reasons, but let's be honest — there was nothing 'good ' about them. These were bad ; very very bad, bloody harrowing nightmare reasons!

Ginny had long assumed (and now knew) that the secret concerns of Harry Potter were real enough and terrifying enough to drive his smug detractors straight off their snivelly, self-centered trolleys. Let the ponces call it 'an attitude problem', but what Harry suffered from was 'responsibility'.

And now Ginny did too.

And she could confirm what very few people her age truly seemed to grasp — that responsibility sucks!

Not only did responsibility suck, but among all of the exquisitely sucky forms of responsibility, the absolute suckiest was to assume a state of constant peril, selflessly guarding the fates of thousands of people, each of whom was completely oblivious to the protection received.

That was real responsibility.

The only consolation was that it could now be shared. Ginny knew that she could never have coped with the weighty burdens all by herself, but it seemed far more reasonable to shoulder it together with Harry. At the very least, she felt greatly heartened to know that this time the oblivious world would not have to ask Harry to tackle this brutal sentence alone.

In the time that she and Harry had been working together, it had seemed that they could assess, address, and even laugh about, daunting things that would reduce many strong people to shuddering sobs. Ideally, as partners they could cover each other's back and stay alive. Together, Merlin willing (or Jupiter, Amaethon, Scathach, or Camulos — Ginny smiled bemusedly at the diverse pantheon of spirits they were invoking these days) they would prevail.

And so for Ginny, the cost of having 'adventure, romance and Harry' was sharing a bit of responsibility. All they had to do was save the world from devolving into a murderous, totalitarian, purebred dystopia. In this, they would work together, sometimes with her in the lead; other times with him. She somehow seemed to have taken charge of scheming to out-maneuver the evil cabal that was attempting to obliterate Harry's future via some insidious temporal meddling plot. And then, all Harry would have to do would be to single-handedly defeat the most terrifying dark wizard of the past century.

No pressure.

Ah, but if those responsibilities didn't sound strenuous enough, there were always other challenges. For example, she and Harry were now expected to begin… house cleaning.

“Think of this as your big chance to finally make an important contribution to the war effort,” her Mum had admonished yesterday afternoon in a tone as peppy as the lady could fabricate these days.

Indeed, with the disciplinary hearing and Archives appointment out of the way, Harry's and Ginny's carefree existence would now transition toward vital support of the Order of the Phoenix, in the form of a critical mission involving clearing out and scrubbing down an old storage room (more private and less cramped than the kitchen) into which the resistance group could relocate their meetings.

According to Ginny's mum, this was noble work. They would hold their heads high (amidst the decades-old filth and debris) in the staunch conviction that their labours would hearten the fearless vanguard who would hold back the growing darkness!

Or that was the theory anyway.

More realistically, giving the old numpties some larger and cheerier quarters did seem a bit like piddling on Vesuvius. According to the meeting synopses provided by Fred and George (courtesy of the extendable ears), the most inspiring and operationally actionable component of the Order's comprehensive capabilities assessment went along the lines of “Oh lawdie lawd lawd! We're doomed doomed doomed!”

Ginny smirked to herself as a spate of sardonic wit raced to mind. She tucked some of the better quips away to use later this morning. After all, there was nothing better than irreverent humour to mask what was probably destined to be a rather foul mood among the newly formed Caretaker Corps.

Foul mood or not, a part of Ginny felt guilty about taking the mickey out of the Order. She did find it irksome that a toothless lion sought so stridently to shelter the teens from any news about the growing threat, but the more she thought about it, the more she realized the behaviour was actually more pathetic than disrespectful.

Clearly, the ominous secrets that the Order guarded so rigourously were… rubbish. From what Ginny could tell, the organization got very little intelligence from the Ministry — Kingsley and Tonks apparently tried hard to pry things loose, but Fudge kept very strict control on all of the information and resources whose existence he was determined to deny. More problematic still was the apparent fact that the Order couldn't even get anything useful from its own leader. According to the twins' snooping, half of the meetings in the kitchen had been spent fruitlessly begging Dumbledore for more information, and the other half (those which Dumbledore didn't attend) focused squarely on complaining about how little he was telling them.

Then, to cap it off, two other people in possession of rather relevant tidbits (including detailed previews of the final battle, and preliminary insight into key factors influencing Voldemort's ultimate success or failure) had also been tight-lipped. Of course, nobody had bothered to ask them.

On a couple of occasions, Ginny had thought about asking Harry whether they should seek an audience at an Order meeting to present their knowledge. Both times, however, she'd quickly and silently dismissed the idea.

Imagine trying to convince anyone that a Celtic Rebellion from nearly two thousand years ago would determine the outcome of the Second Wizarding War? Try explaining that she, most of the Order and a huge array of Death Eaters were scheduled to appear in the Hogwarts Great Hall in May 1998 to watch Harry face off against Riddle in a duel to the death? That Harry would debate with Riddle whether old snake face could kill him with Dumbledore's wand? That some future incarnation of Lucius Malfoy was meddling with the distant past in an attempt to rig the battle, or prevent it from ever occurring?

And shite, as if it wasn't bad enough approaching inflexible adults in general, but her Mum would be at the meeting! Ginny could barely imagine trying to convince the woman that a very mature fourteen year old girl was old enough even to have a boyfriend, let alone explain how she and her boyfriend met up every night in each other's dreams to battle ancient evils and try to uncover the fundamental magical truths upon which British Wizarding Society's future survival hinged.

For Ginny, the mere thought was enough to twist her stomach into knots.

Really!

Really?

“What the hell…?” Ginny winced as her mid-section lurched.

She frowned in consternation. True, she had been stressed this morning, but it had never occurred to her that she might actually become ill from it.

Ginny tried to calm the discomfort with some slow deep breathing, but she'd barely gotten to the second inhalation when another spasm hit. Wide-eyed, she burst from bed, and bolted from the room dressed only in her nightgown.

Luckily, the loo was a short distance up the corridor. Not bothering to flip the door latch, she raced straight for the toilet and suddenly found herself voiding the contents of her stomach into the grimy basin.

The door creaked open.

Mortified, Ginny lifted her head (pale and drenched in perspiration) to see who had just intruded on her. Standing above her, with an expression of sympathy, alarm and concern, was Hermione.

The kitchen was alive with smells, and sounds, of sizzling rashers, not to mention fried bread, poached eggs and a simmering kettle. Given the distractions of cooking, it was not surprising that Harry wasn't aware of the difficulties Ginny had encountered upon awakening. When she emerged in the kitchen a half hour later, freshly showered but still in her bath robe, Harry's smile of greeting dropped from his face.

“Ginny, you look peaked! Are you all right?”

Ginny attempted a game smile, but Hermione answered first as she followed Ginny through the door. “She's not feeling well Harry. Has Molly stocked the pantry with any anti-nausea potions?”

Harry stuck his head into the pantry. “Sorry, the potions shelf is bare, but I do always keep a supply of hangover tonic on hand for Sirius.”

Ginny laughed tremulously. “After last night's party, I'll bet that'll be a hot item. Don't worry about me Harry — I'll be f-fine.”

Harry frowned. “Ginny, did you nearly gag?”

From the previous pallour, Ginny's slight blush was obvious. “It's nothing — I swear. Just the rich breakfast smells perhaps.”

Hermione and Harry both shook their heads sternly. Harry retrieved a vial of tonic from the pantry. “You get first dibs on it, Gin'! You really need a good breakfast to recover from last night, and for that you'll need a good appetite.” He poured a dose into a juice glass and set it on the table for her. “Try it — you'll find it milder than pepper-up, and it works well for an upset stomach. It'll help with headache too if you have one.”

Ginny eyed it nervously; her blush fading to light green.

Harry quickly poured her a glass of pumpkin juice, and set it beside the tonic. “Chaser!” He smiled encouragingly.

Hermione picked up the tonic and held it up for Ginny. “Harry's right, Ginny. At least try the potion to see if it helps. It won't do any harm… errr, will it Harry??

Harry met Hermione's inquiring eye and shook his head vigourously. “No, it should be harmless — I prepared it straight out of Molly's potions book.”

Slightly heartened, Ginny took the glass in her quivering fingers, inhaled sharply, and dashed it back.

She gazed thoughtfully at the ceiling for a moment as the liquid made it's descent… then she grinned. “Wow. Are you sure you got this from my mum, Harry? It actually tastes okay!”

Harry grinned back in relief. “Sirius is very particular about how potions taste — I always add lemon and honey. So, do you feel any better?”

“Much better — thank you!” Ginny circled around the table, and arched instinctively upward to give Harry a grateful kiss… then froze, suddenly remembering that they had company.

“Ahem!” Hermione had her hands on her hips and an arched eyebrow. “Well don't let me stop you two. It's not as if I haven't figured out that you've started snogging.”

“Hermione! How dare you accuse us of…?!” Ginny's feigned outrage fizzled at Hermione's indignant brow. Ginny giggled. “Okay, okay — a quick smooch here and there.”

Harry smiled sheepishly. “Eh, well last night might have qualified as a snog, wouldn't you say? The word sounds so crude though.”

Hermione's pique faded with the silly banter, and within a moment she had crossed the room to her two friends. Smiling mistily, she pulled them into an awkward three-person hug.

“I'm so very happy for you — you're perfect for each other,” Hermione whispered breathily. Several seconds later, however, she pulled back abruptly, her sentiment replaced by a dour face. “You do realize that you'll still have to keep this quiet though, right? For the sake of your project, as well as any future hopes you might have.”

Harry sighed. “Yes, we know. There are things far more important than this girlfriend-boyfriend thing.”

Ginny nodded, taking a seat at the table. “Agreed. Things are coming to a head, and we can't afford to let anything, or anyone, get in the way of us working together.” She lowered her chin onto her folded hands.

Hermione pursed her lips. “Us working together… You mean the three of us, right?” She glanced from Ginny to Harry and back again. “Because if the three of us were working together, it would throw off any suspicion, and it would take these busybodies a lot longer to guess that you two were an item.”

Ginny stared at her. “How so, 'Mione?”

Hermione shrugged. “Well consider Ron, Harry and myself. We got on fine for years as a trio, with nobody ever insinuating that there was any romance.

“Hmm…” Harry poured three cups of coffee, and collected Ginny's emptied glass. “Well, nobody other than Rita Skeeter, perhaps.”

Hermione's nose went up. “Insects do not count.”

“Are you two really that delusional?” Ginny stared incredulously at Harry and Hermione. “Do you seriously think that just by banding up together, you three actually managed to disguise the sordid tryst… between Harry and Ron?”

Hermione sprayed her coffee; her expression crinkling in revulsion.

“Oi!” Harry buried his face in his hands. “Bleeding hangover potion must have gone off!”

Ginny shook her head. “No Harry, I feel great!”

“Great, you say?” Harry examined the half-empty vial skeptically. “Yeah, that's precisely what I'm worried about...”

Ginny took a moment to shake off the giggles before turning soberly to Harry. “So back to the question at hand — Hermione's already waded knee-deep into this Harry and she raises a good point. Are we a trio then?”

Harry shrugged. “I, uh… well yeah, okay. As long as you two don't go off snogging.”

Ginny burst out laughing.

“Ugh you incurable twits!” Too bleary to roll her eyes, Hermione reached out and gestured toward the vial in Harry's hand. “Harry, give me some of that. I'll going to need it if I'm to survive this breakfast.”

Having indeed survived the hearty breakfast, Hermione pushed her plate away and leaned back. “Ginny, Harry, can you describe the magical outburst in more detail?”

“Sure, I can give you the visual account.” Harry steepled his fingers. “This fellow Diras had just challenged the queen, and almost every eye was watching the moon, but I could feel Ginny's attention riveted on the queen, so that's where I looked to. The queen was just setting the grip on her wand, when I felt a jolt — a big spark — from Ginny… or the princess…”

“You're not sure which?” Hermione's inquiring glance darted from Harry to Ginny.

Harry shrugged. “No, it was kind of indistinguishable at that point.”

Ginny was frowning intensely. “I'm not sure either. I assume it was the princess's magic, but Merlin!” She shuddered. “Oh, did I ever feel it!”

Hermione examined her through thin slits. “Describe it please.”

Ginny closed her eyes. “Wracking spasms? From deep inside?”

Hermione grasped Ginny's hand. “Like this morning's nausea, Ginny? Could last night's magic have caused this morning's upset? An after effect, perhaps?”

Ginny opened her eyes and shrugged. “No idea, but that's as good a guess as any.” She gazed at her boyfriend. “Harry, could you continue? I must admit, I'm very curious what it actually looked like.”

Harry nodded. “So, I didn't actually see the power surge — perhaps because of the disillusionment spell, but I felt it course through the air, like a huge electric discharge. The queen jolted — she was clutching the wand almost like it was the lead for a spirited horse… or a dog too big and boisterous to handle.”

Hermione poured herself a fresh cup of coffee. “So the queen had no role in the resulting spells?”

Harry and Ginny both shrugged. “Probably not.”

“Have you considered...” Hermione stirred cream into her cup thoughtfully. “Have you considered that the strange Druid you described a couple of days ago might have chosen a wand, not for the queen, but for the princess?”

The table fell silent. Ginny frowned. “Interesting idea…”

Hermione smiled smugly. “That's why I'm here.”

Ginny ignored her. “It's possible, but I'm not certain. When he was testing wands in the cave, there was a definite spark to connect the strange wand with the queen, and the princess didn't really feel much other than, well, ennui…”

“Yet maybe the whole affair was queer and distracting enough that you wouldn't have noticed?” Harry interjected. “Or the druid somehow hid the effect? He clearly was more interested in LanossŽa than he was in either the queen or Heanua.”

Ginny chewed her lip pensively.

Hermione sipped her coffee and put the mug down. “Do you suppose the odd fellow from the Archives would know?”

“Probably not.” Ginny toyed with her spoon distractedly. “He's not really privy to much. He has glimmers and hints, and speculates quite a bit, but I guess he won't really get to understand everything in detail until… several years from now, by the sounds of it.”

Harry nodded. “And if he knew, I'm not certain what he would tell. Both he and the Druid seem to be a bit cagey.”

Hermione stood up to begin clearing dishes. “So what magic did Ginny, or the princess, produce?”

Harry smiled. “A fantastic show, really! Like a combination of fireworks and magical illusions? Fred and George would have been blown off their feet!”

“Images please?” Hermione prompted.

Harry leaned back and gazed toward the ceiling. “It was brilliantly tailored for the audience, which suggests that the princess must have controlled at least the magical intent. There were a lot of minor depictions that I didn't recognize, but the main feature was a huge glowing phantasm that I gathered must have represented the Celtic god Camulos. He was wielding the Iceni staff like Thor's hammer, smiting the Romans with great bolts of…”

Harry paused as his eyes met those of Remus Lupin, who had just entered the room unexpectedly.

“Sorry to interrupt, Harry…” Lupin's gaze swept the room and fell upon the red-haired girl. “Pardon me Ginny, but Professor Dumbledore has come to visit. He would like to speak with you.”

Ginny blinked; her pallour suddenly returning. “Did he say what he wanted?”

“Er yes...” Lupin glanced off toward the corner, not meeting Ginny's inquiring gaze. “He said that he wanted to speak about your course selection for the coming year.”

Ginny quirked her eyebrow. “Oh? Er that's odd. But okay, very well then.” She rose and turned to Harry and Hermione with a shrug. “I guess I'll see you two later. Have fun cleaning!”

Harry and Hermione both rolled their eyes.

Ginny frowned. She glanced toward the closed door through which her visibly nervous mother had peeked and subsequently exited, then refocused on the Headmaster. "Professor, I'm glad that you agree that my course selection is reasonable — I worked very closely with Professor MacGonagall in matching my electives up with my goals. Was there anything else you wanted to speak with me about?"

Dumbledore did not budge from the hearth, where he was distractedly examining strange old Black family bric-a-brac on the mantle. “Ah. Well Miss Weasley, there were some other loose ends. To begin with, perhaps you would accept my apologies for terminating yesterday morning's discussion so suddenly?” He turned to give Ginny a smile. “I was thinking that perhaps we might take a bit of time to wind the conversation down properly.”

Ginny's eyes brightened. “Oh? That would be wonderful, sir!” She reached instinctively for a quill and parchment laying on a nearby desk. “Would we be able to bring Harry into the conversation? I'm certain that he wou-”

“No!”

Ginny blinked in surprise. “Er, sorry sir?”

Dumbledore's expression softened. “No, I fear that your mother has an important cleaning project underway, and I've already deprived her of one key participant. I fear the lady would be rather aggrieved if I borrowed a second fine worker.”

“Sir, that's rid-” Ginny was astonished by the lame excuse… but she was, after all, speaking to her Headmaster. Her gaze dropped to her feet. “Er, yes sir, that's right. Perhaps I can fill Harry in later?”

“Yes, that would certainly seem appropriate.” Dumbledore smiled. “Molly says that you have been spending a fair bit of time with our prodigious young friend? Working on this research project of yours?”

Ginny's expression brightening involuntarily. “Oh yes! It's our project really. A mutual interest we've developed in recent discussions. That's why I thought...”

“Yes, of course. So you and Harry are interested in the legend of the Elder Wand?”

Ginny frowned. She hadn't had many face-to-face conversations with the Headmaster, but nonetheless found it somewhat unsettling how often the man was interrupting. It was a standard feature of every exchange with Snape, but she found it strange conduct for someone with such a reputation for gentle patience.

Dumbledore cocked his head. “Apologies for the uncharacteristic brusqueness, my dear.” His face twitched congenially. “I fear I have not been sleeping well of late. All of this Voldemort tumult has occupied my attention greatly, and I fear my manners have suffered somewhat.”

Ginny stared at him for a moment. The explanation was reasonable. The conversation had been jarringly awkward, but perhaps neither one of them had been getting enough rest. Resolving to make the best of it, she poured her actress skills into a glowing smile. “No worries sir, I know what you mean. So yes, Harry and I have been curious about the Elder wand.”

Dumbledore nodded. “And so Harry is curious about how one would master the wand?”

Ginny bit her lip. “Er, I'm not sure I'd phrase it...”

“I'm referring to academic curiosity, of course.”

“Well sir…” Ginny fidgeted, uncertain of how to proceed in Harry's absence. “Harry and I are both interested in how anyone might come to use the wand. It would logically seem that if Riddle has returned, he will seek to consolidate his power. He will remember, of course, that you defeated Gellert Grindelwald and thus he would consider you a formidable foe. Similarly, Riddle has now faced Harry twice… no, I guess on three separate occasions now? And he's failed each time?” Ginny fixed her gaze on Dumbledore's penetrating eyes. “Under circumstances like those, don't you think Riddle would begin to look for any unique, undeniable advantage he could find?”

Dumbledore stared for a long tense moment… then smiled. “Very astute of you to ponder scenarios far off the beaten path. I agree that a fairy tale weapon of supposedly infallible power might indeed seem attractive to Mr. Riddle if he could find one. Tell me, Miss Weasley — do you and Harry believe that our adversary will actually find such a weapon?”

Ginny found herself nodding.

Dumbledore sat across from Ginny, gazing at her with engaged curiosity. “Do you have any basis for that belief?”

Ginny looked away uncomfortably. She felt a sudden longing to tell the old man all about their dreams, especially about the terrible dreams of the final duel, where Riddle sought to take Harry down with the Elder… with Dumbledore's wand. Dumbledore would take their story seriously, wouldn't he? He could help, right? He could make things all better — take all of this weighty responsibility off their…

No! Ginny bit her tongue in gritty determination. She was not going to tell anybody about anything, unless Harry was present, and unless the two of them had arrived at the decision together.

Ginny met Dumbledore's gaze with a hard look. “No sir. We have no real basis other than logic and imagination.”

Dumbledore's eyes flickered across her face, her hands… then they twinkled. “Very well, Miss Weasley.” He smiled. “I compliment you on your logic and imagination, then. Now, if I recall correctly, you had also wished to examine my wand. Is that still the case?”

Ginny's eyes widened in surprise. He had seemed so reluctant yesterday to let her handle his wand. Why the sudden change of heart? Nonetheless, she nodded. “Yes please, sir. I was just curious to see what it felt like and looked like up close.”

Dumbledore's smile seemed to sparkle jovially. “Certainly my dear. You are not the first to ask.” He reached into the left pocket of his robe, pulled out a dark, intricately carved rod and handed it to Ginny.

Ginny accepted it, stared, and frowned. It appeared exactly as it always had whenever she'd seen him wield it at Hogwarts, but for some reason it felt… cold. It emanated all of the same unwelcoming sensations one might get from picking up, say, a dead fish.

Still frowning, she rotated it axially, examining the midsection on all sides. It looked as she might have imagined — polished in places, mildly scratched in other spots from normal wear and tear. There were definitely no cracks or major blemishes though. She shrugged in vague disappointment and handed it back to him.

He pocketed it casually then took a seat and faced her in an unassuming, grandfatherly way. “So Miss Weasley, would you mind if I asked you one more question before I let you rejoin your friends?”

Ginny gazed across the room distractedly, lost in thought. She nodded off-handedly. “Sure, go ahead.”

Dumbledore steepled his hands pensively. “Miss Weasley, as you may be aware, I have in my office at Hogwarts a number of instruments that, among other tasks, I employ to monitor important protection wards such as the ones that I have designed to safeguard the residence here at Grimmauld Place.”

Ginny nodded, recalling the strange spinning devices she noticed seen in her rare visits to the Headmaster's office. She had always wondered what purpose they served.

“Well, from those monitors I have, somewhat incidentally, begun recently to pick up signals of rather unusual magic taking place here in this building…”

“Magic, sir?” Tiny hairs on Ginny's neck bristled. “There's a lot of unusual magic in this building. I feel it all the time.”

Dumbledore peered at her from beneath his eyebrows. “Yes, no doubt you and many of the others find this place somewhat unsettling because the building is, well, somewhat unsettled… However, I have been monitoring Number 12 Grimmauld Place for long enough to detect and confirm the signatures of ghouls, doxies, puffskeins, perhaps a Boggart or two, and numerous other dark objects that I sincerely hope you do not encounter. Yet for someone such as myself who has seen many things in my life, all of that nominally unusual activity now seems, to me, rather ordinary. No Miss Weasley, I am referring to some magic that is even more uncommon than any of that — power that has come to this house very recently; power that seems to manifest itself mostly at night.”

Dumbledore's eyes took on a piercing glint. “Ginevra, I am concerned that this magic might be a perilous threat, and I fear for your safety, Harry's safety, and I fear for quite possibly everyone living in this house. Might you, or Harry, have any theories about what might be the source of this strange power?”

Pinned by the Headmaster's bracing scrutiny, Ginny's breath caught. Her acting instincts struggled to hide any visible sign of fear, but the Headmaster's words seemed seemed to have a paralytic effect — her rib cage and spine seemed to atrophy as she fought against something almost suffocating.

“Strange night magic?” Ginny's vocal cords felt constricted. She felt them aligning, trying to talk about… about something she didn't want to. Finally, through force of will, she finally managed to loosen them just enough to say… what her inner actress told her was safe. “Strange magic? I don't know sir. Have you compared notes with the Ministry? They seem to monitor a lot too, judging by Harry's experiences.”

A fleeting frown flickered across Dumbledore's brow. He leaned back, gazing at her intently. “A worthy suggestion, thank you. But I do not believe the Ministry would have picked up what I have detected. Their scrutiny is oriented much more toward wand magic, and the activity here does not...”

Dumbledore paused a moment as his eyes again flickered distractedly over the strange artwork and artifacts in the Drawing Room, before returning to Ginny. “Er, yes, the power I have perceived does not resemble wand magic, or the accidental spells of children. Nor is it exactly like the behaviour of any charmed objects I have examined before.” His thick eyebrows twitched slightly. “I must admit that I remain puzzled as to its precise nature, Miss Weasley. And thus I was hoping that an intelligent and very observant young witch such as yourself might be able to assist me.”

Ginny suddenly felt a chill descend over her. The seeds of panic grew, as though she was about to hyperventilate. A conflict simmered through her — on one hand, a powerful urge to reach into the pouch of her jumper and pull out the heavy little object that she stored there… but bracing against that compulsion was her instinct to banish any thought whatsover about… that object…

Dumbledore sat up straight and began to lean towards her, an exacting, powerful glint in his eyes.

Ginny's fingers, trembling slightly. They found themselves slipping furtively past the seam of her pouch. Her middle and index fingers extended themselves, reached, touched…

Smooth silver.

Love.

Solidarity.

Relief flooded through her as she was filled with the sense of care, concern and compassion. An image of Harry.

The paralytic tension dispelled from her muscles, Ginny burst from her chair, scattering the unused parchment and quill. She glared her Headmaster. “Sir, if you'd like to do a survey of unusual magic in this house, then I strongly advise you to call a house meeting. Put the question to Sirius, Professor Lupin, Harry, Hermione and all of my family at the same time. In that way, and that way alone, will you get a complete accounting of the creepy powers and creatures in this foul dump!”

Ginny turned on her heel, and stalked out of the room, leaving Dumbledore seated alone, scratch his beard pensively; the hint of bemusement on his face.

Gin', are you okay?!

Breathe Gin'… breathe! Hang tough for just a minute, and I'll…

CLONK!!

“Crap!” Pulled abruptly from his trance by the clattering pail, Harry found himself disoriented, surrounded by the chaos of house-cleaning, and confronted with the unpleasant realization that he'd just kicked over two gallons of wash water.

“Oi! Harry, you dopey clod!” Ron moaned in anguish at the soapy splash stretching from his trainers up nearly to his knees. “Would you bloody watch where you're stepping?!”

Harry cringed. “Sorry! Truly sorry Ron, please let me...” In haste to make quick amends and escape the confused scene to go find Ginny, Harry reached unthinkingly for his wand, but Tonks was too fast.

“Oh no you don't, Potter!” Catching Harry's wrist in an iron grip, Tonks grinned and shook her head. “Don't be giving old Fudgie another shot at you. Save your magic for emergencies, and let me fix up the whinger for you.”

“Whinger? Me?!” Ron shot Tonks a sour look. “Why do I get the wigging? Harry's the clumsy tosser moping about all morning knocking over buckets!”

“Stand still, whinger!” Tonks brandished her wand, casting a nonverbal variant of Evanesco. The spell instantly banished all traces of the mess except for one long sudsy cone that, inexplicably, found itself up projecting upwards from Ron's forehead.

Tonks took a moment to admire her handiwork, then slid an affectionate arm around Harry's waist. “Everybody lay off Harrykins, orright, or else you'll have to tangle with me.”

“Huh?” Harry twitched at the unexpected embrace, but was distracted more by antics at the other side of the room — the twins writhing in silent convulsions as Fred pointed toward Ron's head.

Tonks winked in response to Hermione's quizzical expression. “Clumsy duck needs sympathy not flak. What I like is that he's blundered about so much this morning, it actually makes me look right graceful.” She chucked Harry's chin playfully, then glanced toward the doorway. “Ola! Wotcher, Gin-gin!”

Harry whipped around to face the newcomer. “Ginny! I was just about to...”

Her face tense and flushed, Ginny entered the chaotic storage room. “Hi Tonks. Hi Harry. Ron, your horn's on crooked.”

“Huh?” Ron glanced perplexedly at his sister, before flinching at the unexpectedly jarring sound of George snorting.

Walking toward Harry, Ginny's voice dropped. “Tonks, can I borrow Harry for a spot — we need to chat in private.”

“Sure luvs — have fun!”

Harry smiled gratefully. “Thanks Tonks! Library, Gin'?”

“Er...” Hermione eyed Harry and Ginny uncertainly. “May I come?”

Ginny and Harry exchanged glances. Ginny pursed her lips and shrugged. “Sounds okay, you think?”

Harry nodded. He glanced back toward Tonks. “We're taking Hermione too. Be back in fifteen or twenty minutes.”

Tonks smiled her assent.

Ron's stared in consternation at the departing trio. “Uh, me too?”

Fred shook his head sternly. “No way. Narwhal-boy stays and cleans… or else we all skive off.”

Tonks scrunched her face analytically for a moment and nodded. “Right. I need our ickle Ron-oceros to help steady that bleeding big dresser while we move it.” She waved distractedly at Harry, Ginny and Hermione. “Ta ta mates. Hurry back!”

“Come over to this side, Ronnie-corn,” George called. “Mind you don't hook yourself on the tapestry.”

“Huh?” Ron scratched his head in confusion, then frowned as he found his hand unexpectedly encountering a mass of sticky bubbles.

Face submerged in her hands, Hermione was emitting inarticulate mumbles.

Harry looked up from his pacing. “I'm sorry, Hermione, but I don't think either of us can make out a word you're saying.”

Hermione's vocalizations paused for a moment. She removed her hands disconsolately from her face and exhaled. “I hate this I hate this I hate this!”

Sitting on the window sill, her foot kicking idly at the floor, Ginny glanced at her friend. “Yes, well I'm not exactly bubbling with joy either.”

“Blast it!” Hermione picked fitfully at a hang-nail. “What do we do? Do we come out and tell him everything? I mean, he is Albus Dumbledore, after all.”

Ginny kicked the floor hard enough to elicit a blood-curdling shriek from Walburga, three floors below. “Yes, of course, he's Albus Dumbledore, 'Mione. Our Great White Hope, Leader of the Light and all that. If there's anybody on Earth smart enough not to completely bollix this, it would be him, right? But, blimey does he ever have me spooked! I thought talking to him yesterday was unsettling, but this morning was downright creepy. I swear, he was trying to bash his way into my mind!”

Harry gaped at Ginny in alarm. “Mind reading?!”

“You mean, Legilimency? ” Hermione interjected.

Ginny shrugged. “I suppose. That's what it felt like.” She paused and let loose a pained, sardonic laugh. “Bloody ironic, but early this morning I was feeling a bit overwhelmed, and I would have taken just about any decent excuse to track down some dependable adult to spill all of this to… someone to prop us up and shoulder a bit of the horrible weight of responsibility but… it would have to be somebody we can trust!”

Harry nodded and caught Hermione's eye. “Trust! You know me, Hermione. I don't just invest blind trust in people. It would have to be someone who'll believe us, who won't rush to dangerous judgments or bleat something important the wrong people. I especially won't trust anyone who might do something foolish and topple what's already a rickety cart.” He thrust his hands in his pockets and slumped discontentedly. “For years, it always seemed like Dumbledore was the one adult in the world who would listen to me and believe me, even when I told him things that nearly anyone else would find completely daft. The more time went on, the more I believed that I'd always be able to trust him to do or say the right thing, but what the hell's happened now?”

Both girls stared at him, uncertain whether they were expected to answer.

Harry glanced at each of them in turn, then returned his disgruntled gaze to the floor. “Well what's happened is that it's all blown up! There's no trust. Not a speck! For nearly two weeks, the man's avoided me at all costs — won't talk to me, can barely even stand to be in the same room as me. He practically even runs from me, for pity's sake! So now that he wants to find out what I'm up to, what does he do? He corners Ginny on some trumped up excuse, and tries to bully her! With bloody magic, no less! How the hell can we be expected to rely on him now? He's not handling any of the little things the right way anymore, so how can we trust him with something really really big?”

Ginny's face reignited. “Spot on! Trust, trust, trust — it's absolutely essential! If we let someone in on the secret of the brooch, and they turn around and confiscate it without carefully considering the consequences, then it's bloody well over. Goodbye! We're dead!”

“Dead.” Harry gazed blankly toward the ashes in the hearth. “Or worse.”

Hermione's eyes drifted from one friend to the other, chewing her lip in deep anxiety. “Yes, well, just because Professor Dumbledore has acted impetuously and inconsiderately doesn't necessarily mean he'll really do the wrong thing.”

Harry met her gaze. “Yes, and so what? Is that a chance we can afford to take?”

Hermione turned away toward the wall for a long moment and took a deep breath. “What if you could feel him out? Try to understand what he believes, and how he'd likely respond to a caper like the one you're involved in? Maybe we'll find out that he's genuinely prepared to listen to you and play it your way. If so, wouldn't he be a good ally to have?”

Ginny whipped a few stray strands of hair from her face and glared. “Yes, of course he'd be a fine ally. The best, right? But only if he's prepared to listen, and understand and support us… and there's no way to carefully feel that out!” Her hands balled up into tight fists. “Don't ask me to sit in front of him again and try to have another cozy little chat, because that dear old kindly arse is liable to pillage my mind. I'd be better off just writing out the whole story in triplicate for him, hand him the brooch with a detailed user manual, and just kiss my whole future away, yeah?”

Harry gritted his teeth for a moment, then exhaled. “You heard Ginny. She's not going to deal with Dumbledore any more, Hermione. And frankly, I sure as hell am not about to either.”

The room fell deathly silent, but for the ticking of somebody's watch.

Hermione stirred. Very softly, she cleared her throat.

Harry and Ginny both turned to the older girl.

Hermione very slowly raised her eyes to meet theirs. “There's another way.”

Silence.

Hermione fidgeted a bit. “Er, well, you see, you could ask someone else — a third party — to gauge Dumbledore. You could ask someone that you trust, but also someone doesn't really know enough of the finer details of your situation. That person might be able to pick his mind a bit without, you know, compromising everything.”

Silence persisted for a while, before Harry threw his head back and ran a hand through his hair. “Well, that's okay in theory, but it's not exactly going to be easy to find a third party for that. Maybe Lupin but, for all he's a fine fellow, he truly idolizes Dumbledore, and that's not going to...”

Ginny shook her head. “No, I'm afraid this would also mean we'd need to expand our circle a bit, and that's a risk in itself, right?”

“I, uh, was kind of…” Hermione hung her head awkwardly. “… going to volunteer.”

Harry and Ginny both stared at Hermione.

Ginny walked over to her, with a puzzled look on her face. “But Hermione...” Ginny paused for a moment as the wheels continued to turn. “Hermione, if you were going to have a decent chance of standing up against Dumbldore's Legilimency, you'd have to… Er, we'd have to...”

Hermione sighed and closed her eyes. “You'd have to cut me out of the loop, Ginny.”

Harry shook his head over and over, dumbfoundedly. “Hermione, you — you like to, uh, well… you like to know stuff. You don't step back from the action. You need to be in the thick of things. You always have. That's who you are!”

“The offer stands.” Hermione snuffled slightly. “I believe in you two; I want you to succeed. Maybe you might prevail without any help from Dumbledore, and perhaps you'd be fine without me too, but, listen. Harry, Ginny — if you failed because you didn't get the help you needed, I… I'd never forgive myself.”

A hand rising to shroud her face, Hermione turned toward the door. “The offer stands. Take it or leave it.”

Back to index


Chapter 11: Camulodunum

Author's Notes:

This chapter was pretty eager to emerge, so it comes to you in barely a week, editing and all. Now I must decide whether to give this story a little break to get another Trix chapter out, or if I should forge on with the Legate showdown. Hmm...

Anyway, I rather like this chapter, and hope if gives you something to chew on as well.


Chapter 11. Camulodunum (August 13-14, 1995)

Hermione had told she was giving them a choice, but that, of course, was just etiquette. She had already made up her mind about what needed to be done and wasn't about to let sloppy sentimentality get in the way.

Snifff!!

Dabbing at her eyes and nose, Hermione grumbled at her unruly lachrymal ducts, then pulled out her diversionary masterpiece for one last scan.


Dear Professor Dumbledore,

I am writing to you to express concern and seek guidance. Although it's difficult to explain the phenomenon precisely, my instincts seem to be warning me of the possible presence of unusual magic emanating from some place here on the premises of Number 12 Grimmauld Place. In recent days, I have been sensing a strange and disturbing power within the residence. These vague stimuli have not yet caused me undue discomfort, and have not (to my knowledge) affected my health or behaviour, but I am nonetheless concerned that a disturbance such as this (whatever it is) may pose a hazard to us.

If I was to characterize the magical sensation I have experienced, I would say that it does not feel like the presence of a benign charmed object, but rather an object of subtle but distinct malevolence. I have inquired discreetly among some of the other residents and thus far nobody else has observed anything similar. Perhaps a dark detector of some sort would shed more light?

To date, I have not yet been able to pin down a precise location of the mysterious power, but it clearly does manifest itself more strongly at times, less strongly at others. I am operating under the hypothesis that this may depend on where I am in the building when I sense it. I have not yet proven this to my satisfaction, but will attempt to assess the trend more carefully in the future.

Sir, I am bringing this to your attention because I am preparing to undertake cautious investigations into the matter, and would welcome any advice or resources that you could bring to bear.

Thank you very much for your consideration!

Sincerely,

Hermione Granger


Half truths, lies, shameless fabrication.

Hermione chewed her lip for a long moment, then smiled — a bit uneasily at first, but it soon settled into a confident grin.

Not many years ago, such falsehoods would have appalled her, but deceit was now just one of her many useful skills. The judicious use of deception had enabled her (and obviously also Harry) to survive the past few years, triumphing in some adventures of mind boggling intensity. Thus, if anything was weighing down Hermione's courage to initiate this gambit, the barrier wasn't some scrupulous compulsion to be honest. Rather, what was still giving Hermione pause on this (her fourth) draught letter, was whether she had captured just the right tenor of deceit to propel the Headmaster off on a wild goose chase that would buy Ginny and Harry a bit more time to ramp up their plans.

Hermione knew that Dumbledore was unquestionably knowledgeable and a master of cerebral jousting, but on the other hand she was willing to bet that, despite his outwardly self-deprecating manner, the man suffered from the same conceits as most anyone else - especially those with great power and responsibility. In particular, Hermione was wagering that he would fall for the oldest, best, confidence trick in the book - if you want someone to believe a lie, you need to tell him things he's ready to believe.

Dumbledore seemed convinced that there was dangerous magic at Grimmauld Place, so why not tell him that there was? The beauty of the lie was that there was probably a ton of strange, dark magic in this place, so why not set him chasing on things that might be legitimately dangerous? And if this charade worked, with a bit of care, Hermione might then be able to cultivate enough of a working relationship with the Headmaster to effectively gauge his attitude. If Dumbledore seemed to be open-minded and constructive in his approach to the issue, hopefully she could eventually even draw down her elaborate smoke screen and (if she could convince Ginny) then suddenly 'discover' the existence of the brooch. Conversely, if things went belly up, with a little luck she could get away with a shrug, an apology, and a claim that she must have misread the magical signals.

Hermione read the letter through carefully two more times, then exhaled.

Well, here goes nothing!

She furled the scroll, picked up one of the magical seals from her desk, and placed it carefully over the outer border of the parchment. With a satisfying pop, it fastened itself into place

And now to find Hedwig!

She rose from her bedroom chair and made her way quickly along the lamp-lit corridor toward the front rooms. Before reaching the kitchen door, she heard voices. Breathlessly, she stopped to listen.

“Ron, you're supposed to be watching Ginny!”

Hermione's breath caught! Watching Ginny?!

In the hours Hermione had spent alone, scheming in the library, she'd apparently missed some interesting developments… Could Molly truly have established a spy detail on Ginny??

Hermione remained frozen, listening for a reply.

“Well, young man?” It was Molly's voice again. “Why are you down here alone, when you're supposed to be with your sister?”

“Mwaw waff Uhnnggee.”

Molly huffed in momentary impatience, then laughed resignedly. “Oh, well go ahead and finish your mouthful.”

Some distinctly unappetizing sounds followed as Ron apparently attempted to masticate his way through what was likely a monstrous mouthful (Hermione dispelled the image of a small meal's worth of food all crammed into his straining cheeks), before loudly gulping it down with some beverage.

Finally Ron's voice emerged. “Sorry Mum, but I was starving! Three times I invited her to come join me for a snack, but all she wanted to do was keep, well… swotting. Blimey, she's reading and taking notes! In the summer time yet!”

Molly ignored the editorialising. “Well all right, but is she with Harry? The Headmaster told me the chances for dangerous magic could be worst when those two are in close proximity.”

Ron seemed to mumble something inarticulate (Hermione supposed he was likely speaking into his mug), before his voice clarified again. “… but yeah, she's alone in there. Harry's asleep in bed, already snoring away.”

“This early? Okay, fine then. Now Ron, please hurry up and…”

Hermione had heard enough. Pretending she had heard nothing, she strode into the kitchen and smiled at the two Weasleys. “Good evening Ron. Hello Mrs. Weasley. Have either of you seen Harry?”

Ron and Molly both whipped about at Hermione's sudden appearance.

“Errr yeah.” Ron put his mug down. “Harry's gone off to bed. Said he wasn't feeling well.”

Hermione nodded. “Oh? Well, to be honest, it's actually Hedwig I need most.” She brandished her sealed scroll. “I'm writing to Professor Dumbledore to seek his advice. The last few days I've been getting this peculiar sensation of strange power in the house — possibly some form of dark magic. I have a few ideas about it and some thoughts on how we might be able to track it down.”

Ron's and Molly's eyes both went wide; they glanced at each other in surprise.

Molly stepped forward and placed a hand on Hermione's arm. “Hermione dear, have you already spoken to Albus about this yet? I, uh… well it seems he's already aware of something unusual of that nature. He called me into a quick meeting with Remus and Arthur just before lunch, and he told us about a little bit about his concerns.”

Hermione assembled her best crafted look of surprise. “Why no, I had no idea Mrs. Weasley! I had hoped to catch Professor Dumbledore this morning while he was here, but I was busy cleaning and missed him. It's truly fascinating to hear that he might have arrived at the same sort of conclusion. Did he provide you with any helpful details or precautions?”

“A few.” Molly glanced toward the door and dropped her voice to a low whisper. “He wouldn't speculate about the source of the threat, or what harm it might cause, but he suggested that we keep a close eye on Ginny and Harry, as he believes they might be rather susceptible to it, especially when they're together.”

Ron frowned. “Which seems like most of the time these day, eh?”

Molly gazed at him pensively for a moment, then shook her head. “I'm not sure about that, Ron. Perhaps it seemed that way initially, but we've been observing them all afternoon, and Harry and Ginny have barely spoken. I suspect that all that time they spent together last week was just a big effort to focus on preparing for that big Ministry appointment. Now that they're finished with that, maybe things will simply taper back to normal levels.”

Ron nodded, but his frown remained.

Hermione tucked her scroll away. “Just out of curiosity, but have either of you mentioned to Ginny and Harry that you're monitoring them.”

Molly fidgeted a bit. “No, well, the Headmaster said he'd posed the issue to Ginny and unfortunately found her somewhat… well, unreceptive. So, we didn't want to aggravate things by making either of them feel uncomfortable.”

Hermione felt an impulse toward anger, but she remembered how dishonest she was being right now and decided that she didn't have much basis for moral outrage. So she nodded instead. “Yes, I see your point. But I'm still confused as to what Professor Dumbledore expects to achieve by watching the two of them? My own sensations really haven't pointed me in their direction at all. Did the headmaster give you any more details about his suspicions or concerns?”

Molly shook her head.

Hermione frowned sternly. “Are you serious? He hasn't exactly provided a lot to go on, has he?”

Molly sighed wearily. “Oh, he never does share much these days, does he? He seems perfectly happy to borrow eyes and ears all around, but never tells them what the brain is thinking or planning.”

Hermione nodded sympathetically. “Yes, that's certainly what the others are saying as well. But, Mrs. Weasley…“ She trailed off, allowing the room to lapse into an awkward silence for just long enough (she hoped) to make herself sound willing but not necessarily enthusiastic. “Mrs. Weasley, something just occurred to me.”

“Oh? What is it, dear?”

Hermione met her eyes. “It occurred to me that since I already seem to have sensed the magical anomaly that the Headmaster is concerned about, I might be the best person to take over keeping an eye on Ginny and Harry for you? I've been spending a lot of time with them recently anyway, so they wouldn't notice the difference. And because I have an idea what to look for, I think I may be better positioned to notice if they really do seem to be at risk.”

“Hmmm…” Molly looked Hermione up and down for a long moment. “Well, you really always have been the responsible one, haven't you dear?” The Weasley matron nodded to herself. “Yes, I do believe you're right. If you're already sensitised to the problem, then you would seem like the ideal choice.” She glanced at Ron. “I suspect Ginny would be more comfortable with you around anyway. She hasn't exactly, uh, taken well to the increased attention from Ron.”

“Dunno what the problem is — I've been trying to be nice.” Ron rolled his eyes and tore into another immense chunk of his oversized sandwich.

Hermione stifled a snort. From what she had seen from Ginny over the past while, the tension between the two siblings had been building fairly steadily, and any arrangement that meant Ginny spending more time with Ron and less with Harry was a losing proposition. And putting Ginny in close confines with Ron when he was making transparent, ineffectual attempts at friendliness was probably the worst of all scenarios… and a sure-fire path to bat bogeys.

Figuring that she was on a tremendously lucky roll with her charade, Hermione plunged ahead. She smiled at the youngest Weasley boy. “Don't let it worry you Ron — I'm sure that deep down Ginny appreciates the attention, but on the other hand if she was really trying to study or do some research, she might have preferred quiet companionship.”

Ron glanced in her direction, but made no comment as the sandwich was occupying his current passions.

Hermione turned to Molly. “Maybe I should go find Ginny right now? I'm betting she'll know where Hedwig is anyway.”

Molly smiled. “That would be wonderful, thank you! I believe Ginny is up in the library. Isn't she, Ron?”

“Yehff.” Two cheeks, stuffed to the point of straining, bobbed up and down in agreement. “Ehn eh-hig ihh ubb vehh oo.”

Without waiting for a translation, Hermione smiled. “Thank you both! I hope you have a nice evening!” Purposefully averting her eyes from Ron's strained chewing, she made her way briskly out of the room.

Holy cricket on a cracker! This is… so bloody amazing!!

Fingers searing into his back; fierce press of fever-hot flesh scorching his chest and legs; sweet fiery breaths shivering his ear as he worked his lips down to the base of her neck. Oh soft, soft creamy skin. Silken red hair scented of spring blossoms and raw lust, those tiny ragged cries of…

Shite…

In a scant second, Ginny was gone — sprung like a trigger out from under the invisibility cloak. Nearly as quick, Harry ducked down, back to his safe spot on the floor beside her desk, pulling his feet discreetly beneath himself just as Ginny collected a book and completed her transition back to prim, diligent student.

“Ron, do you seriously have nothing better to do all bleeding evening than…” Ginny paused in surprise. “Oh, hello Hermione.”

“Good news Ginny, I-I…” Hermione stopped and gaped at Ginny for a moment. "Ginny, are you okay? You look a bit... And what happened to your...?"

Suddenly Hermione's eyes lit up. She clapped a hand over her mouth… then lost herself in a fit of uncontrolled sputtering.

“Erm… Gesundheit?” Bewildered, Ginny stared for a moment then stirred self-consciously. "What?? I look a bit 'what' ? What happened to my 'what' ?"

Still sputtering, Hermione unclasped her mouth and wiped tears of mirth from her eyes. “Harry, you brute. Come out — it's safe to show yourself.”

Harry's disembodied and very confused looking head appeared on the other side of Ginny's desk. “Huh? How did you know I was here?”

Attempting to hide a wide smirk with her hand, Hermione gestured toward Ginny. “Believe me, I've read some amazing books in my life, but none that made me look... quite like that!" She giggled. "Oh, and also the fact that Ron said that you were in bed snoring away. That might seem plausible except that you never snore.”

Ginny shuffled her feet sheepishly. “Two rolled up blankets and a snoring charm.”

Hermione cocked an eyebrow. “Snoring charm? Underaged magic, Ginny?”

“Desperate measures for desperate times.” Ginny shrugged impenitently.

“Desperate?” Hermione smirked. “Uh huh. By the signs of perspiration, flushed faces and cyclone-swept hair, I'll think I'll take your word for it.”

“Oops.” Ginny made a demure attempt to gather her hair into a pony tail.

Harry pulled the rest of the invisibility cloak off himself and stood up. “Okay Hermione, now that you've had your jollies, would you mind telling us what's going on?”

“Er, sure.” Hermione stifled another snort at the sight of Harry's half-untucked shirt. “I'm pleased to announce that I've gotten myself assigned as your new nanny, in place of Ron.”

Ginny gave her a quizzical look. “Er that's good… I think… but I thought you were staying away from us?”

Hermione nodded. “Yes, exactly.”

Ginny frowned, tapping her head. “But, uhhh…?”

“Ginny, I didn't promise anyone I'd be a very attentive nanny.” Hermione smiled. “In fact, I'm going to wander absentmindedly off to my bedroom as soon as I've asked you if I can borrow Hedwig…?”

Hermione's eyes swept the library and landed on the owl sleeping on a tall shelf near the hearth. Aside from momentarily cocking an irked brow, however, Hedwig didn't budge.

“Sure, no problem!” Harry turned toward his owl. “Hey girl, would you like a bit of fresh air?”

Hedwig came instantly to life, swooping down to land on Harry's shoulder.

Smiling, Ginny reached for Hermione's scroll. As Ginny handing it to Harry, she found herself the focus of some impromptu preening — Hedwig stretching her beak up to try to tame the wild red mane.

Ginny giggled as Harry attached the message. She stroked Hedwig's feathers. “Sorry sweetie — I'll try to have it back under control by the time you return.”

Smiling at the production, Hermione watched the owl ascend into the night sky, then she turned half way toward the door. “Well thank you. Your slyly skiving nanny is now off to leave you to mind yourselves. Be advised though…” She pointed a loaded finger at her two friends. “However dear you two ruffled ducklings may be, I am only covering you so that you can apply yourselves to serious, important matters that I'm not supposed to know about. If I find out about any more tonsil tag tournaments, we will all be very very sorry.”

“No more tonsil tag,” Ginny promised, semi-seriously.

Harry raised his hand. “Er, how about Lip Quidditch?”

Ginny snickered for a moment then shook her head. “Stop it Harry. We promise to behave, Hermione. Thank you very much for everything. I can hardly imagine asking any more of a friend!”

“Uh Hermione?” Harry scratched his chin. “What if Molly or Ron drops by and finds that you're not up here watching Ginny?”

Hermione shrugged and made for the door. “Stall them. Be creative. Say I got lost in the loo or something.”

“Lost in the loo? Okay, sure.” Harry dropped his voice. “It would hardly be the first time.”

“I heard that, Harry.”

Harry and Ginny smirked at each other as they listened to Hermione's steps recede down the steps. As their grins faded to weary smiles, Ginny gazed thoughtfully at the door. “A bit mental at times, but she's been quite a good sport, hasn't she?”

“That she has.”

Harry sighed. Lest any smoldering embers of their last heated entanglement reignite, he angled his gaze away from the girl at his side and picked up a long-deferred history book off the desk. “So, my princess. Back to Camulodunum?”

Ginny nodded. “To Camulodunum. And then to bed.”

“Camulodunum.”

Speeaking contemplatively to herself, the princess gazed over at the quiet predawn town from high in the tree northwest of the River Colne. This was the first time she had set eyes upon the site of what had once been a Trinovante capital. When she has born, the place would likely not have looked much different from her own village, but the town was now completely Romanised — so full of stone; so lacking in trees.

She frowned analytically. Despite the grandeur of the theatre and the great temple (which the Publican referred to as the 'Templum Divi Claudii'), the town itself did not look particularly impregnable. True, it had walls of stone, but if those were breached, the target appeared surprisingly soft, as if the Romans hadn't really considered the possibility of an attack here. There were no ominous fortifications such as she had seen (and indeed broken through) at Camboricum, no great camps of Roman legions, and no paddocks filled with cavalry horses.

She descended the tree and edged close to where the Publican was standing watch for her. In a low whisper, she quickly described what she had observed. “It looks very weak, Terna — few troops and fewer horses. If mother breaks through the walls, half the town may fall before breakfast.”

The Publican nodded in consternation but said nothing.

The princess grasped his hand. “Do you think it may be a trap?”

“I am certainly wary.” He stroked his chin thoughtfully. “We do not know where all of those Roman troops have gone. Why should they not be here to bolster a provincial capital? We may be in for a surprise, but I cannot guess what that may be.”

“Should we alter our plan?”

The Publican shook his head. “No Lano, our goals remain the same as ever, correct? You and I must wrest the Staff of Scavo from the hands of that diseased rodent Legate and rip the toxic fangs from his jaw. After that, we are beholden only to ourselves and to our future together. Any military gambits of either side are no concern of ours.”

LanossŽa pondered her lover's words for a long moment.

Without this man, she knew that her view of the world would look remarkably different. Even with the wise teachings of her grandmother, the princess recognized that she was susceptible to pride and lust for power, but the man she had chosen to cherish for all eternity aimed less for what was great and ominous, and more for that which was adequate and satisfying.

She stole a glance at the man beside her — one who spoke with the experience of someone who had already fathered a family when she herself was but a babe in her grandmother's arms. The Publican was strong and hale; he loved with a fierce passion that she doubted men her own age could ever have matched, but he was somehow also old and wise.

And he was speaking wisdom.

And she knew that, despite the pounding of her heart at the queen's fiery words about driving the Romans into the sea, it was the Publican whose simple quiet speech revealed the right path.

She and her lover had chosen a path that would take them both far what they once knew. They were neither Iceni nor Romans anymore. She would not lead her people, and the Publican would no longer serve his. If they bore any allegiance or served any charge, it was to some ephemeral future.

When the princess listened to the strange, foreign voice in her head, there was much that remained obscure. The voice concerned itself with great and terrible happenings yet to come; circumstances that seemed to depend greatly upon the events that she (the princess) and her beloved were fated to steer. Such thoughts were difficult to conceive, but LanossŽa did so. And her beloved Paternas Peuerellius agreed with all his heart.

In the dusky hour before the sun was to rise upon a battle of great infamy, the princess leaned in to greet the Publican's lips with a demonstration of love, and passion, and loyalty; a silent pledge to destiny.

After a moment, their lips parted. They silently disillusioned themselves and walked hand-in-hand to secretly rejoin the leaders of a Rebellion about to be born in blood and fire.

Torches flickered about in the half-light; confused shouts issued from one end of the town to the other; metal clanked as the Roman citizenry mobilized for a threat that they, seemingly, had failed to anticipate.

Scowling at the mighty queen of the Iceni, Diras cursed. “Where in the great names of Camulos and Scathach lies the power that you summoned the night before last? Work with me, your ladyship! We must bring down the gate before the sun breaks, or else we shall all slink back into our foul little holes.”

Brandishing her wand in two fists, Boadicea trembled with fury. “This blasted wand! It will not heed me! It acts when it, and it alone, wills.”

The dark-faced man gazed up at the face of the tall, agitated woman; his expression indistinguishable from hatred. He has about to open his mouth for a reply, when sudden chills raced along his spine. A slight rustling was heard nearby, even though no motion could be spied; even though the only people permitted to be near were two lowly druids holding up shield spells in complete silence and stillness.

Wincing over the inadvertent noise, Harry cast a silencing spell on Ginny and himself to permit them to rustle about and gasp for air, undetected, as they took their places. The princess's earlier surveillance had been most useful, but in taking the detour to a nearby hill, they had missed Diras's call to advance and had needed to sprint nearly a mile to catch up. Panting, Harry laid his eyes upon the two leaders.

The queen seemed oblivious to their approach, but Diras glanced quizzically in their direction. For a moment his faced screwed up into a visage of calculation, then he glanced at the queen. “Pray, let us try the spell again, Lady Iceni.”

Boadicea looked at Diras in annoyance but took a breath and nodded. She and Diras both leveled their wands toward the gate.

Instinctively, in strange premonition, Harry threw his arms around Ginny in protective fortification.

No sooner has Harry's two hands clasped themselves about her waist when every hair on his body stood on end. Ginny shuddered.

The queen's deep, rich voice sounded like the trumpet of dawn. “LLOSGI!!”

The druidic wand quivered menacingly.

Diras's lips curled into a grin.

Under the cloak of Harry's silencing spell, Ginny cried out as power erupted from within her…

The queen's eyes flashed in shock!

A blazing bolt, as if from Camulos himself, split the dawn with a deafening crack.

Harry staggered as Ginny was thrust back into him by the recoiling retort. He pivoted to shoulder the blast; to shroud her from its worst.

The sickly sweet smell of sulphur, dust and singed hair saturated his nostrils.

A roar of hot wind, punctuated by the eerily musical tines of thousands of shattering bricks.

Falling.

Harry couldn't tell if he said it aloud, but the sound of his own voice seemed to fill his ears. “I love you Ginny. Please don't leave me.”

The sound of her reply. “I love you Harry. I'm still with you.”

Together… falling…

Falling…

Something slammed into Harry's back with hundreds of pounds of brutal force; his every rib arced inwards, tensed… and held.

Overpowering fatigue washed over him. He relaxed the tight sinews of his neck and settled the back of his head into coarse gravel. He felt Ginny similarly let go; her warm weight and rapid breaths settling limply on his chest.

All about them, a chorus of shouts and crazed cheers had erupted. Feet clattered past like a wild stampede, punctuated with the clang of swords and shields.

Harry's eyes flashed open with sudden panic lest they be trampled, but through the haze of Ginny's hair spread about his face, he noticed two figures standing over them — the two Druidic shielders, relieved of their immediate duties of warding Diras and Boadicea, had seeming come over to guard them; their presence (and perhaps a protective spell of some sort) deflecting away the hordes of battle-starved Britons streaming past in a race to the gaping hole in the Camulodunum walls.

Knowing that their disillusionment spells must have failed, Harry's eyes swept the chaos, trying to assess any danger that he and Ginny might be in, but the scan gave a modicum of reassurance. Nobody other than their two Druid minders was paying them any heed.

Or almost nobody.

Just as Harry was about to spare his eyes and fully succumb to exhaustion, his gaze settled on a spot adjacent to the ragged smoldering gap where once had stood the northeast gate. Through shimmering, smoke-bitten eyes, he saw the queen standing there, conferring with her advisors.

Looking regal once more despite the char and dust about her face, Boadicea's gaze turned momentarily from her warriors and met Harry's gaze. With a look that Harry, in his daze, could not quite interpret, she nodded in recognition… then turned to make her way into the Roman town, to preside over the unfolding carnage.

Harry finally closed his eyes and nestled his face into hair that, despite soot and dust, still brought him the comforting fragrance of spring blossoms…

Amidst the buzzing and rustling of a hot, breezy summer afternoon, the princess's eyes flickered open to a backdrop unfamiliar to her. Above a ground of trampled grass rose a horizon of blue… and tan… stripes.

Squinting her eyes, the strange skies resolved themselves into fabric. “Huh? Where am I?”

A hand she recognized immediately as the Publican's crossed her field of vision, bearing a moist cloth with which he cooled her forehead. “You're inside a tent. Roman infantry field issue.”

The princess startled, but the Publican's hand gently restrained her. “Fear not, Lano. We are in your mother's encampment. The tent was among the spoils pillaged from Camuldonum; I commandeered it to give you shade, for there are no trees around.”

With the Publican's assistance, the princess rose shakily to a sitting position and stared out of the tent's mouth toward a flattened field leading down to the river. Britons milled about, hauling and piling diverse materials, speaking animatedly among themselves. The occasional gust of smoke issued past.

She rubbed her aching head. “What have I missed, Terna? How goes the battle?”

“The initial sortie is over.” The Publican's voice sounded diffuse and pensive as he stroked her hair. “The battle was short and brutal; much of the town is in ruins. All wooden structures have been pillaged and razed; all that remains is the sturdier stonework. Many Romans are dead, though several hundred citizens still persist, holed up within the temple compound.”

“Whither the Legate? ” She gazed at the Publican concernedly.

“I have not laid eyes upon him myself. Reports are that he organized the retreat into the temple, and may thus be there.”

She leaned forward, stretching her back. “And mother is obviously now aware of us?”

The Publican nodded, taking a seat beside her on the cot. “Yes. I have not spoken with her yet, but Iceni servants have said she wishes a private audience with us this afternoon.”

LanossŽa exhaled, long and slow, staring at the ground.

He draped his arm around her slumped shoulders and pulled her close. “You have come thrice to your mother's dire need; twice now since the cold day on the Ouse. The queen cannot possibly still hold any just anger for you.”

“Yes, you are right.” She nodded quietly. “It is not her anger I fear, Terna.”

The Publican examined her for a long moment. “And what do you fear?”

“I know not. Though it may be that I fear...” The princess pulled her hair back from her face. “… I fear for her mind and her soul.”

The Publican chewed his lip, then looked through the tent's mouth, toward which one of the Iceni elite was approaching.

Despite perspiration and a shallow gash running several inches along his left shoulder, the Iceni champion exuded strength and confidence. However, as he ducked his head beneath the tent flap to find the occupants awake, the man immediately fell to his knees in supplication. “Andras of the Pines, humbly seeking your majesty's attention.”

LanossŽa laughed. “Off your knees, Andras. In all your years of defeating me in archery and spear throwing tournaments, you never once 'your majesty-ed' me, so do not start now.”

The man looked up, grinning. The look faltered somewhat when he caught sight of the Publican rising to greet him, but he nonetheless sustained a sunny expression. “Are you well, my princess? The queen desires to speak with you.”

“I am well enough, thank you.” LanossŽa rose to her feet. “The Publican and I shall meet the queen together.”

Andras glanced at the pair, likely still trying to gauge their relationship, then nodded. “Yes, I assume that will be permissible. Please follow me.”

Walking across the marshy field between the river and the town, the princess gazed around at the busy activity — groups of lightly armed volunteers presenting themselves to warriors dispensing pillaged armor and weapons; men leading captured horses to a makeshift paddock; smoke rising from unknown locations beyond the town walls, and many other distinct signs of a battle that had drawn to a close.

LanossŽa quickly concluded that Andras was leading them to a large pavilion tent erected close to the gap in the walls — an area about which scores of men and women were milling about. Her heart quickened. These tall newcomers were not among any she had seen in yesterday's march from the Fens of Gipping. These were powerful warriors wearing the blue and black paints of the Iceni!

They are coming! My people are heeding mother's call!

With several short barks from Andras, the crowd stepped aside, leaving a clear path toward the entrance of the pavilion. The moment she and the Publican stepped inside, the princess noticed the queen stiffen. The monarch did not take her eyes from the two tall young Iceni nobles standing before her, but she did cut her words short. “Meinir, Tomos, it is in such troubling and exciting times that the people of Scavo look to you, our valiant cousins at Beccles, for friendship and fealty. In return, we shall bestow great favour and honour. Please settle your warriors upon the northern marches to prepare for a splendourous feast. Join me again for counsel, 'ere tomorrow's sun.”

The queen nodded her dismissal to the two nobles who bowed and turned to leave. On their way out, the young leaders nodded to LanossŽa in recognition, glanced briefly at the Publican in curious suspicion, and departed in silence.

Slowly gathering herself, the queen stared in silence toward a blank far wall of the pavilion. Still not meeting her daughter's gaze or acknowledging the Publican's presence, she called out to a servant. “Eifion, clear the tent of all save Heanua and my two guests. Please await further orders.”

As roughly a dozen attendants made their brisk, silent way out of the tent, the queen, seated upon a stately wooden banquet chair that had likely been plundered from the town, finally turned to acknowledge her daughter and the Publican.

An air of majesty emanated from Boadicea, marking her return to power. Undaunted, LanossŽa gazed at her mother, seeking to read the woman's expression. To the princess's sensitive perception, her mother projected a tense blend of anger and fear; resentment and gratitude.

The two woman stared at each other for an indeterminate moment. Finally, the queen nodded. “The old Coritani said you must depart. He told me you would return.” Her gaze pinned LanossŽa, but neither intimidation nor magic could penetrate the young woman. “He spoke true both times, for now I have you again before me. I welcome your return, my daughter of prodigious power.”

The princess nodded.

“You have not returned alone, it seems.” The queen glanced at the Publican. “Perhaps now you and my old friend walk the world as two halves of a whole.”

LanossŽa's back stiffened; her hand found the Publican's.

The queen smiled slightly. “So daughter, have you then deprived me of the arduous labour of finding you a mate to suit your station?” She paused for a moment, without any real expectation of a reply; she merely continued. “Very well then. When I next pray to my ancestors for their wisdom, I shall inform them that my youngest daughter has taken from a Roman that which the Romans have taken from my eldest.”

The princess's jaw clenched — mortified to hear the tactless comparison between her own pure love of the Publican on one hand, and the cold, calculated rape of Heanua on the other. Nonetheless, LanossŽa forced her protesting muscles to abate. As humour went, the queen's statement was dark, bitter and drenched in irony, yet humour it was.

The Publican glanced awkwardly, sympathetically, at the queen's eldest daughter who stood two paces back from Boadicea's right shoulder. Yet, if Heanua was disturbed by her mother's crass imagery, the willowy blonde did not show it; she gazed heedlessly out through the pavilion's tall entrance toward a blue summer sky.

The queen continued heedlessly. “So, the time has come again to offer my gratitude. My daughter and her chosen mate have once again proven to be of immense value to me. Old friend Peuerellius, although your presence in our camp stirs rumour and suspicion, I do now welcome you into my circle as an esteemed advisor as we progress upon our great campaign. Do you accept?”

The princess, still holding the Publican's hand, squeezed it simple, unquestioning solidarity.

The Publican faced Boadicea without emotion. “Your highness, I stand before you and pledge to right a grievous wrong. The Staff of Scavo belongs in your hand and no other. Alone or bolstered by others, I would deliver the staff to you, stripping it from the stained, murderous hands of the Legate, whether I live or die in the taking.”

The queen scrutinized him carefully. “Your pledge I accept with honour, esteemed Publican, yet you have not answered my offer.”

The Publican's chest expanded slightly, as if he was bracing himself. “Your highness, I am a man without a people, neither Roman nor Iceni. Once I have fulfilled my stated duty to fate and honour, I shall retreat from affairs to which I bear no allegiance.”

The queen stared at him for a long moment, then looked away, gazing above his shoulder toward an untold future. “It is not so simple, Peuerellius.”

The Publican nodded.

The queen glanced at LanossŽa. “My dear Publican, your fate and honour do indeed belong to you, and as Boadicea, a mere woman who bears you gratitude in great measure, I would accept your choice and stand aside. Yet, as Queen of the Iceni Restored, my obligations are great and my hand is forced. I cannot permit you to take from me my only viable heir.”

“What?!” LanossŽa's eyes flashed in shock and dismay as the implications of her mother's statement resonated. “Mother, I am not your heir! The succession has always been pledged to Heanua!”

The queen shook her head solemnly. “My dear second daughter — strong of mind, body, magic and will — surely you can see that your sister is too feeble to ever ascend the throne. She has spoken not a word in two moons. She has cast not a single spell and taken up no arms. She has not laughed nor smiled nor growled in anger. She has eaten only what little she requires to prolong her pointless, empty existence. She has stood nowhere save in my shadow. My sweet, sad, hollow first daughter shall never be queen.”

LanossŽa shook her head violently, leaving her spot beside the Publican to approach Heanua. She placed a firm but gentle hand on her sister's frail shoulder. “Mother, she is still in there — my beloved sister and your rightful heir! She will rise again to her great wit and wisdom. She will lead our people when you can no longer. Surely you will, Heanua? Please answer me!”

Silently pleading for a response, LanossŽa stared up into the eyes of the tall young woman, but her sister stood impassively, with no sign of recognition or response.

“Please trust me, LanossŽa.” The queen, for the first time, dropped her eyes in a measure of sorrow. “I have sat by your sister and pleaded with her even as you do now. All to no avail.” Boadicea sighed deeply. “Yet what I have been forced to apprehend, and you must as well, is that even if Heanua recovered her strength and fire, no good man would ever take her. Not after what the Romans did to her.”

The tent fell silent. In the brisk summer breeze outside, even the lively labours and celebrations of the surrounding field seemed to fall away into a mournful pall.

The queen rose to her feet. “Dearest daughter, princess of the Iceni…” Her tone was stately yet measured. “As my mother doubtlessly instructed you and your sister, it is the first great duty of every queen to find herself a great king. In this light, my mother won for us the great Scavo, and I wooed Prasutagus — a fine man lost to us far too young...”

Boadicea's eyes went distant for a moment before she settled them back onto the princess. “LanossŽa, now you too have discovered love, wisdom, strength and power. These virtues are the lifeblood of greatness. While never in my most fanciful dreams did I expect to welcome my dear Peuerellius as a son, I do so now with open arms. My cherished daughter and esteemed Publican, if you return together to your grateful subjects, the mighty Iceni, I shall step aside and gladly proclaim you queen and king.”

LanossŽa bit the inside of her cheek; her heart tearing between her responsibility to the Iceni, and her undying love for the Publican. The princess despaired of answering this call — a dire, shocking circumstance that she had somehow utterly failed to anticipate.

In the princess's moment of weakness, the Publican's hand rejoined hers and he stood before the queen. “Your highness, a weighty offer stands before us, but I bid you defer the question.” He raised his head high, and his green eyes sparkled in the filtered light of the tent. “The time is not right for this debate. You have tasted triumph on the streets of Camulodunum today, and the restoration of your throne seems in reach, yet I fear a trap.

The queen eyed him intently. “How so, Publican? What have you seen or heard?”

“There are many signs. These past few days, cohorts of the Spanish Ninth Legion have been buzzing about like flies hungering for meat. I doubt little that they shall come together and I fear, whether tomorrow, next week, or next moon, the Romans shall confront us in terrifying strength. Together we may stand against them and perhaps even prevail, but only behind a true leader. Your people will not heed a lowly Roman bureaucrat; they will rally only behind their great queen. And to lead your people to victory, their queen requires her great staff.”

Boadicea cocked her head. “You speak wisdom, Peuerellius. And yet now you have thrice evaded my entreaties.”

“Four times it shall be, your highness.” The Publican smiled in disarming reticence. “We know not yet who will survive these bracing deeds to come. I beg you, wise queen of the Iceni, defer your proposition until my pledge is settled and our fates are clear. Wait until the staff of Scavo is returned to your hands and the scurrilous Legate has been ground into the soil at our feet. If I yet live, your people may then judge me on my fortitude and commitment, and not on history and heritage. At such a time shall your daughter and I be prepared to consider your remarkable offer.”

The queen stared at the Publican, and then at her daughter who moved closer to him. Finally Boadicea smiled. “Well my old friend, I have no doubt that your sword may be sharp, but you lead by the tongue. I cede to your will. I shall defer my offer until it is known who shall survive this caper to which I subject us all.”

The princess bowed her head. “Thank you mother.”

Boadicea shook her head. “No daughter, it is I who must thank you. Again and repeatedly. And indeed it is those thanks that bring me to my second problem.”

LanossŽa raised her head. “And what is this problem?”

The queen reached to a small scabbard she had attached to her belt. She withdrew the Coritani wand, holding it in two hands, examining it once again in consternation. “This, dear daughter, is the problem. It was chosen to be mine… yet it so chooses to be yours.”

Unconsciously, the princess took a step back. She and the Publican stared uneasily at the object from which had sprung such astonishing feats of magic… and such grave discomfort. LanossŽa raised her gaze back toward the queen's inquiring eyes. “A problem indeed! It is for this reason, mother… this reason, first among many, that we must hasten to place grandfather's staff back in your hands, and return that stick of fate to its mysterious maker.”

The queen examined her carefully, then nodded. “Yes, I will be most relieved to recover the staff. It is not far from here. I feel its presence…”

Without explanation, the queen began to walk. The princess and Publican fell in step behind her as she led them wordlessly out of the tent, through the charred hole in the wall and along a cobblestone street lined with the smoldering remains of wooden structures. After several hundred feet, they came to a break in the ruins that allowed them to see, unimpeded, across to the imposing stonework in the town center — a noble theatre standing intact at least forty feet above the chaotic debris and, immediately south, the sprawling complex of the Templum Divi Claudii.

The queen's face glowed russet in the smoky evening sun. Her eyes glittered. “That is a hollow monument to a false god who walked the Earth with no less frailty than you or I, yet since this dead Claudius is now named as god, our savage Trinovante allies dare not breach the fake sanctity of the compound walls. My brave Iceni would tear it down at my command, yet the stones are bolstered by magic.”

The Publican stared at the complex, feeling a sudden icy hatred running through his veins. He turned away; his voice low. “The Legate's magic.”

Boadicea shook her head. “The staff's magic.” After gazing a moment long, she too turned away.

As LanossŽa continued to stare a silent thought came to her, unbidden, and without explanation.

The Legate's magic… the staff's magic… Are those not now one and the same?

On a hot summer night many centuries ago, an unconventional blend of frivolous lilting frog song from the River Colne and disarrayed thoughts of strange wand and staff allegiances were collectively lulling the Inceni princess into an uneasy sleep. Now, in the very early hours of August 14th, 1995, Ginny Weasley stirred in the darkness of another Grimmauld Place night.

She groaned softly to herself as the strange images and concepts swirled through her mind. What had previously been tortuous and complex, was growing nearly unfathomable.

Queen and king of the Iceni?? A death sentence. Any hapless dupes shouldering those dubious titles would be doomed as fodder for merciless Roman reprisal.

And what about the strange wand? A perversion! A twisted, manipulative tool of inscrutable aims. A death stick if there ever was one!

The day had been too disrupted to cover more than a small fraction of the strange problems at hand, and this evening's first dreams had just raised a new host of concerns! Ginny knew that she couldn't just lie there stewing over it all; she needed to talk to Harry.

Ever so quietly, she edged her legs out of bed and glanced across the darkness toward her room mate.

“Be careful, you git,” came the grumbling voice.

Ginny blew Hermione a kiss, but her grouchy friend had already rolled over, obviously not interested making a trip upstairs to help extract Harry from the boys' room.

Unconcerned, Ginny guessed that there was another way. She reached under her pillow to find the brooch. She placed it in her hand, closed her eyes, and visualized herself getting out of bed to make her way upstairs to the library. This was no meaningless cerebral exercise; if her instincts were correct, a certain dark haired boy would now almost certainly be awake (if he hadn't been already) and would know to join her.

Sliding slippers onto her feet, she wrapped a robe around herself and edged out into the corridor. By the time she had reached the second floor landing, she heard the slightest creak as a door opened ahead of her.

Ginny paused and waited. Sure enough, the dim flickerings filtering up from a solitary lamp on the ground floor glinted off a pair of glasses perched somewhere beneath a delightfully rumpled mop. Squinting in the darkness, Harry's eyes locked onto hers.

Her heart quickened. She had the sudden tremulous realization that in a moment she would be kissing him. The young man she had waited for nearly her whole life was now hers. She could simply walk over and kiss him. No excuses needed; no questions asked.

Was is possible that a treasured privilege like this would ever grow old?

Ginny knew she could either philosophize, ponder or fret about such deep questions, or she could just do it.

Not a difficult choice to make.

Grinning, she flowed cat-like through the darkness, and caught him. She pulled him close, exchanging the heartbeats and softly laboured breaths that made all of the other hellacious tribulations in their lives seem bearable. Their mouths met and in her reverie, Ginny had the momentary sensation of swirling, as if they were dancing a slow waltz to some beautiful ballad; as if they were reliving some half-remembered dream.

Soothed by the cathartic affection, they pulled apart by mutual unspoken assent and made their silent way up the remaining flight of stairs to the library. Ginny settled herself on their ottoman by the library hearth, leaving Harry his usual spot beside her. As he took a seat, she grasped his hand and wove her fingers through his. “Harry, I'm sorry if I woke you.”

Harry shook his head. “No, don't worry. I was already awake.”

Ginny squeezed his hand. “It occurred to me as I was lying there that we've been focusing on history and schemes and details, but not on our feelings. I'm certain that we're both really stressed, right? Maybe we'll feel better if we talk through some of it?”

Harry nodded.

Ginny glanced at him. “Did you want to start?”

Harry smiled. He reached over with his other hand and gently swept a lock of hair from her face, caressing her cheek in the process. “No. My greatest worry is how you're holding up, Gin'. You start.”

Ginny smiled briefly then inhaled. “Where to begin, yeah?” She sifted through the troubling aftermath of Camulonunum, but decided that those details, although captivating and rather vexing to the princess, were not her own greatest concerns. Rather, Ginny honed in on the strangest unknown she had yet experienced. Trying to put vague sensations into words, she stared vacantly in the dark, then began with a soft whisper. “Harry, there is a new magic inside me. A strange magic, that is more than just the residue of these dreams. In the past couple of days I feel… changed.”

Harry's brow furrowed. “Changed? For… the better?”

“That's a good question.” Ginny smiled at the hopefulness in Harry's reply. It didn't carry a strength of conviction, and she couldn't tell whether he truly dared to hope, but it was nonetheless very heartening that, unlike a week ago, he didn't just automatically presume the worst.

She glanced away, rubbing the back of Harry's hand for a moment before arriving at a response. “I don't know. Let's just talk about what it is, and maybe together we can start trying to figure out whether it's good or not.”

“Sure. That makes sense to me.”

“Thanks.” She leaned in slightly so that her shoulder pressed warmly into his. “What I've been noticing, Harry, is that in our dreams I seem to have gotten tremendous new powers. Think about it — I launched offensive hexes that drove Riddle to his knees and shocked the Legate; I caught the Publican's fall, blasted my way into the dungeon, summoned that crazy celestial vision at the fens and annihilated the gate at Camulodunum.”

“Yeah, those were astonishing, really.” Harry gazed at her; his eyes slightly widened. “Maybe you've learned the spells working through the princess? I've picked up a lot from the Publican.”

“True, I've gotten new skills from her, but I don't think these are hers.” She tapped her foot softly on the floor as she thought. “You see, the princess is as baffled by this magic as I am, and so is the queen. And the magic is clearly not all good for me either. Sure it's a thrill to be able to do awesome new spells, but I don't seem to have a whole lot more magical reserve than I had when I left Hogwarts six weeks ago. Doing wild magic like that is like pouring every ounce of fuel onto the fire at the same time. I swear, Harry, if I knock myself off my feet one more time with magical exhaustion, I'm going to scream. Or at least whimper.” She grinned at him sheepishly. “Anyway, let me be brutally honest — as much as I love the thought of being carried away in your arms, I bloody well hate needing to be carried!”

Harry smiled sympathetically and squeezed her hand. “I understand — I really do! And you know, a part of me finds it incredibly cool to see you pull off spells like those, and another part of me gets a huge kick out of getting to play hero for a beautiful witch… but those two parts don't exactly line up right. It all seems a bit unnatural.”

“Right. It's not natural.” Ginny sighed. “I wonder what happened to me to give me the ability to cast powerful new spells that I don't really have the training or conditioning to sustain?”

Harry sat quietly, uncertain whether he should admit that he had no clue, and wondering whether there was anyone around who might be able to shed any light on the dilemma. Not very likely, considering how isolated they seemed to be right now.

Ginny gazed at him. “Can I share something else, in case it's related?”

“Sure!” Harry gazed at her, intrigued.

She pursed her lips for a long moment, before speaking. “Harry, I had a strange dream the other night after I faded away at the fens. I don't know if it was realistic or just symbolic, but I dreamed that I was holding another magical source in my hands. Having it in my hands felt a little like the warm sensation one gets when casting a spell, but it wasn't the same feeling as my magic. It was similar, but just a bit different. For a moment I imagined that it was not just power, but that it was actually alive — as if it had a heartbeat and really simple emotions. I dreamed that it could somehow understood comfort and fear, and that maybe, just maybe, it had some sort of self-preservation instinct.”

Harry rested his chin in his free hand. “Well, it doesn't sound exactly like how the Publican and the princess might perceive us, because they can probably feel clear emotions and even some detailed thoughts.” He paused for a moment. “Are you sure that this is what's giving you these new powers? A magical force, that's not exactly your own?”

“I'm really not sure.” Ginny quirked her face thoughtfully. “The image came from a dream that didn't feel much like our other dreams — it was more vague and surreal.”

“True.” Harry shifted his sitting angle to face her. “But, it could just be like your Dad said — you know, about dreams being the way we grapple with things we don't understand?”

Ginny shrugged.

Harry smiled diffusely. “Well, maybe we're better off sticking with what's tangible anyway, right? You have new magical abilities, but haven't found the best way to control them.”

“Right.” Ginny sighed. “I suppose control is the sort of thing that comes with time. I just wish I knew that we had time.”

“What? Nineteen hundred years isn't enough for you?” Harry smirked… then yelped as Ginny (semi-playfully) whacked his shoulder. He turned pensively back to face the hearth. “You know, it's a shame you couldn't just tap into the Publican's skills.”

Ginny frowned. “What do you mean?.”

“Well, you see...” Harry ran a hand through his hair. “I have no real idea how much pure power he has, because his magical control is so refined. He casts spells like a surgeon with a scalpel — not a speck more or less force than he needs to get a job done.”

“Ha! It's ironic that he ended up with the princess, because...” Ginny paused and frowned.

Harry stared at her. “Huh? You were saying Gin'?”

Ginny gazed distantly into a dusky for a moment, then turned to Harry. “I was saying, Harry, that we might have the solution!”

From the pocket of her bathrobe, Ginny withdrew the silver brooch and held it up in the air between them.

Harry frowned, puzzled for a moment, then his eyes brightened. “You think you can absorb some of the Publican's instincts for control… through this?” He reached out and touched the silver with his finger.

“I honestly have no idea what to think.” Ginny shrugged with a smile. “But, I'll bet that we'll find out one way or another later tonight.”

The Publican and the princess leapt!

Before anyone had the slightest idea what had happened, an intruder was on the ground of their tent, curled into a shivering fetal position with two wands at his throat.

Lumos!

The Publican's wand produced a glow, dull and red so as to not spoil their night vision. Carefully pulling the wand back just enough to make out the man's features, he heard the princess laugh in relief.

“Andras, please call out before you enter.” Lighting her own wand, she stood up and helped the man, panting, to his feet. She smirked. “Please pardon us, for we have grown wary in our time away, and our animal instincts have grown sharp. What brings you to disturb our feral den in the middle of the night.”

Bewildered, Andras looked from princess to Publican and back again, recovering his bearings. “You both must come immediately.” He fought his ragged breath under control. “A Roman sorcerer has broken out of the Temple compound. Our queen and Diras are struggling to contain him!”

Back to index


Chapter 12: Sister Awakening

Author's Notes:

So, you shall find that many questions are *starting* to move toward answers, although new ones are still emerging. Once again, I'm distinctly pleased with this chapter, and hope you enjoy it as well.

I do not leave you with a cliff-hanger this time, but I can't quite imagine not sticking you with one more at least sometime before the (not too distant) conclusion. Bear with me, dear readers :)

Speaking of dear readers, let me take a moment to say again how grateful I am to reviewers of this story. Although the narrative had a defined shell in place long ago, it has borrowed from the whims and consciences of many of you, resulting in a tale that I believe is quirkier, more poignant and more fun than it would have been if I'd simply churned the whole thing out at once and tossed it at you. I'm sure that many of you will be able to see your own little signatures sprinkled throughout the work, and for that I say, again, thank you!


Chapter 12. Sister Awakening (August 14, 1995)

The Iceni had erected regular series of torches from their riverside encampments, up along the Roman road and into the ruined town. Harry and Ginny found themselves swept along behind Andras, tearing through the night toward the Templum Divi Claudii; trying to picture a confrontation that their young Iceni guide, with no magical abilities, had barely even attempted to describe.

By the time they had crossed through the gap in the walls, dazzling flashes and sharp cracks of noise assaulted their senses, buffeting them from down the wide via that led to the temple and the theatre. Dismayed by the bewildering magical display, Andras stumbled to a halt, leaving Harry and Ginny to race past.

Faced with a disorienting commotion (cloying darkness punctuated by sharp, glaring chaos) Harry felt a sense of reticence coming from within. The anxiety came from sources he had grown to associate with strength and assurance. Slowing to a walk, he pondered the vague hesitation and suddenly understood perfectly what the problem was. They were approaching a great unknown — a battle scenario that lent itself poorly to the talents of either the Publican (whose extensive skills included only minimal coordinated combat experience) and the princess (much more accustomed to woodland stealth).

Despite these deficiencies, retreat was not an option. In the half dozen furtive steps that Harry and Ginny took as they continued to cautiously approach the fracas, a subtle balance shifted for the first time. The dominant personalities of a veteran Publican and fiery princess stood respectfully to the side. To the fore stepped none other than Harry Potter — a young man whose hard life had taught him that the only sure route to failure lay in not trying.

Drawing on modest skills derived from the past two years of DADA classwork under Lupin and Crouch, Harry found himself sliding with remarkable ease into the unexpected alpha role. He instinctively scanned what he could see of the town square for cover and open sight-lines. Waving Ginny toward a ruined wall lining the south side of the street just west of the temple, he dashed across the street to run parallel to her, finding stealthy shadows beneath the arched southern colonnade of the massive theatre.

With the brooch in hand, Ginny barely even needed to look at her partner to sense his intent; every time she stole a quick glance in his direction, he was exactly where she guessed, almost as if they had been practising combat tactics together for years.

Reaching the jagged, easternmost edge of a collapsed building, Ginny crouched down and glanced across the street just in time to see Harry's shadow ducking behind a column. Breathlessly, synchronously, they peered out from their respective cover to stare in morbid fascination at the intense battle drama — a boiling stew of angry noise, blistering flashes of light, shattered stones and acrid fumes, bodies in motion, bodies fallen...

Although the scene seemed outwardly bewildering, Harry forced himself to cut away the distractions and parse the dynamics. After a few seconds, he was surprised to realize that the real situation was fairly straightforward — what had quite recently been a mad brawl had now actually settled into the makings of a stalemate. Garish and noisy perhaps, but a stalemate nonetheless, as neither side looked to have the strength to prevail.

Based on a quick count, Harry determined that most of the original combatants were already either incapacitated (at least three Roman wizards and five Druids lay sprawled luridly across the flagstones nearby) or marginalized (in particular the queen, who stood well back from the battle, her wand held at the ready, but not serving any role other than perhaps to guard Heanua who lingered impassively in the background).

As a result, despite the wild fireworks, all of the real action was distributed among only four fighters. Diras and two other Trinovante Druids darted and lurched their way about the debris-strewn square, circling like hungry wolves around their solitary prey — the Legate.

Staff raised high, the Legate cut an imposing image from his perch atop the bare marble block vacated by a toppled statue of Emperor Claudius. His prodigious shield — a great glowing disk of yellow light projecting out nearly five feet from his body — flickered occasionally as he sought opportunities to unleash curses during even the briefest intermittence in the daunting but futile torrent of sharp percussive hexes sprayed up at him by the three Trinovantes.

Recognising that all attention was fully captivated by the lurid combat dance, Harry sensed that it was safe to attack. He waved to Ginny, mouthing words that he somehow knew she would grasp. “The Legate! Hit him with anything you can think of! Together we'll bring down his shield!”

Ginny flashed him a thumbs-up and, from their separate positions fifty feet apart, they broke into a run, rushing straight for the havoc.

Raising his wand, Harry felt the Publican's magic swell within his chest. It pulsed almost instantly outward through his arm — a meteoric stunner that tore through the night, slamming against the Legate's shield.

Sensing Ginny bracing herself to cast a spell, Harry shifted his (or perhaps the Publican's ) focus to try to feel her magic, hoping to help her regulate the spell. Closing his eyes for the barest instant, he sensed the stirring agitation of power. In his mind, he pictured some sort of scorching fire from the princess's repertoire. He imagined that it would be an impressive enough spell, but (unlike the blast that had torn through the town walls yesterday) was unlikely to deplete Ginny's magical core.

He flashed her a quick grin. Have at it, Gin'!

Suddenly grasping the great opportunity, Harry pivoted quickly back to his own magic, opening himself up to summon the power for another of the Publican's rapid-fire stunners. At the very instant he saw Ginny's wicked Incendio leap from her wand, a surge of force and adrenaline raced through him.

Two blasts, one dazzling white; the other a brilliant gold, tore across the square, pounding the startled Legate's shield at the exact same instant. It quivered and buckled, but held. Agape, the Legate lurched around to descry the sudden new threat. Squinting through the scintillating glare of spell fire, his cold eyes locked first onto Harry, then Ginny. Yet even as a third spell from Diras knocked him back a step; even as Harry and Ginny thrashed him with yet another coordinated blast and the dark wizard's knees shuddered under the combined onslaught, the Legategrinned??

Shite! A flash of panic raced through Harry's mind. What is he pulling? Is this a trap?

He frantically scanned the square trying to spot some hidden peril. Ginny's eyes were just meeting Harry's with the same expression of sudden urgent anxiety when they both glanced simultaneously toward the Legate, who had just now shifted his hungry sneer toward…

The queen.

Tense and frustrated only a moment before, Boadicea had watched the sudden appearance of the Publican and princess with great interest. A fiery determination had taken hold of her face. Amidst the blaze of intoxicating spell fire; the Legate's stumbles and flickering shield reflecting in her eyes, she was raising the Coritani wand.

From half way across the square, Harry felt Ginny tremble. A gripping trepidation seized them both.

“No!” Harry waved frantically at Boadicea. “Don't cast a…!”

But it was too late — from within the dusky shadow where the queen stood, the sickly green glow of a killing curse could already be seen enveloping her arm and pouring into the strange wand she was pointing toward the enemy.

Driven by pure instinct, Harry began to sprint toward Ginny, just as she was wracked with a terrible tremor. He thrust his will toward his girlfriend, desperate to try to staunch the horrific power she might be drained of to sustain the queen's curse. He had no idea what the consequences could be; he only knew with terrible conviction that… something was terribly wrong.

Delirious sensations streamed past.

The Legate's arms spreading wide, laughing… dropping his shield…

A fresh force of Roman auxiliaries streaming into the square from the south, led by a caped figure on a black horse.

Sweat on the queen's brow, glistening green from the lurid gleam of the killing curse bursting from her wand.

The Legate, his distinctive Malfoy sneer, sweeping his arm forward, offering up like a sprinter's baton… the great staff of Scavo.

Or was it the staff?

In an instant, with the Legate's shield down, Harry saw the powerful instrument in full detail. It had been defiled! The noble copper horse-head of the Iceni was twisted into some heinous horned gargoyle. The graven monster rose up out of the Legate's grasp, hovered in the smoky night air, then began soaring toward… Ginny.

Still reeling from the agony of having raw power torn from her to propel the queen's curse, Ginny froze, defenceless, staring in horror as the staff — the desecrated abomination — closed upon her, its mighty magic seeking her hand.

Bewildered and appalled, Harry's mind raced. None of these psychotic twists made the slightest speck of sense to him. He longed to rage against the vision, scream that it was nothing but a deranged dream, and burst from his Grimmauld Place bedroom in a tangled mass of sweat-soaked sheets to quake in harrowed relief.

But he knew it could never be so simple. One of these nights would bring a dream from which there may be no return; for which the choice would be simple — either succeed, or else throw any chance to save the light and spend a joyful life with the girl he loved. For all he knew, the price of failure tonight might even be to erase his very existence from human history.

Harry did not understand why he leaped, but there seemed to be no choice. He soared, not across a bedroom, but through the smoldering night air of Camulodunum… toward Ginny… toward a malevolent, perverse weapon of untold magic…

His Seeker's hand outstretched, Harry felt, rather than saw…

Ginny's look of blank, uncomprehending terror… the Legate's triumphant sneer devolving into rage… the black-caped horseman tearing across to pull the Legate from the path of the queen's killing curse.

Barring every distraction, Harry's fingers closed around the staff.

He had an instant sensation of searing magical fire raging through his veins — a flash of deadly, delicious power... but, mercifully, the hard stone ground smashed into him… and the dreadful staff clattered away.

The crazed swirl of fire and noise bogged down into a glacial slurry of disjointed sensations.

Blood oozing from his nose and mouth.

Crazed shouts… clashing metal…

Her tremulous hand (Ginny!) finding his and clutching it for dear life before she collapsed, shuddering, at his side.

As he fought to cling to his senses, Harry heard a woman's voice… emotive yet somehow also empty.

“Peuerellius, LanossŽa, my brave children.” The voice crumbled into a hoarse cough before restoring itself. “Dead or alive, I am forever indebted to you both.”

A woman's arm reached down to retrieve the staff from where it had fallen onto the cobblestones. The queen footsteps hastened away into the night. Shouts and clamour faded into the distance. Calming silence descended.

At the faintest final strands of his consciousness, Harry thought he felt a soft, long-fingered hand grace his cheek. His eyelids flickered, affording him a glimpse of long blonde hair that caught a tremulous glimmer of the dying light.

Then all went dark.

Harry blinked as the darkness receded. His eyes swam back into focus, and he desperately grappled for any other senses that could help explain the new scene unfolding around him.

There was a voice sounding in his ears.

"Does the wand in your hand know its last master was disarmed?"

The voice seemed strangely hollow. Harry had heard those words in his dreams often enough to know his speech by heart, but something was amiss.

Where was his confidence?

Harry felt his own legs side-stepping smoothly, sublime and catlike, sustaining a constant menacing motion but somehow... that hint of swagger was gone.

He willed himself to focus on the scene, returning his gaze to the scoundrel before him, whose coal-red eyes waited expectantly, almost chivalrously, for him to finish his statement.

Harry assembled his best face of calm resolution, and twitched his wand to point theatrically at the ornate stick in Voldemort's hand. "You see Tom, if it does, then I..." Harry tapped his own chest. "I... am the true master of the Elder Wand."

Voldemort regarded him skeptically; his mouth spread into an evil reptilian sneer. He threw his head back, as if to laugh, but instead emitted a hiss like a thousand raging serpents.

"Avada Kedavra! "

"Expelliarmus! "

Red and green spell flares burst across the Great Hall, reflecting in hundreds of mesmerised eyes. The morning's first ray of sunshine leaped through the shattered east window, illuminating the centre of the two clashing spells with a great shower of white sparks.

Snake face quaked in exertion. A heavy bead of sweat sprang from Harry's forehead, trailing down his forehead, as he pushed back against the killing curse. The white boundary between them crept forward, encroaching slowly into the green haze, when...

A deafening crack sounded! A dazzling burst of light! The Elder Wand shattered in a spray of flaming wood…

Amidst the blistering convulsions of clashing power, two putrid blasts of green detestation shot diametrically across the centre of the Hall.

One struck Voldemort in the head.

The other tore through Harry's chest.

For the briefest fraction of a second, both men, both avowed antitheses, stared into each other's disbelievingly eyes.

Good and evil.

Honour and infamy.

Then Harry James Potter and Thomas Marvolo Riddle… both collapsed.

Thunderous silence fell upon the stunned masses.

Then, with a cry (half elation; half anguish), Ginny tore across the hall. Catching her feet on the rubble, she stumbled to her knees, skidding to a stop at Harry's side. Seizing his soiled and bloodied anorak in her fists, she half-lifted his torso, shaking him. “Harry! Harry! You killed him! We can do it! We can kill the sod, and now we only have to figure out how to keep you alive! Please, please, please give us a chance! Don't go and die when we're getting so...”

A shudder wracked her frame as she gazed into Harry's lifeless green eyes. “Oh Harry. Why does this have to be so god-damned bloody impossible?” She collapsed, sobbing, onto his rigid, but still-warm chest.

And yet, somewhere in one of the many intervening centuries, a weary arm rose from the charred ground beside her… and clasped her gently on the shoulder.

I love you Ginny. I am still with you.

Hermione's eyelids cracked open for a moment in the dusky predawn light. She was fairly certain she had heard Ginny sobbing, but now the room had fallen silent again. She half-debated rising from bed to check on her room mate, but her own weariness was too great.

Hermione's thin-slit gaze drifted over to the window, vaguely wondering how long it would be until dawn, but the shimmery quality of the light (perhaps the curtain rustling in a draft) had an oddly hypnotic effect and she drifted back…

to the ocean.

Undulating shades of grey.

They had left the bright blue tropical waters behind. She found the North Atlantic so dreary, but the endless rolling of the wakes thrust back from the ship's huge hull nonetheless fascinated her.

Just when she had convinced herself that the chilling breeze and spray barely bothered her anymore, a bracing gust rose up from the water. She shivered, hunched her shoulders, and… felt a warm hand reach around to rest upon her own.

Even without turning around, she knew that hand — large, freckled and fleshy. Clumsy, yet caring.

She shifted slightly, to obliquely face the mysterious but earnest young stranger who had lured her away from her college studies in Auckland. Glancing past the windswept russet hair, she glimpsed those blue eyes — the ones that seemed so close and yet so distant; so young but so careworn.

Hello Rob,” she said, shyly turning back to stare at the waves.

Shyly?

Why on earth was she still so shy around him? After nearly a month at sea together? After pledging herself to aid him on his desperate quest. After he had opened himself up to her to tell a story so utterly unbelievable… so wildly inconceivable… that it almost HAD to be true?

So, why indeed?

Taking advantage of the fact that he was gazing off into the nondescript sky, she stole a longer, more careful look at the fellow. She was quickly reminded what brought her such diffidence.

It was those eyes.

They were so deep, so gentle and so very sad. With eyes like that, she couldn't help but trust him, but the brooding intensity in their depths could still make her feel like an awkward, bookish little schoolgirl.

And yet, every once in a rare while, those eyes sparkled… like they were doing right now as he sensed her gaze. Glancing at her, he offered one of his rare smiles. “You're rather partial to the sea, aren't you Hettie?”

You noticed?” Her eyes sparkled for a moment infected by his candour, before the awkwardness set in again and she shuffled her feet. “Though to be honest Rob, I should rather like to see the end of it.”

Ah yes.” He sighed. “Well, not long now. Three more nights and we'll awaken in Tilbury.”

Oh.” She suddenly sensed the rigid bolts around the young man's soul begin to tighten again, as if they were both simultaneously reminded that this was hardly a voyage of pleasure. She looked to him searchingly. “Should I be utterly terrified, Rob?”

I truly don't know, Hettie...” He gazed off toward the grey northeast horizon. “But let's leave those thoughts for later, and enjoy these last two days while we have them.” He squeezed her hand, and gave her a smile that went to the corners of his mouth, but did not quite extend as far as his eyes.

Hearing footsteps behind them, they both turned to see a jacketed waiter approaching them. “Mr. Wilsey, Miss Gravener, your table is ready.”

As they followed the dignified server through the port into the dining room, a tiny twinkle had returned to the tall young man's blue eyes. He leaned in to whisper to her. “Mighty fine of your parents to spring for an upgrade, Hettie. I ate a whole bloody month's worth of corned beef sandwiches on the way down.”

As he yawned his way into the kitchen for breakfast, Ron paused and frowned. “Where's Harry?”

Molly looked up from the stove, whose servings of eggs and toast she was tending. “We were hoping you might tell us, Ron. You being his room mate and all.”

“Oh, that's right.” Ron yawned again. “He's still in bed. I asked him if he was coming for breakfast, but he just rolled over and groaned a bit.”

“Oh dear!” Molly wrung her hands and turned to Lupin. “I wonder if they've come down with something? Perhaps I should look in on them.”

“They?” Ron scratched his head, gazing around at the kitchen table trying to figure out who else might be missing.

Hermione fidgeted. “Ginny's sleeping in too.” She gnawed uncomfortably at a fingernail.

“Oh.” Ron nodded then shrugged. “Hadn't noticed any problems with Ginny, but Harry did say last night that he was feeling lousy. Might be something going around.”

“Poor dears.” Molly glanced around at the bustling kitchen. “I would go check on them if things weren't quite so busy in here.”

A worried frown spread over Hermione's brow. “I can go look for you, Mrs. Weasley. I can check for fever, and maybe gently rouse them to see how they're feeling.”

“Oh would you?” Molly gave her a relieved smile, then closed her eyes in thought. “Please examine them for bumps, and check around the neck for Scrofungulus or Mumblemumps. If you see anything like that, please let me know. And also wash your hands immediately after you see them.”

“Certainly, Mrs. Weasley.” Hermione rose to her feet. She deposited her dishes in the basin and made her way past Ron, toward the door.

“Er…” Ron scratched his head. “Did you need a hand?”

Hermione blinked at her friend in surprise. “Why, uh, no thank you. But I appreciate the offer, Ron.”

Hermione wasn't sure if she had imagined it but in that brief instant, peering into Ron's maturing face, into his eyes, she thought that she had glimpsed something unusually pensive and mindful. It somehow brought to mind odd images of… things… Cold rolling waves and ocean spray. Adventure. Danger.

Shaking the peculiar sensation from her mind, Hermione tuned back into the kitchen chatter, catching the tail end of Molly's statement.

“… and very thoughtful of you, but it's really best we not send everyone around to see them before we know whether it's contagious.”

“Contagious? Oh right.” Ron shivered slightly. “Er, so what's for breakfast, Mum?”

With a subtle smirk at how quickly her friend could revert to normal, Hermione made her way out of the kitchen, and headed along the first floor corridor to look in on a girl who had definitely not made a habit of sleeping in so late recently.

Hermione chewed her lip in vague concern. Neither Ginny nor Harry had looked the least bit ill yesterday evening, and it had not seemed as though Ginny had been gone from the room for long enough in her nocturnal walkabout to necessitate such a late lie-in.

Then Hermione recalled Ginny's episode of nausea from the prior morning. Hmmm…

Ginny's discomfort had vanished quickly with Harry's draught, and had not seemed to resurface at all during the day, so Hermione had been quick to consign it to something like a momentary bout of nerves. But now? Hermione paused to chew another fingernail, then quietly entered the bedroom to take a peek at her friend.

When Hermione had gotten out of bed a couple of hours earlier, she had been a bit surprised to see Ginny still asleep, but in her efforts to leave the room quietly and not disturb the sleeper, Hermione had not thought to check for any problems. Now, with a bit more scrutiny, Hermione's anxiety began to mount. Ginny was looking decidedly pale, and strands of hair clung to her forehead and cheek — a clear sign that the girl had been perspiring profusely at some point in her sleep.

Hermione huffed to herself. “Ginny, how could you go and get sick? Are you trying to make me feel guilty for leaving you and Harry to your own devices?”

Ginny moaned slightly, but didn't awaken.

Hermione pulled a chair close, and began to study her friend more carefully. There were no physical signs marking any of the most common magical maladies, but that was no real surprise since Ginny very rarely came down with the usual viruses that swept their way around Hogwarts. Her temperature wasn't elevated, and her breathing appeared to be normal.

Hermione sat back and pursed her lips.

Poor dear — probably just exhausted.

She gave Ginny another quick once over and noted that her friend had tangled her bedclothes a bit and wasn't fully covered. Hermione began tugging on the covers, trying to fit them closer to the contours of Ginny's body. Lifting the girl's arm, Hermione felt her tightly clenched fist.

Hmmm…

Out of curiosity, Hermione pulled the sheet back a bit from Ginny's hand. Silver glinted between the fingers.

“Oho! Ginny, do you suppose this thing is draining your energy?”

Ginny made no response.

Hermione reached carefully for the clenched hand. “Ginny, I'm going to put this to the side okay? Until you're feeling better?”

Ginny groaned slightly and pulled her hand closer to her body.

Hermione grumbled. “It's for your own good, you know.” She reached for Ginny's hand yet again, and began trying to pry the girl's fingers away from the brooch.

Fire.

"Gak!" Hermione recoiled, blinking and glancing bewilderedly about the room, trying to reconcile a fleeting image that had flashed before her eyes.

Nothing.

Gazing around, everything in the bedroom seemed normal. It was the same place she'd grown accustomed to over the past month — lots of books and clothes; messy on one side; clean on the other. A wan rainy daylight filtered in from the curtain. Nothing looked particularly flashy or reflective. Ginny continuing to sleep peacefully on the bed. All seemed distinctly ordinary.

Yet for a moment, Hermione had been almost certain that she had seen flames dancing before her eyes.

Her eyebrow quirked, she slowly leaned back in, and reached a finger toward Ginny's fist.

Ginny now had a fierce grip on the object and had it pressed up against the front of her shoulder, but a small spot of bare metal was still visible.

Hermione paused for a long moment, torn between wanting to help Ginny in case the brooch was exerting some debilitating effect, but not wishing to disrupt the girl if she was engaged in some strange but crucial dream magic. Of course, those two inclinations paled next to a suddenly nearly overwhelming sense of curiosity.

Hermione willed herself to pull back. She knew that curiosity about a magical object could either be… Well, such curiosity could either be a normal human emotion, or it could be something much more insidious.

She frowned.

Perhaps Professor Dumbledore had been correct? Maybe she should go straight to the library and write him a second letter, telling him about this peculiarly powerful charmed object? After all, the brooch seemed to have knocked Ginny off her feet, right?

Nodding to herself, Hermione assumed that she was going to stand up and make her quiet way out of the room to go write that letter… but instead, more than a minute later, she found herself still in the chair, leaning even closer to Ginny and the brooch. She extended a trembling finger out to touch the…

ladle.

The wooden handle felt warm to her finger, but did not scorch her, despite the hot coals over which the cauldron sat. It had been charmed, of course, to resist the heat.

She stirred the contents of the cauldron one final time and leaned over the hot steam, taking a tentative sniff.

Nodding to herself, she submerged the ladle into the depths of the liquid and drew out a full measure of the shimmering golden potion, emptying it into the first of the two heavy flagons that sat on a flat stone next to the camp fire.

Cradling the flagon carefully in her hands, she rose to her feet and gazed around at her two patients, still sleeping despite a sun that had now risen above the southern eastern hills. The man (Harry?? No, not Harry. Too old, but a remarkable resemblance! ) was beginning to stir. His head wounds, which she had already healed, had not been serious. He had lost a fair bit of blood, but he was clearly in a better state than her magically exhausted sister…

Sister?

She stared at the young woman who lay limp within the furs arrayed on the ground near the fire. Long red hair, a sprinkle of freckles on her attractive and very familiar face.

Ginny??

Once again, the likeness seemed extraordinary, but of course this wasn't Ginny Weasley. However bewildering the thought, it was obvious that the woman on the ground was none other than LanossŽa, princess of the Iceni. Her sister.

She was roused from her confused reverie by the sound of a distant horn. Jolted into action, she hurried to the man's side, and touched his cheek. “Awaken, my lord!”

The man's face crinkled. His eyes opened and he gazed at her, blinking away the remnants of sleep.

She held the flagon toward his face. “Drink this my lord — it will give you strength!”

Obediently, but without obvious understanding, he struggled up to brace his torso on his elbows. She held the flagon to his lips, and he unquestioningly allowed her to pour several ounces down his throat.

Abruptly, she stood up. “Mother has broken camp and shall be marching northwest. I must go...”

But, what...” The man stared at her, obviously quite baffled by the situation.

She shook her head, having no time for explanations. “There is more potion in the cauldron. You must administer some to my sister as soon as she is able. And now I must go.”

Not meeting the man's eyes, she straightened up and quickly made her way across the sunlit glade, hoping to…

Knock knock!!

Hermione jumped to her feet, spilling over the chair. Her gaze darted around the room for a couple of seconds before settling on the door.

Knock knock!!

“Hermione? Ginny? Anyone in there?”

Ginny stirred a bit and buried her head under the pillow. Hermione, meanwhile, finally managed to shake herself back into reality. “Sirius?'

“Ha, mortal fools! Make way for the great Genghis Khan!” He huffed loudly enough to be heard through the door. “Of course it's Sirius. Might we chat for a bit, Granger?”

Hermione took a moment to give Ginny a quick scan, to confirm her earlier assessment that the girl was probably exhausted but likely not ill. Then she cracked the door a bit to come face to face with the master of the house. “Er yes? Can I help you?”

Sirius smirked. “You two up weren't up to anything naughty in there, I hope?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Don't be ridiculous! Ginny is ill, and I was just, er, lost in thought. Sorry I didn't respond right away.”

“No problem.” Sirius shrugged. “So there was owl post this morning. Your Hogwarts letters came, but before you rush down to check your grades, I need to talk to you about my own letter.”

Hermione's eyes went wide. “You received a Hogwarts letter??”

Sirius barked out loudly, making Ginny flinch. He gave the quasi-sleeping girl a quick glance, then grinned. “Why so appalled, Granger? I'm sure you'd be thrilled to see my adorable face first thing every morning up in the common room, yeah?”

Hermione blinked.

Sirius smirked. “Don't worry, mine wasn't a student letter — it was directly from Dumbledore. He told me you wrote to him yesterday?”

“Oh. Yes I did write to him. And he, er...” A small frown knitted Hermione's brow. “He responded to you?

“Yes.” Sirius edged his way through the door and closed it behind him. “He said that you've been sensing strange powers in the house that nobody else seems to notice, and told me a bit about what you've proposed as far as searching the house for dangerous dark objects. It seems he's rather partial to the idea, but wants to accelerate the plans. Supposedly his gadgets observed some rather exceptional magic here last night?”

“Oh?” Hermione coughed. “I mean, yes, of course. Strange things afoot last night.”

Sirius looked at her quizzically for a moment then nodded. “Right. Well given the magnitude of the effects, he didn't feel comfortable having you work alone, so he would like me to assist you.”

“Ah?” Hermione's hand tangled itself for a moment in her expansive hair as she processed the unexpected turn. “Okay, well I suppose that might work.”

A roguish gleam sparkled in Sirius's eyes. “Well, I'm flattered to see you're so excited by the prospect!”

“Oh, sorry, I didn't mean...”

Sirius laughed. “Fear not Granger, I won't arse around with this. I know a few secrets about this place, and I also know a right foul little bastard who knows even more than I do.”

When Harry awoke somewhat dazedly, he did not find himself in the Great Hall, nor the Essex woodlands. There was no camp fire nor glittering sunrise. There was no debris or carnage, unless one considered the curled remains of wall paper and dead insects that littered the floor of the boys' bedroom at Grimmauld Place.

Harry groaned at the stiffness and bone-weariness that pervaded every corner of his body. That mattered little, however, compared to the most painful ache — the absence of a red-headed source of joy and comfort at his side.

That, hopefully, could be rectified… as long as he could actually make it out of bed. Harry experimented with moving his arms and legs and, despite some protestation, they all seemed basically fine. His back felt as though it had been slept on by an Erumpent, but it too still functioned. He had somehow survived yet another night of insane dreams mostly intact.

Exhaling with relief, he eased himself out of bed, dressed in a hurry, and exited quietly.

Harry was about to scurry down the stairwell, when a vague sound gave him pause. He paused to listen for… voices…

Sirius? Hermione? Kreacher??

The voices drifting down the stairwell were a bit too diffuse for Harry to descry actual words, but something seemed to be afoot up on one of the uppermost floors — an area of the house where few people other than Sirius ever seemed to go.

Hmmm… Rather curious for Hermione, Sirius and Kreacher to be having an argument in the attic, but... Harry shook his head. There was no time for frivolous distractions right now. He shrugged, and hurried down the remaining flights of stairs, to knock on his destination.

“Hello? Who is it?” Ginny's voice sounded a bit tremulous.

“G'morning, Gin'. It's me.”

The door popped open a crack and Ginny's eyes attempted to focus on his.

Harry gulped. “Blimey you're pale, Gin'!”

Ginny nodded, swallowing forcefully. “Harry. Hang-.” Suddenly she spasmed, clasping her hand tight over her mouth. “Hangover t-tonic.”

“Oi! Just a sec!” He bolted from the door, and raced up the corridor. A few feet short of reaching the kitchen, he slowed himself to a painfully leisurely walk, and effected a nonchalant gaze at the twins (who seemed to be debating something in the Daily Prophet) and Mrs. Weasley who was magically washing dishes. “Good morning, Mrs. Weasley. Fred. George.”

“Good morning Harry.” Mrs. Weasley eyed him carefully. “How are you feeling this morning? Will you be wanting any breakfast?”

Harry smiled solicitously. “I'm fine, thank you. I'll be down in a little while to fix a couple of late breakfasts, but I'll be happy to take care of that myself. And don't worry about the last few dishes — I'll be happy to finish washing up here when I'm done.”

“Oh?” Molly smiled. “Well, thank you Harry. And you're certain you're all right?”

“Absolutely!” Harry grinned reassuringly. “I just need to take care of something first. I have to find something from the pantry.”

“Ah, very well then. In any case, if you won't be needing my help then I believe I'll accept your offer.” Molly removed her apron and dried her hands. “It's time for me to put the finish touches on the new meeting room — the Order will be gathering there tomorrow.”

On pins and needles, Harry waited until she had left the room, then ducked into the pantry to grab the final dose of his prepared draught. Racing from the room, he waved amicably at the twins. Fred raised an amused eyebrow, then shrugged as he re-immersed himself in the fireworks article that he and George had been parsing.

Sprinting back to the girl's room, Harry burst through the door to find Ginny teetering on the carpet, doubled over in pain. Harry wrapped his arm gingerly around her shoulders, and guided her back to sit on her bed.

When Harry raised the vial toward her, Ginny grabbed it and whipped the contents down her throat. Eyes wide, she shuddered… and exhaled a ragged breath that smoothed out as it issued. Letting the empty vial fall to the bed she wrapped herself tightly around the boy beside her, breathing deeply into his shoulder. “Bloody hell, Harry — I never get sick. I wish I knew what was causing this!”

Harry gently rubbed her back. “Me too — believe me! I wonder if it's a side-effect of the unusual magic… or if it's just part of the magical exhaustion?”

Ginny nodded. “Yes, that's one of about six great questions I wish we had answers for. The situation is getting excruciating — we're so close… and yet we're ever so far.”

Harry squeezed her gently. “I hear you, Gin'. I realize that the Legate escaped and all, but we must have done a few things right last night." He paused a moment to rub her arm affectionately. "We must be getting close now. We're going to crack this nut! I can't make heads or tails of it yet, but I'm dead certain that all this madness is really starting to lead us to the right path that we need to survive and defeat Riddle.” He leaned back a bit and ran a hand through his hair. “The path sure is a bleeding pain to follow, though.”

Ginny gave a hollow laugh. “I know. Don't I wish it was over.”

Harry nodded; his chin rustling within Ginny's hair. “Me too. I wish we could move on and enjoy life for a while.” He sighed. “Imagine us at Hogwarts together — flying, studying together, going for quiet strolls around the lake. Sometimes I just picture us curled up in the Common Room chatting 'til dark. Nothing of consequence — just two kids gabbing about Quidditch, pranks and the best broom closets. Then we could trundle off to bed and dream normal dreams.”

“Normal dreams?” Ginny pulled back from him to gaze into his eyes. “Now what exactly would Harry Potter consider to be a 'normal dream'?”

Harry chuckled. “Okay, you got me there! Frankly I'd settle for anything that wasn't somehow vital to the past, present and future fate of British Wizarding society.” He paused and looked away shyly. “Er, especially if it still involved a, uh, certain… girl.”

Ginny's finger had somehow found its way onto his chest where it was distractedly tracing patterns. “And what would you be doing with this, girl, as you say?”

A trace of pink crept up along Harry's cheekbone. “Er, well… stuff.”

“Stuff?”

“Heh, well...” he swallowed. “You know, like maybe dancing and, uh, stuff.”

Her colour having suddenly restored to full health, Ginny raised her index finger firmly to the base of his chin and guided his face into a much more suitable alignment. “You know, dreams can be fun and all, but there's some 'stuff' that would be a shame to sleep though, don't you think, Potter?”

“...”

His voice apparently failing, Harry nodded meekly. It seemed like one of those times when it would be best to simply close his eyes and find out what would happen next.

He was just about get his answer, when the bedroom door banged open.

“Oh ho ho! Snog alert!” Sirius loomed over them with a huge grin on his face, as Hermione hovered in the doorway; her face buried beneath two mortified hands.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Grow up, you filthy old hound!”

Sirius chortled. “We all have more important things to do than wait for me to grow up, mate. In particular, I wanted to get your impression on something that we just got Kreacher to dig out of the attic for us.”

"Oh?" A sudden chill ran down Harry's spine; he felt Ginny's hand instinctively squeezing his, fortifying him. “What is it?”

From his pocket, Sirius withdrew a strange, golden oval with a jeweled pattern on the front — an ornate serpentine S rendered in emeralds.

“Agh!” Harry winced. “What the hell is that?”

Sirius shrugged. “I have no idea, Pup — I was just curious whether you might have ever heard tell of something matching this description in any of your madcap adventures?”

Gritting his teeth, Harry shook his head. “No, I can't say that I have. Could you please get it out of here, though? That thing is bloody… vile!”

Hermione nodded concernedly. “Kreacher thought so too — he wouldn't hand it over unless we swore up and down that we would destroy it.”

Scanning his godson's reactions, Sirius's playful mood had vanished. “Okay, enough chit chat then? I'm going to find someone to run this over to Albus as soon as possible.” He glanced nervously at Ginny who was scowling at him. “Er, sorry to disturb you two. Oh, and Harry, I do apologise for causing you so much, er, discomfort?”

Harry nodded tersely. “Fine. No problem. Just get it out of here now, please!”

“Will do mate! Take good care of my kiddo, eh Ginners?”

Ginny managed a quick smile at the departing Sirius, before returning her attention to Harry, gently dabbing some perspiration off his forehead with the sleeve of her nightgown.

Hermione lingered in the doorway, listening as Sirius whistled his way up the corridor toward the entranceway. After he was out of earshot, she shivered. “Dear me, that locket must be cursed! I can't see how Sirius handles it so blithely.”

Already breathing easier, Harry gazed toward the window for a moment. “A side-effect of Azkaban, I suppose. I assume Sirius built up an amazing tolerance there.”

Ginny decoupled herself from Harry and turned to Hermione. “So what have you been up to Hermione? Are you becoming our resident dark hunter?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Merlin knows what I've become. Can you believe that I was actually excited to be locked in this rat nest for the summer? I thought it would be a perfect excuse to get lots of extra summer reading done. How stupid does that sound now?”

Ginny laughed. “Can't say I've made much headway either. I guess we'd all better get cracking, yeah? Only two and a half weeks left before school.”

“Oh!” Hermione's hand flew to her mouth. “That reminds me — the Hogwarts letters are here! Did you two want to go find out our grades and book lists?”

Harry shook his head. “Later. My first priority is to fix a late breakfast for myself and a certain room mate of yours. She hasn't asked to be fed yet, but there are few creatures more fearsome than an underfed Weasley.”

Ginny snarled… then winked, getting to her feet pulling up Harry off the bed. “Better get on with it then, Potter. I'll need a triple serving serving of rashers after everything you put me through in those blasted dreams last night, yeah?”

“Dreams...” Hermione seemed lost for a moment, then she shook her head. “Dreams — the ones I'm not supposed to know about.”

“Yes, sorry 'Mione.” Harry gave his friend a look of sympathy, but she was too distracted by the blank wall in front of her to notice. Hermione followed her two younger friends all of the way to the kitchen in silence, oblivious to their light-hearted speculations about the coming Gryffindor Quidditch season.

Crossing the threshold, they encountered Ron, sitting alone at the table with four sealed envelopes scattered in front of him. He grinned at them. “About bloody time you lot got down here. I've been dying to open my letter!”

Ginny gave her brother a confused look. “You haven't looked at yours yet?”

Ron shrugged. “Didn't seem right to start without Harry and Hermione. Everyone always gets on my case about wanting to tear into my Christmas gifts before anyone else is ready.”

Harry laughed. “This is hardly Christmas, Ron. As you may recall, I haven't any exam results to dread this year because of the Triwizard nonsense.” He bypassed the table and made straight for the ice box to retrieve food. “You three go ahead and check yours while I make breakfast. If anyone absolutely needs mine to be opened with all of the others, then Ginny can do it.”

Ron raised his eyebrow in askance, but then shrugged. “Suit yourself." He lunged for his own letter and tore it open, accidentally sending a badge clattering onto the floor. “What the…??”

Hermione stared at the object that had come to rest between her feet. She stooped to pick it up. “Oh my! Is this what I think it is??”

Harry placed his handful of eggs carefully onto the counter and squinted across the room to see what Hermione was holding dazedly in her hands. He laughed. “Ha! Poor Ron! Your days of mischief are over, mate!”

Ron burst up from then table, waving his arm. “What is it what is it? Give me that!”

Ginny burst out laughing. “Settle down Percy Ignatius! Hermione will hand it over as soon as the shock wears off.”

“Percy?!” Ron glared indignantly at his sister then reached for the object that Hermione was gingerly handing to him. “Whatever are you lot going on about? What is…?”

Ron's mouth fell open. “Blimey.”

“Congratulations Ron!” Harry flashed a quick smile as he returned to the counter to crack eggs. “I'll bet your mum will positive wig with excitement.”

Ginny smiled as well. “Check your letter first to make sure there's no mistake, Ron. But otherwise, yes, congratulations!” She handed Ron the rest of his scattered package, then grinned impishly. “Just don't expect me to treat you with any more adulation than the twins did for our last Weasley Prefect.”

Ron scratched his head, staring at the letter. “There's got to be some mistake.”

“No mistake.” Hermione had nudged in close to the tall Weasley boy, scanning the letter from his side. “Your note is basically the same as mine. Congratulations Ron!”

“But… but...” Ron frowned and glanced nervously about the room. “This was supposed to be Harry, right? His grades have always been better than mine and he's like, well… Harry.

Harry laughed. “No mate, it's your turn. Carpe diem!

“I agree — it's your turn, Ron.” Ginny smiled at her brother, then eyed the dark-haired youth behind the counter. “Besides, Harry will be far too busy this year with non-prefectly… activities…” She gave him a searing look… then stifled a snicker as Harry froze, wide-eyed, knocking a heavy cutting board onto the floor.

Ron flinched at the loud thud, then turned to Harry. “Are you sure you're okay with this?”

“I'm okay if you're okay, Ron.” Harry retrieved the cutting board. “What I'd like to know is how everyone else did with exams. Hermione? Nine O's?”

Hermione fidgeted slightly as she took a seat. “Er, well, ten.”

Harry grinned. “Brilliant! How about you, Gin' ?”

Ginny slid her finger beneath the crease in the envelope and pulled the letter out. Her eyes raced to the bottom of the parchment… and she smiled broadly. “Three O's and five E's.”

“Wow — that's wonderful!” Harry put his utensils down, and came over to the table to give Ginny a half hug. “So, how about you, Prefect?”

“I, uh… Well, just don't ask, okay?” Ron grinned sheepishly. “I passed everything but, you know…”

Parsing her own letter, Hermione frowned distractedly. “Ron, if you're going to be a Prefect, you'll really have to work harder to set a positive example. Younger students will be looking to you as a role model, you realise?”

“But, I…!” Ron's cheeks flushed hot or a moment, then he slumped down in his chair. “Yeah, you're right. And there's O.W.L.s and stuff to worry about too I suppose.”

Hermione's wide eyes caught a quick peak over the top of her letter, then she quickly ducked down behind it again. All the better to disguise her spreading grin.

That evening, Harry lay on his side, lengthwise along the ottoman, with Ginny seated, resting against him. A stack of books lay scattered on the floor.

“So, what was the difference?” Harry's fingers stroked Ginny's hair as he pondered the previous night. “Why did it almost work this time? What did we do differently? Was it the fact that we worked together?”

Ginny chewed her lip. “I don't think so Harry. Don't get me wrong — I'm convinced more than ever that we have to keep trying to work our magic together. If we don't, then that queen is going to be the bleeding death of me one of these times, but…”

“I can't believe she cast Avada Kedavra using your power!” Harry scowled, then shook his head. “But sorry, please go on.”

Ginny shook her head wearily. “I can't believe it either… or maybe I can believe it…” She sighed unhappily. “Anyway, I have no idea why, but I believe that the absolutely critical thing was you keeping that staff away from me.”

“You think so?” Harry chuckled lightly. “Well if I have to go and fall on my head like that, it's nice to hear that it was worth it.”

“It was so creepy to see the staff seek me out like that.” Ginny shivered as she stared into the fire. “What is it about me, and Roman-era sticks of wood?? There's this psychotic wand that will only cast magic through me, and now some demonic staff flies at me. Everyone's heard Mr. Ollivander say that the wand chooses the wizard, but this is getting naffing ridiculous!”

Harry frowned. “Wand… That reminds me — I wonder why the Elder wand exploded?”

“Dunno. Ambiguous allegiances?” Ginny chewed her lip for a moment. “The wand didn't know which of you to kill, so maybe it split the difference and nailed you both?”

“Yes, but none of this fits the least with any of the wandlore that Dumbledore shared, or what we've read in books.” Harry nestled his chin onto Ginny's shoulder. “How on earth are we always jostling these allegiances about? Surely wands aren't that arbitrary and capricious?”

“Or are they, Harry?” Ginny nuzzled her cheek against his. “There's something really really peculiar about those filthy pieces of wood, and… and…” Her neck stiffened. “And I'm scared that the Legate, or Malfoy, has already figured it out.”

Harry reached his arm about Ginny's waist and pulled her close again. “So, let's think about it. What goes into wands? What makes them work? What are the fundamental principles of wandlore? What could you do to bend those principles in strange, baffling ways?”

Ginny huffed. “Why do you keep asking me all the hard questions? Who do I look like — Hermione Granger?”

“If you looked like Hermione Granger, do you really think I'd start nibbling on your neck?”

Ginny jumped… then giggled. “Okay, okay. But you're not getting any more answers tonight if you keep doing that, yeah?”

Harry's lips on her earlobe was the only answer either of them needed after that.

This was not the first time that Albus Dumbledore had regretted placing a bowl of Pepper Imps on his desk right beside the Sherbet Lemons. When he was in a particular state of distraction, entire handfuls of candies might find their way into his mouth at one go, and, well… it was fortunate that he had learned spells to counter the effects of a class II irritant.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention.

Now if he could only invent a magical diagnostic instrument capable of explaining to him what was truly causing those bizarre bursts of nocturnal magic at Grimmauld Place!

After dabbing his sopping eyes and banishing the troublesome Imps, he turned his attention to the rather horrifying item ensconced within a glass box on his desk. It was an object of dreadful evil. It spoke of Voldemort's breathtakingly powerful and disturbed mind. It suggested a ghastly new twist in the developing Wizarding War.

But it was not what he had been looking for.

No indeed, the locket (that he was now levitating over to storage within a secure cabinet) could not possibly have cause the remarkable power fluctuations that had been taking place within the Order of the Phoenix's only viable safe house.

Returning to his desk, he sat back and steepled his fingers pensively. After a while, he nodded to himself, resolving that he would have to take very careful measurements tonight to see whether removing the Horcrux from the house would have any effect on the phenomena that he had been observing there. He was definitely willing to wager that, despite Miss Granger's efforts, the magic would still manifest itself. For the seventh time in these last eight nights.

The headmaster decided that if his suspicions proved correct, he would write Sirius again in the morning and request that he and Miss Granger redouble their search, perhaps broadening it to include items that were not quite so obviously dark. After all, a magical item need not be dark to be dangerous.

He massaged his aching temples, re-evaluating his approach to the problem.

This was the right way to address the issue, wasn't it? Miss Granger was keen and knowledgeable, and of course Sirius owned the house and understood most of its idiosyncrasies. Surely there would be no better people in the residence to delegate the task to, right?

Dumbledore was never a person to be comfortable delegating responsibilities that he felt himself best qualified to address, but times were simply too tenuous and distracting right now for him to handle everything personally. As if it had not been galling enough to constantly bicker with the Ministry on matters of Hogwarts administration? Gah! The day before last, Fudge had rushed out to unilaterally appoint a meddlesome bureaucratic toad as the next Dark Arts Defense instructor! Now, on top of that, lay this evidence that Riddle had likely engineered his own immortality using a most depraved form of sorcery!

Yes, trying times! If ever there was an occasion that justified relying on people such as Sirius and Miss Granger to help him out, this was it. He would monitor the situation of course, and if things got out of hand, he must not hesitate to intervene, seeing as how much might be at stake. This was especially true, considering how grave danger always seemed to march hand in hand with their great prodigy — the boy who lived. Whatever the threat unfolding within Grimmauld place, surely Harry was tangled up with it, right?

Dumbledore sighed deeply and turned toward the bird of magnificent plumage who was dozing by the window. “Fawkes old friend?”

The phoenix stirred, gazing at him with half an eye.

“Fawkes, do you think Riddle may be somehow manipulating Mr. Potter to garner strange new powers? How likely is it that Harry would fall for such a ruse, and perhaps even unwittingly ensnare the young Weasley girl as an accomplice?”

The bird's trill was unusually sharp and terse for a phoenix call.

Dumbledore frowned unhappily. “Ah well my dear friend, you always have held a special place in your heart for the boy, haven't you?”

The princess stared at the battered undergrowth and trampled ground, hand raised to her forehead as she gazed toward an uncertain horizon. She frowned. “Whither are they going? And why?”

The Publican stood beside her, scratching his head. His mind was still on the carnage they had just witnessed (great piles of charred corpses still smoldering in a devastated meadow not far from the Roman road), but he sighed and forced himself to weigh the evidence. “I have not gotten far enough in my thoughts to guess their latest goal. From what we have seen, I believe that your mother led an expeditionary force with the purpose of attempting to subdue the Legate. They were followed, I assume, by a large and more cumbersome rearguard.” He shifted his gaze back to the battlefield. “Whether they waylaid the Legate is impossible to determine now. Any traces of a magical clash were likely obliterated by the subsequent non-magical battle.”

The princess continued to face southwards, away from the charnel. “Have you appraised the battle's outcome?”

The Publican nodded. “Yes. The bodies are nearly all Roman — Spanish Ninth Legion by their colours. I assume that they must have issued from Camboricum, which lies eighteen leagues further up the road. I imagine that they intended to sweep down to quell the rebellion at Camulodunum, but were overwhelmed far short of their goal. By all appearances, the better fraction of an entire Legion was destroyed.”

He turned back toward the princess. “So then in victory, for whatever reason, mother chose to forsake both road and water, and turned her forces south over bracken and fen.” LanossŽa squinted in the noonday sun and gestured toward the trodden hills. “What lies thither?”

The Publican joined her pensive gaze. “Fourteen leagues due south lies another Roman road.”

“To whence would that lead?”

The Publican frowned. “Londinium.”

The princess nodded. “Mother and father would speak of Londinium at times. Is that another great Roman fortress?”

The Publican shook his head. “No, that is what bothers me. Londinium is a centre of commerce. It is a civilian town — fewer defences even than Camulodunum.”

“What?” The princess turned on him. “Mother would not harass merchants when our quarrel is with soldiers!”

“Perhaps not, but what of Diras? Would you vouch for his soundness of mind?”

The princess stared at him for a moment, then a look of dark discomfort passed over her face. “No.”

LanossŽa settled herself onto a smooth boulder resting at the side of the road. “Terna, there is hope and glory in the good fight… but this is not a good fight.”

“No. There will be endless dishonour on all hands in this.” The Publican took a seat solemnly beside her. “Yet, still we follow them, Lano. Should we not go north into the wilds to rejoin our simple life? Forsake your people and mine? Let them go off to destroy all that they are bound to destroy?”

“No.” The princess shook her head slowly, with a hint of misery. “No, we must go on. The voices call us.”

“We shall go on, even if these voices call us to our death?”

“My people do not fear death." The hard words softened as LanossŽa met her lover's gaze and reached for his hand. "To be honest though, heart of hearts, I do fear to lose the life that I have discovered with you. I would weep to throw away even a single day that we might have together.” She sighed deeply. “Yet I fear that our failure would exact a terrible price.”

“What do you fear, Lano? What do you see?”

“I see noble hearts, Terna.” The princess gazed into a distant blue sky. “Imagine great souls — people such as us but kinder and nobler. Suppose that we have the power to grant them the chance to love and strive for goodness with a magnificent and pure passion. What if, in turning our backs upon them, we doom those great hearts to never beat? Imagine a frightful darkness rising up and pouring across the land simply because we denied the chance to those who would stop it.”

The Publican grasped her hand. “So say the voices, Lano?”

“So say the voices.”

The Publican sighed. “The voices call… so on we shall go.” He rose up, and helped LanossŽa to her feet.

Back to index


Chapter 13: Lines and Antipodes

Author's Notes:

Managed to get this out in a reasonable time, despite a wild number of distractions. I hope to keep things crunching along; this weekend will be largely shot unfortunately, but I do plan to scrounge a decent amount of time in the run up to Christmas, and would like very to let you down off the latest cliff (sorry) well before New Years. Of course, by that time I will likely have pushed you up against another precipice... Such is life in this AU! ;)

Oh, and kudos to those of you perceptive readers who are indeed starting to successfully psychoanalyse my convoluted plot. Wunderbar! Please don't hesitate to send your speculations as we wind this down.

To all of you who have holidays coming up, I hope yours are filled with great cheer!


Chapter 13. Lines and Antipodes (August 15, 1995)

By picking up a navigable stream in the western uplands of the Blackwater, the Publican and princess had been able to make excellent time. Proceeding with great haste along the Roman road, they were just cresting a small hill in the early evening when they suddenly caught scent of smoke. It was not the acrid smell of wholesale destruction (something that they had been quietly dreading), but rather it seemed more wholesome and welcoming — like that of a camp fire.

The road had been remarkably quiet all afternoon — a sign that the normal Roman commercial traffic had probably fled to find alternate routes, likely forewarned of the large force of marauding Britons. The Publican had been watching for any signs of Roman military movement, but that was conspicuously absent as well. If there was to be any real military intervention to protect the lively commercial centre of Londinium, it was not likely to come from the northeast.

As a result, it seemed fairly clear to the Publican that if there was any major encampment ahead on the road (as the increasing scent of wood-burning seemed to suggest), the most likely occupiers would be the joint Trinovante and Iceni force under Diras and Boadicea.

Seeing a large, smooth stump protruding from the tall grasses beside the road, the Publican gestured to the princess, nonverbally suggesting that they take a quick rest. Sitting together on the stump, he leaned in and let the princess lie back against him. Taking her hand companionably, he scanned the skies to find the smoke's source. “I expect your mother is close, Lano.”

She sighed. “Yes, very likely.”

“We have come a great distance without a real plan. If my nose is not misled, we could walk straight into her camp in less than a half hour. I suspect that the time has come to make decisions.” The Publican gazed eastward along the road. “Shall we confront the queen?”

LanossŽa nodded.

“So what about? Shall we dissuade her from the ruinous campaign before Paulinus sweeps down from the west with several legions?” The Publican gazed at her pensive face. “Many years ago your father battled the Romans just long enough to earn their respect, yet not so long as to accrue their worst wrath.”

The princess bit her lower lip silently, and the Publican sensed his mistake. “I apologise, Lano. That is surely not an apt comparison. I only meant that perhaps it is not too late for your mother to turn aside and broker a new peace that would preserve her kingdom and her life.”

“I understand your thoughts, Terna.” The princess swallowed deeply and set her jaw. “I think you realize that the situations could not be more different. Eighteen years ago, my father went into battle to prevent the Romans from sweeping brazenly across the land. No queen was flogged, no daughter defiled; my father's actions were a simple case of the political resolve to support his friend Caratacus of the Catuvellauni.”

LanossŽa turned slightly to meet his eyes. “Like any political decision, it was easily rescinded. When the Catuvellauni army crumbled, the fight was no longer in my father's interest, so he was one of those kings to sue for a fair truce. As a result, no Roman soldiers marched across the Ouse to plunder our horses and pillage our grain, no Iceni villages or forests were burned. Hands were shaken, and jeweled daggers were exchanged in peace.”

The Publican wrapped his arms around her and she reciprocated, once again pressing back onto his chest. He said nothing; instead merely waiting to hear whether she had more to say.

Indeed the princess did. With a sigh, she continued. “The damage this time has been far greater on both sides, and the wounds may be beyond cure. I fear that no reason or tactical expediency will stay my mother's hand, and I believe she has further succumbed to the poison words of Diras. She will battle the Romans to the death — most likely her death — and the Romans will surely feel no reason for mercy. But I believe we must still seek my mother out, and speak to her in words of whatever wisdom we can summon.”

“And what should those be? What can we say?”

“We must tell her to look to the manner of her death, Terna.” The princess stepped away from the Publican's embrace and stood to face him; a passion simmering beneath her stolid demeanour. “My mother will die, Terna. I have no doubt about that. So if she is to perish in battle, we must remind her of my grandmother's exhortation that all noble Iceni must die in honour and righteousness.”

The Publican looked at her quizzically.

LanossŽa recognized her lover's confusion. “By our tradition, a good Iceni may kill anyone whose crimes warrant it. A good Iceni may also protect everyone unable to protect themselves. To die in any such manner is a good death that shall bring favourable fortune upon all ensuing descendants. Yet should mother die while persecuting the innocent or the weak, it would render unto her line a never-ending curse of misfortune and despair. We may never sway her from the battle that calls to her, but we must guide her conduct back to a path of righteousness.”

The Publican nodded thoughtfully. “I agree Lano. Although the Romans do not teach such blessings and curses as you describe, I see the grace and truth in your grandmother's wisdom, for this is truly a wise way to live and to die.” He paused and dropped his voice to one of low trepidation. “So I agree and you agree, but… will your mother hear your words?”

“We must make her hear, Terna. We have no choice!”

Once again, the Publican's face showed puzzlement. “Er… so say the voices, Lano?”

The princess gazed back at him with fire in her eyes. “No. So say I.”

The Publican blinked at her.

LanossŽa grasped both of his shoulders, looking fiercely into his eyes. “Terna, we cannot let my mother jeopardize her line, because...” She inhaled deeply, her breath shuddering slightly. “Because her line is your line!”

“But Lano, I have no...” The Publican's died on his tongue. He stared, wide-eyed.

Her lower lip trembling slightly, the princess released his shoulders. Her hands trailed slowly downwards and she set them to rest around her own waist.

He looked at the young woman in amazement then slowly reached for her hands, and held them wonderingly. “By… by Jupiter, Lano! You are with child?”

“Amaethon has smiled upon us, Terna.” Shyly, she gazed up at him. “Yet only by our own actions may his blessing truly bloom.”

Harry slipped quietly down to the girls' bedroom in the deepest, deadest part of the night. He paused at the door, put his ear to it and knocked gently, listening for the tell-tale whisper.

“Come in Harry.”

Slowly and firmly, with two hands to minimize the noise of the latch, he grasped the handle and opened the door just widely enough to squeeze his way into the room.

Hermione's raspy, slow breathing suggested that she was asleep, but Ginny had risen to sit cross-legged on her bed. She gestured him close.

Taking a seat on her bed, Harry faced her obliquely, staring at her folded hands in deep thought for a long moment. Finally he raised his glance as high as her chin, and his voice came out as a hoarse whisper. “No wonder you're sharing my dreams, Gin'. You have, definitely, the biggest role in all of this, right? The princess is pregnant with the third brother?”

Ginny reached for Harry's hand. “I don't know about me having the biggest role, Harry. The princess is absolutely key, but half the time she barely listens to me.” Ginny gazed off into the darkness. “But as far as whether she's pregnant with Ignotus Peverell, I would say sure, that certainly sounds like the best way to explain a lot of things — Beedle's tale; the Delphic oracle; the Publican's incredible resemblance to you.” She smiled distantly. “So you're descended from royalty, Harry.”

Harry shrugged. “Perhaps, but for all we know you are too. It can't be an accident that you look so much like the princess, right”

“Are you suggesting we might be cousins, Harry?” Ginny's eyes found his and twinkled.

“I, uh, well...”

Ginny squeezed his hand. “Don't worry — it's not an issue, Harry. There's probably not a single witch or wizard in any of the British purebred families who's any more distant than my fourth or fifth cousin. And Weasleys aren't nearly as inbred as a lot of families — not by a long shot.”

“Ah, well that's a relief then, Cuz.” Harry finally smiled for a moment, then he exhaled slowly. “But back to the princess… I know you say that the responsibility belongs to her, but let's not forget that Malfoy is setting some sort of a trap, and you and I know that pillock a lot better than either the princess or the Publican do. It seems fairly apparent that his scheme focuses on the queen or the princess, and you seem to be the one with the best chance of steering either of them clear of any pitfalls. I'll do what I can from the Publican's perspective of course, but I can't help but feel guilty for how much pressure is on you.”

“On me?” Ginny cocked a sardonic eyebrow. “So you'd feel better if these responsibilities were in the hands of someone like Ron?”

Harry rolled his eyes in exasperation. “You know what I mean, Gin'!”

“Yes I do.” She faced him; her expression subsided to one of earnest reflection. “I know exactly what you mean, but don't forget that you came for me in the Chamber of Secrets, right? I didn't ask for you to take on that responsibility, but I also didn't turn you away when you saved my life.”

Ginny squeezed his hand. “Let's not forget who we are, Harry. Apparently, you and I are the wildest, most reckless pair of sods imaginable. It seems like there's always going to be one of us getting into some ridiculously dangerous scrape, but for some reason the other always swoops in to save the day, yeah?”

Harry sat still for a long moment, then gradually lifted his gaze toward her face.

“Another scrape, another save, yeah?” Ginny smiled. “Do we have a deal?”

Harry grinned, his expression a blend of sheepishness and affection. “Deal!”

Ginny leaned in gave him a quick peck on the cheek. “Okay partner, so what do you think? Am I going to have to stop the queen from doing something that will curse her line? Or does this all boil down to some strange magic related to the Coritani wand or the defiled staff?”

Harry pursed his lips. “Both? Or all three?”

Ginny nodded. “That's what I was thinking too. In the morning, let's see if we can hide in the library and brainstorm, yeah?”

“You bet!” Harry leaned his forehead to rest on hers. “Thank you, Gin'.”

She grinned for a brief moment, then she kissed him — not in the passionate way that they had so recently begun to discover, but rather in a quiet, caring exchange of comfort and mutual appreciation. As Harry felt the soft pressure of her lips; the warmth of her hands, he felt the prickly anxieties slip away, calmed by the sense of being with someone who would be with him through any sunshine and storm, as long as they both lived.

After a while, they pulled apart. Giving Ginny one last peck, Harry rose from the bed. He smiled a quick farewell, then pulled from a pocket of his shirt a small vial, which he placed on Ginny's night stand. “Tonic,” he whispered. “For when you get up.”

“Thanks.” Ginny's smile flickered slightly, as an awkward blush (undetectable in the dark) appeared in her cheeks — a blush suitable for a girl whose unusual dream connections with an historic princess had given her some rather extraordinary magical experiences, well beyond those of the average fourteen year old. Many of these experiences had been inspiring and empowering, while others (including this strange apparent case of magically amplified sympathetic morning sickness) were admittedly a bit… ugh.

At the doorway, Harry offered a final smile (mostly admiring, though perhaps also containing a bit of commiseration) to his cherished partner. He glanced absently at Hermione who was stirring and mumbling in her sleep, then turned to make his way back upstairs for the rest of the night.

After watching a sparrow flit about on the leafy canopy for a moment, Hettie Gravener finally returned her attention to the journal that she had, not very successfully, been attempting to update. This latest entry, in her prim and compact script, read as follows:


April 29, 1998 — The Flask — Highgate Hill, Camden

Such a pretty day to be sitting in the garden of a pub, surrounded by asters and phlox! Heaven knows it feels strange to be outside on a spring afternoon, with no dire need to rush back to my swotting. I do hope Rob is correct; I dearly hope this adventure will mean far more to the world than a college semester of history, maths and literature.

Such a mysterious fellow he is — earthy and simple, yet deep and mysterious.

Mysterious yes, but today he has promised to tell me more. Will some of these mysteries finally be unraveled? With some luck, he will at last explain to me why I am supposedly so important to this adventure of his.

Did you know that from Highgate Hill, New Zealand is essentially the most distant inhabitable place on Earth? Over twelve thousand miles if we'd flown, which we didn't. I wonder why? Anyway, I still can't really imagine what could impel Rob to travel such a distance to find me? What sort of extraordinary thing is it that I (and I alone) am supposed to…


She looked up at the sound of footsteps, and smiled to see the young man approach their table carrying two pints. She had told him she rarely drank, but he seemed to think a glass or two might help the conversation. If that meant that he would be more forthcoming, then she would gladly play along. With a curious eyebrow, she accepted the tall beverage he placed in front of her. “And what have we here?”

“Rochdale.” He gave her an inquiring look. “Do you like it?”

Knowing that sparkling wine would never be served in such a large glass, she assumed it must be some sort of lager along the lines of those her father had occasionally shared with her. Taking a sip, however, she encountered not the expected malt and hops, but rather a blast of apple — a tangy, sweet aroma that raced straight to her nose, stinging her eyes with its sharpness. Blinking wildly, she coughed, then grinned. “Cider! It's nice.”

“Not just any cider, Hettie.” Rob took a seat and smiled. “It's from New Zealand. I asked the barkeep if he might have anything that a Kiwi lass might appreciate and he offered this.”

She laughed. “Thank you for being so thoughtful Rob, but honestly I've so little experience, you could have bought me the cheapest watery draught and I would hardly know any better. Besides, I'm really still an East Midlands girl at heart. I grew up in Northampton you know; we lived there until I was eleven.”

“Eleven?” Rob frowned. To Hettie, it seemed that the entire rest of her statement might as well have been whisps in a gale, but that one word seemed to resonate unusually heavily with him. He sighed. “Yes, eleven. Of course you would have left around then.”

“Pardon me? What did you mean by that?”

“Sorry, it's a bit daft.” Rob gave her a wistful, half-smile. “I keep forgetting that we're the same year. In better times, we'd have gone to school together.”

“School? But weren't you raised in Devon? Seems highly unlikely we would have ended up...” She stared at him in confusion for a moment before her expression brightened. “Oh! You mean that school of mag-”

“Ssh!” His index finger darted up to silence her. He paused for a moment as his right hand fiddled with something beneath the table.

Hettie had a sudden strange sensation, almost like her ears popping. The nearby bird song and traffic noise from Highgate West Hill faded into nothingness. She tapped the table, and was surprised to discover that although her hearing actually seemed to work properly close by, the rest of the world had gone completely mute. She stared at Rob in astonishment. “Magic??”

“Yes.” He nodded. “Silencing spell.”

Hettie's mouth formed a letter “O” shape.

“Anyway Hettie, I had intended to start telling you a bit about the British wizarding world, but the plan was for us to wait on a mate of mine. He ought to be here by now. You'll like him I think — we were classmates for years, and he'll be helping us on this mission.”

She squinted slightly, peering over Rob's shoulder. “A mate of yours? Might it be that tall sandy-haired fellow over there?”

Rob turned in his chair and nodded. “Oi!” He waved. “Neill — over here!”

Watching as the sandy-haired man continued to wander heedlessly about the garden seating area, Hettie reached over and tapped her friend on the shoulder. “Er, Rob?”

“Eh?”

She smiled as he turned around. “Didn't you say something about a silencing spell?”

Rob smacked his head. “Thanks Hettie — I'm rather a dope today.” He rose from the table and walked over to summon his colleague. Hettie watched with interest as the tall fellow spotted Rob, threw an arm around him, and the pair embraced with a powerful sincerity.

Pulling apart, Rob steered the young man to the table, and gestured toward a vacant chair. “Neill, I'd like you to meet Henrietta Gravener. Hettie, this is Neill Lawnbarton.”

Hettie rose to offer her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Neill.”

The man accepted her hand with an easier warmth than Hettie had ever found in Rob. Neill gave her a wide-eyed, slightly crooked grin. “The pleasure is mine, Miss Gravener. I can't believe you're actually here!”

Hettie smiled uneasily. “I, uh, well… Rob is a very persuasive fellow. Although not always particularly candid.” She raised a playful eyebrow for Rob's benefit.

Rob hung his head awkwardly for a moment, then emerged with a penitent smile. “Well, better very very late than never, yeah?” He turned back to his friend. “Neill, it was just rattling through my head how, if old Hogwarts hadn't gone to hell, Hettie would have been in our class.”

Neill's good-natured grin vanished. “I don't want to even think about that, Rob.”

For a long moment, Neill scowled darkly at the beer that he had brought from the bar, then finally raised his face, serious and clenched. “I apologise for being sharp, but we're long past the day when we can ever play games of let's pretend. Hogwarts turned into hell on Earth, and there's no point in getting sentimental about any might-have-beens, okay? As far as I'm concerned, it's a bloody fine thing for Hettie and for us that her family escaped when they had a chance.”

“What? Escaped?” Hettie's eyes crinkled in perplexity. “My father never said anything about escaping anything when we left here. He and Mum really just seemed excited to have an offer to practise dentistry in Auckland.”

The table went silent. Neill and Rob both shuffled slightly, before Rob coughed. “Eh, well I've been tip-toeing around a bit, Neill. You see, Hettie doesn't really know the situation yet. Duff wants us to brief her a bit before we bring her around to see him tomorrow.”

“Doesn't really know the situation…?” Neill turned to Hettie inquiringly. “So you don't remember getting a Hogwarts letter? Don't recall old Dunbar arranging your family's relocation? Nothing about V-Mo?”

Hettie shook her head in confusion. “Hogwarts? Dunbar? V-what? Is someone ever going to explain any of this to me? Hogwarts was the magical school — I've guessed that much, but as for the rest…”

“Just a minute please, Hettie.” Rob sighed. He turned to Neill. “Duff did warn me before I left that for New Zealand that she might not remember anything. He thinks Professor Dunbar Obliviated a lot of the families he expatriated.”

“Obliviated? Expatriated??” Hettie had begun quivering in anxiety. “Would someone please tell me what the hell…??”

Rob reached across and grasped her hand; he turned to her; his eyes — two deep wells of sadness suddenly laid bare to her. “Hettie, I apologise for leading you along for so long, with so little for you to go on. The secrecy was for your protection; we all half-expected this all to fall apart long before now; if things had gotten all bollixed then the less you knew, the better your chance of just being able to walk away unmarked, and go back to your old life in Auckland.”

Hettie nodded, still anxious but struggling to restore a modicum of patience.

Neill pursed his lips. “I still can't believe you got her here, mate. Intelligent, inquiring person as her hopping aboard something bizarre and fanciful like this?”

Rob shrugged. “Duff wasn't surprised. He said that if she was really the right person, she would come — even if she had no real idea why.” He turned to Hettie. “And so, here you are Hettie. You've trusted me this far; now it's finally time for a bit of background, yeah?”

Hettie nodded, trying not to appear too excited.

Rob took a long pull on his draught, closed his eyes and massaged the bridge of his nose. “Okay, you'll have to bear with me as history is hardly my strong suit and I have no sodding idea how and when this all truly started. I guess I can start back about twenty years ago, when a terrible movement seems to have sprung up within the British magical community. Please don't ask me to explain the reasoning, but it basically involved a troop of bigoted thugs starting to persecute people. They went after families like yours, Hettie — they targeted any family outside of magical community who had children with magical abilities.”

Hettie opened her mouth, but Rob raised his hand gently to cut her off. “Again, please don't ask me to try to give any decent reasons for that. Duff can give you an idea tomorrow, but all I can say is that it's cruel, insane and stupid, okay?”

Hettie said nothing. Rob looked away as he felt her shocked eyes upon him. An air of self-conscious reticence about him, he nonetheless forced himself to continue. “It started off subtle. Around the time you were born, it was mostly just low-level harassment — you know, like sneers, slurs, pranks, nasty newspaper articles. Then, a couple years before you should have started at Hogwarts, the government began willfully turning a blind eye to reports that families like yours were disappearing…”

Rob exhaled slowly; for a moment, his face was barren, almost that of a lost child. “The families just vanished. The Minister of Magic would claim that they were simply emigrating or whatnot, but after a whole slew of newly registered Hogwarts first years simply never showed up to school, Headmaster Dunbar did some investigating.”

Rob took another long pull on his draught, then resumed, staring down into the rising bubbles. “The headmaster told my dad once that he visited maybe six or seven houses where the family had disappeared. Every case was the same — all the furniture, clothes and belongings were left in place; food was left in the ice chest, dishes in the basin, newspapers lying open on chesterfields. The Minister swore the family had simply gotten up and left, but to Dunbar the truth was obvious — any time a prospective new Hogwarts student was identified from any non-magical family, it was a death warrant.”

Wearing a grim look, Neill leaned forward. “The secret disappearances were bad, but five years ago, the bigots took complete control of all the magical institutions — government, Hogwarts, our main hospital, and so forth. That's when the last wheel came off. No more need for secret disappearances when you can have… public executions.”

Rob it his lip hard and inhaled a ragged breath. “Please don't think it was all of us, Hettie. A lot of us fought against it, Hettie. My family and Neill's were there in the thick of it — for decades we'd been part of an Order that's been battling to preserve what's… what's… what's just and right, dammit! I mean, how many innocent people do you need to see slaughtered like lambs in front of a hundred students to know good from evil! I just can't understand how people could...”

Rob thrust part of this thick fist between his teeth and bit down with a slow, shuddering ferocity. His face paled and twisted in agony. On the table near his glass, Rob's other hand twitched. Neill and Hettie both unconsciously reached for it, and clasped it in a three-way gesture of empathy and support.

As Rob recomposed himself, Neill leaned forward. His voice stirred with quiet, almost whispering, solemnity. “We struggled hard… the Wilseys, Lawnbartons and roughly another score of fine Wizarding families. We were led by Headmaster Dunbar, a remarkable wizard if there ever was one. Inspiring too — he always made us believe that the righteousness of our cause would win the day, but…” He pushed back from the table and gazed at his feet. “Well Hettie, we lost.”

Words fell away into nothingness. With no background noise, the silence was practically suffocating. Finally after nearly a minute, Rob's voice emerged, solemn, almost like a deep chant. “We lost everything. All of our eggs in one basket… smashed.”

“What happened?” Hettie was almost surprised to hear the question, even though it had come from her own mouth.

“I don't exactly know.” Rob dashed back the last of his draught and shifted in his seat. “Our safe house was a mere twenty minute walk from where we are right now. It was the heart and soul of the Order. It was the command center, the barracks. It kept us all alive… until it was compromised somehow.”

Rob tapped distractedly at the table for a moment before finding the heart to continue. “As far as we could unravel, last December, some operatives of our scum-infested government managed to creep into the basement, somehow breaching all our protections without tripping even the slightest alarm. The whole Order was on hand for a… for a… uh, well for a… an all-hands meeting… Nobody suspected a thing. Everyone was caught at complete unawares.”

Neill inhaled slowly. “They wiped out the whole Order. We're all that's left.”

Hettie gaped. “Your families are the only ones left?”

Rob winced.

Neill slowly shook his head. “No Hettie. We — Rob and I — we're the only ones left.”

“What about…” Hettie's frantic gaze darted from one man to the other, imploringly. “What about ch-children…?”

Neill retreated behind his hands for a moment, rasped slightly, then re-emerged. “Rob botched a detail on you, Hettie. It wasn't exactly a meeting as such; it was a… Christmas party.”

“Oh!” Hettie froze, both hands clasped over her mouth.

A grim set to his jaw, Rob pushed quickly past the pall. “Neill and I were on a mission that night. We'd planned to be at the… the party… but we ran into some problems, and didn't get back in time for, well, for anything.” He stared off through a break in the leaf cover at the oblivious traffic streaming past. “You can't imagine two blokes more shattered. We cried, we smashed things, we vomited, then cried again. We… we hid in the sewers for a couple of weeks, and somehow down there in the darkness… you know, we ought rightly to have gone stark mad or something, but instead we held onto each other just long enough that we started to pull our heads together a bit. We came back out into daylight, disguised ourselves and were in the process of making plans to run away to, I dunno, maybe Romania, Egypt, Paraguay or some place... but then we were found out.”

Neill leaned forward. “We were tracked down by a queer old fellow named Duff. He'd been a government type, but had no use for the hell-raisers running the show. Said he knew a way to fix everything; set all the ills a'right again, if only we would help him. Rob and I were ready to believe anything at that point and, well, the strangest, most unlikely hope is still a hope, right?”

Rob nodded. “The fastest cure for self-pity is adventure and, let's say he knocked some sense into us pretty fast — gave us the most hellacious caper, risking our skins to break into the residence of one of the darkest, most evil families in the country in order to find an old sub-basement compartment where there was a-a strange magical artifact that he needed.”

Neill fixed Hettie with an appraising look. “I don't think either Rob or I can explain Duff's plan, Hettie, but there are two keys to it. The artifact is one key. Whatever power it supposedly has, Duff was absolutely thrilled when we retrieved it, because it seemed to validate his theory and give us a lead on how to proceed.”

Rob nodded. “Right. So, to make a long story short, the magic in the artifact led us to you. And it seems almost certain that you're the second key in all of this.”

Neill gazed at Hettie, almost apologetically. “So you're it, Hettie. You're our last hope.”

Hettie stared into space in disbelief for a long time. Both men waited patiently, hopefully. Finally she lowered her gaze and met Rob's sad, deep, but every-so-slightly optimistic eyes. Her voice issued nearly breathlessly. “Whatever am I supposed to do?”

Rob gazed at her levelly. “Well, you have to understand that Duff is a bit peculiar and doesn't always explain things in a way I can fathom, but from what little I know, in the simplest terms… we sort of need you to help my sister.”

Hettie blinked. “Your sister? Is she okay? Do you know where she is?”

Rob shrugged uncomfortably. “Errr, well sort of, but this is where my understanding gets a bit thin.”

“So?” Hettie's hands fluttered in agitated impatience. “Please at least try.”

“So, um, like the rest of my family she's uh...” Rob swallowed. “She's dead.”

Chest heaving, Hermione awoke with a start. Sitting up in the dimness of the predawn bedroom, her glance darted to her room mate who appeared to be sleeping peacefully. She slid her legs out of bed and started to cross the room toward Ginny, but then stopped herself.

Should I wake her, or does Ginny need her sleep?

Is Ginny dreaming anything important?

Was my dream the same sort of dream that Ginny and Harry have been having? If I somehow tapped into the power that's been giving them their visions, does that invalidate my promise to steer clear of their adventures?

Should I tell Ginny about my dream? Would it somehow be useful information, or would it merely cause undue emotional trauma to hear a dream where nearly everyone we know was killed in an Death Eater attack on Grimmauld Place?

Hermione sat back down onto her own bed. “Fooey.”

The statement was barely more than a muttered whisper, but Ginny's eyelids flicked open. “Ev'thing okay, 'Mione?”

That was all the invitation Hermione needed. She rushed across to the other bed and captured the bewildered recumbent girl in a fierce (if awkward) embrace.

Hermione shuddered somewhat as the dream's raw emotion coursed through her. “Oh, Ginny! What have you gotten yourself into??”

Ginny wheezed. “A bear trap apparently?”

“Ginny…” Hermione pulled back slightly, sniffling. “Ginny, you're going t-to die.”

Ginny raised an eyebrow. “Ah yes. And top of the morning to you too, Miss Granger!”

Hermione blinked at the sarcastic jest. It seemed to jolt her partly back into the present day, and she formed a half-smile. She pulled back a bit further (enough to let Ginny struggle to a seating position) then met her friend's quizzical gaze. “I-I think I've started dreaming too, Ginny.”

Ginny stared. “Dreaming? As in, like, dreaming that you're in AD 61 or 1998?”

Hermione nodded. “Yes, definitely 1998. I actually recall writing 'April 29, 1998' in a journal entry. As far as my other dream, I can't swear it was AD 61, but by the clothes people were wearing, it could certainly well have been that long ago.”

Ginny studied her friend's face. “Did you recognize anyone in the dreams?”

“Yes! In the ancient dream, I seemed to be tending to two injured people — one looked like a very fit, middle-aged Harry, and the other was nearly identical to you — a bit more mature and muscular, but otherwise a near-perfect match.”

Wide-eyed, Ginny smiled. “Aha! So you've met the Publican and princess, 'Mione? Did you see who you yourself were? Heanua, perhaps? Harry said that she prepared a restorative draft for us up in some wooded grove near Camulodunum. Was that you?”

“Heanua?” Hermione scratched her head. “The name rings a faint bell. Who was she?”

“The elder of the two princesses.”

“Ah!” Hermione nodded. “That would make sense then. Her mother was the queen — I assume that means Boadicea.”

“Yes, exactly.” Still somewhat groggy, Ginny yawned and rubbed her eyes. “Fascinating. I wonder why you ended up with Heanua. Of course, the more fundamental question is why you're getting wrapped up in any of this in the first place?”

Hermione shrugged.

Ginny leaned back against the head board, gazing toward the ceiling. “So, I've kind of figured out how Harry and I got tangled up together. In AD 61, the Publican gave LanossŽa a…”

“Ginny, should you be telling me any of this? What if Professor Dumbledore uses Legilimency on me?”

Ginny exhaled through her teeth. “Shite, I suppose not, yeah? Blasted old coot…”

“Ginny, watch yourself! He's the greatest wizard of our age!”

“Whatever you say, 'Mione.” Ginny rolled her eyes. “I don't know why the greatest wizard of our age should feel the need to bully fourteen year old girls, but whatever… Anyway, we all really need to give some serious thought as to how you've become a part of these shenanigans. None of the research or conjecture that Harry and I have bandied about to explain our own situation would do much to explain your involvement. It doesn't make sense.”

“Uh Ginny, I…” Hermione debated for a moment whether she should tell Ginny about having touched the brooch the previous morning, but decided it would complicate the situation, and possibly do even more damage to the promise she was trying to keep.

Ginny peered quizzically at her friend. “Yes, 'Mione?”

Hermione looked away. “I, uh, don't understand it either.”

Ginny nodded. “Yes, well we'll just have to add this to the growing list of potentially important vexing mysteries. But, say… would you mind telling me a little about your 1998 dream?”

“Oh, certainly.” Hermione placed an elbow onto her knee and sank into a Rodin pose. “It was an incredibly detailed, but very confusing dream. From what I was told, my family and I were Obliviated and expatriated before I ever got to go to Hogwarts, supposedly for our own protection. Then in spring of 1998, Rob — I mean Ron; sorry the names are all a bit garbled in the dream for some reason — Ron travels thousands of miles to bring me back to England, and I end up sitting in a pub about a mile from here speaking with him and Neville, and I find out that they want me to help you.”

“Me?” Ginny cocked an eyebrow. “How are you supposed to help me?”

Hermione sighed. “Sorry, I have no idea. I woke up before I could find out any of the most salient details.”

“Sure.” Ginny pursed her lips. “Next time you have a dream, you can try harder to hold onto it. Harry and I are usually able to stay with a dream for quite a while, unless we get banged up really badly in the action. Or killed, or whatnot.”

“Oh.” Hermione's face fell. “That was part of the problem — I was shocked to discover from Ron that you were, uh, dead.”

“I was dead?” Ginny studied her friend with interest. “That's strange. I had thought we were getting to the stage where we stood a real chance to… Sorry, I'd better not talk too much about that.” She smiled sheepishly at Hermione. “Anyway, don't worry if you have a dream where I'm dead, 'Mione. I feel like I'm used to it now. But did you get any idea where Harry was in this dream? Was he planning to storm Hogwarts or something?”

Hermione fell silent for a long moment. “Well there was definitely no talk about anyone storming Hogwarts, although I got the distinct impression that Neville would be happy to see the place obliterated. No, the funny thing is that there was no mention of Harry whatsoever.”

“Funny? I think not.” Ginny exhaled sharply through her teeth. “Damn!”

“What's wrong?”

“Aggh! Just when I thought we were finally making real progress!” Ginny sank back down into her bed, looking suddenly quite miserable.

“Oh Ginny!” Hermione grabbed her hand and tried to project her most sympathetic look. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“No 'Mione.” Ginny exhaled slowly. “Well maybe, but I don't know what to ask of you. For starters, maybe you could just let me know if anything else interesting happens in these dreams of yours.” She slid out of bed and wrapped a bath robe around herself. “If you're going to be doing all of this dreaming too, I feel like I should ask you to be careful of what you do or how you do it… but obviously I have almost no clue how to steer things properly anyway, so who am I to be telling anyone else what to do?”

Uncertain how to respond, Hermione sat wringing her hands for a moment, then noticed Ginny making for the door. She rose to follow. “Where are you going, Ginny?”

“I…” Ginny's shoulders sagged for a moment. “I need to see Harry.”

“Ginny, it's not yet even 4:30 in the morning. Don't you suppose you should let him sleep a bit longer?”

Ginny sighed. “Yes, you're right.” Reaching into an inner pocket of her nightgown, she pulled out the brooch and tucked it under her pillow. Remembering what Harry had left for her on the night stand, she picked up the vial, drank the tonic, then turned quickly back toward the door.

“Er, Ginny?” Hermione frowned in confusion. “What are…? Where are you going now?”

“To see Harry.”

Hermione blinked. “But we just agreed that you would let him sleep.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “I said I was going to see Harry. I'm not going to chatter at him or bounce on his bed, like someone I know. With any luck I won't even wake him, which was why I'm leaving that thing behind.” She pointed at the pillow under which she had hidden the brooch.

“Oh?” Hermione raised a skeptical eyebrow. “You're just going to go upstairs to… look at him?”

“Hermione, listen.” Ginny sighed deeply. “Until he and I figure out what the problem is with the past or the future or whatever, my life in the present is going to be hell. Every night when I go to bed, I'm going to wonder what I'll find the next morning. When I wake up, will everything be completely, permanently changed? Maybe I'll discover that I never ever knew Harry; that he never existed! Or maybe he'll have died as a baby. Or maybe I'll wake up knowing that it's Harry's last day, month or year to live.”

Ginny's lip trembled slightly; she averted her eyes, but her jaw was set. “Try to see things from my perspective, please. Every morning until this is all sorted, I'll be getting out of bed wondering if there really is a boy lying in that bed upstairs across from Ron's. If I walk upstairs right now, am I going to find that the bed is cold? Never been slept in? Maybe there's not even a second bed in there? Do you have any idea what I'm going through?”

Hermione stared blankly.

“So yes Hermione, I'm going to go upstairs and I'm going to go look at Harry. And let me tell you this — if I crack open the bedroom door and I see him in there with his eyes closed and his tufty hair flopped down on the pillow, a hundred little muscles in my chest are going to unclench a little. I'm going to take a long slow breath, smile a tiny smile, and burn that image into my soul as indelibly as possible in case some day that's the only thing I have left of him. Once I've finished with that, I might stand there for another moment, quiet as a mouse, and let a few happy little tears run down my face. Then finally, I'm going to close the door, tip-toe down to the kitchen and make myself some tea. Is that all right? Does that meet with your bloody approval?”

Hermione bit down on her lower lip.

Not waiting for an answer, Ginny made her way around her room mate and left the room.

Harry did indeed exist that day.

He didn't really think much about the fact that he still existed; he was mostly just happy to be, because, in general, the day had been going pretty well. Many of us measure the quality of our days based on how much attention we receive, and this was true for Harry. Sort of... To be accurate, though, the crucial thing for Harry was whom he was getting attention from. Today he had been the beneficiary of plenty of fun companionship from Ginny (even more than usual), coupled very conveniently with quite a bit less of than the accustomed levels of undesirable attention he had grown to expect from other people.

A big reason for Harry's welcome break from prying eyes was the fact that Grimmauld Place was gearing up to host yet another party.

Knowing that the Order was planning a meeting this evening, Molly had decided at breakfast that the day would provide an excellent excuse to invite everyone over a bit early to celebrate Ron's and Hermione's imminent prefectures. The short notice had meant a hubbub of preparations, starting with a rushed round of owled invitations, some accelerations to the cleaning regimen, and a fair bit of cooking. Fortunately, Harry and Ginny had already nabbed breakfast duty and volunteered for morning kitchen cleanup even before any of the other chores had been proposed, so they were able to spend most of the morning together, taking care things that they enjoyed doing together.

By they time Harry and Ginny had finished in the kitchen, most of the remaining work had already been assigned, and they were only tasked with the relatively modest chore of mopping and dusting the entranceway. This had left them with a decent chunk of the afternoon in which to escape to the library for a regimen that alternated between brainstorming over wand lore and taking several long interludes to catch up on… less studious activities.

Hours later, Harry and Ginny now found themselves in one of the quieter corners of the drawing room, biding their time before the party wound down enough for them to justify excusing themselves.

The gathering had been mildly interesting. Having the spotlight thrust upon Ron and Hermione had made it easier for Harry to quietly navigate the crowd. He and Ginny had managed to have pleasant conversations with some of the more soft-spoken Order members such as Hestia Jones and Emmeline Vance. In addition to that, a well-intentioned (if technically quite unnecessary) pep-talk by Sirius and Lupin about why Harry shouldn't be bothered about being overlooked for a Prefect position had been amusing in terms of hearing a few new stories of Harry's father's school days. Ultimately, both Harry and Ginny had been most captivated (if somewhat appalled) by Alastor Moody's fascinating but remarkably grim recollections of the First Wizarding War.

Holding the faded photograph that Moody had given him, Harry watched the battered Auror shuffle-stomp his way over to the drinks table to top off his flask and berate Kingsley Shacklebolt over something or other. As Harry scanned the room observing the semi-drunken merriment in vague amusement, he felt something warm and stockinged make its way onto his lap. Unconsciously, he began stroking it, eliciting a soft, feminine purr from beside him on the chesterfield. He half-noticed Fred eye him and give him a sly wink (then elbow George, who also glanced over and smirked), but Harry's thoughts were mostly elsewhere.

Ginny ceased her purring long enough to reach up and lay her hand on his arm. “What's on your mind, Harry?”

Harry glanced at the old photo again. “Mostly just aimless wandering but… say, this is the first time I've seen a picture of your uncles.” He looked closely at the picture again for a moment then turned to study his girlfriend. “Huh.”

Ginny smiled quizzically. “What is it?”

Harry frowned analytically. “You know, a lot of people talk about the red-headed Weasleys, but you're much more of a Prewett, aren't you?”

Ginny lay back a bit further and gazed up at the ceiling. “I'd honestly never thought much about it. Why do you say that?”

Harry hummed for a moment to himself. “Well, your dad and most of your brothers have vividly coppery red hair, but yours is more like your mum's and uncles' — deeper colours, with rich with tints and tones that go all the way from strawberry to auburn.” He studied her for a moment. “Also, the Weasley face tends to be rounder, but yours is kind of slender. Again, it seems less like your dad and brothers, and more like your uncles.”

“Oh? That's an interesting observation.”

Harry gestured toward the photo. “You know, Gin', if LanossŽa was to somehow magically step into this old Order of the Phoenix photo, I'm certain everyone would guess she was Gideon's and Fabian's younger sister. To me, she looks every bit the Prewett — maybe even more than your mum does.”

Ginny reached for the photograph. Harry handed it to her and watched as she looked at it with a slight frown. Ginny gave a furtive glance over to her mother and snickered slightly under her breath (her mother was animatedly proclaiming something to Dedalus Diggle and Elphias Doge in front of a blushing Ron and a distinctly uncomfortable Hermione) then returned her gaze to the photo and nodded. “Yes, I see what you mean. So, do you think the Prewetts are her descendants then?”

Harry shrugged. “I wonder. There's also the whole name thing. Peuerellius, Prewett, Potter? Over nineteen hundred years of fiddly accents and semi-literate ancestors, you can almost convince yourself that it's all the same name, gradually evolving as people crossed into different dialects.”

“Okay, you have me convinced.” Ginny laughed. “So I really do have my very own kissing cousin, yeah?” She smirked for a moment but her smile subsided. Buried deep beneath the lighthearted conversation, she knew that Harry was almost certainly still replaying the princess's solemn words...

unto her line, a never-ending curse of misfortune and despair…

her line is your line…

Ginny sighed and studied at the photo again — so many cheery, jocular faces. At the time of the photograph, so many unknowingly had mere days left to live. It was difficult not to conflate in her mind the hard life of the first Order of the Phoenix with the dystopian wizarding dream-world that Hermione had mentioned — another courageous crusade dangling by a faint thread of hope, teetering on the edge of total annihilation.

Who was to say that some sort of curse wasn't already playing out? Maybe even without Malfoy's interference, the queen's indiscretions had managed to afflict them all with pain and tribulations?

Somewhat subdued, Ginny found herself, yet again, gazing at the wonderful person beside her.

Was he the end of the line?

If so, it apparently didn't matter much to him yet, because he was smiling at her.

“Hey, Gin'?”

“Huh?” She blinked, and belatedly returned a smile.

“The party is breaking up early — it's probably time for the Order to start their meeting.” He glanced around the room. “Should we go back up to the library, go to bed… or just stick around here where we're comfortable?”

“I don't know, Harry.” Ginny stared into space for a while, oblivious to all the people shuffling about as the drawing room emptied. Finally she squeezed his arm and smiled at him. “I do know one thing, though.”

He leaned closer with a quizzical look on his face. “What's that, Gin'?”

“I know that…” She reached up to touch his cheek with her fingers. “I know that we'll find a way, Harry. Somehow or other, we're going to do what has to be done.”

As Ginny watched for his response, she saw, in the span of one wordless second, Harry's face going through a number of subtle changes of expression.

Fear. Hope. Love?

In the end, she found his eyes gleaming, gazing deeply into hers.

And then he kissed her.

Hermione was nearly at wits end.

After her recent dream, attending a party was the absolute last thing in the world she wanted to be doing.

Furthermore, to add to the stress, she had striven throughout the evening to try to protect her two close friends, in spite of them neither recognizing her efforts nor doing much to even help themselves. Specifically, Hermione had attempted to draw prying attention away from Harry and Ginny whenever they started to get publicly affectionate.

Hermione had to admit that, although the pair was getting frustratingly oblivious, at least they had chosen a quiet and semi-secluded nook of the drawing room to cuddle. But Hermione was convinced that they were still being far too careless, and she was nearly resigned to their secret being futile. First Sirius had nearly caught them snogging yesterday morning, and now she had noticed the twins beginning to study the younger teens rather closely throughout the party. Surely it was only a matter of time before discretion fell apart and the whole house swooped in on them.

Even now, pushing Fred and George out of the drawing room door while regaling them with any details she could think of about Muggle pyrotechnics (Hey, whatever works!), Hermione couldn't help but notice George take a sidelong glance out of the corner of his eye toward the spot where Harry and Ginny were sitting.

Hermione attempted to thrust her own rather unruly hair into George's line of sight, then turned to tug Fred through the doorway, all the while lecturing animatedly. “Don't forget! Even very tiny quantities of strontium, barium, lithium, sodium and copper will give exquisite colours.”

“Could you write that down for us, Hermione dear?” Fred smirked. “I fear I got a bit distracted back there.”

“Distracted indeed!” George snickered. “I think we're not the only ones around here with a flair for making fireworks.”

Hermione pulled the drawing room door shut and huffed. “You two are so immature! Why don't you give Harry and Ginny their privacy? They've both been through a very trying time; I'm sure they're merely offering a bit of comfort to each other.”

George's face went stone serious. “Oh, that must be it! Of course they're comforting each other.”

Fred nodded. “Hey Hermione, yesterday I stubbed my toe and it still aches terribly. Would you be so kind as to comfort me?”

George's mouth suddenly morphed into a pair of guppy-lips.

The twins exploded into a quivering mass of hilarity. They snorted and gasped for the better part of three seconds before they began noticing waves of steam pouring off Hermione. Taking a wary, wide-eyed look at her, they straightened up and bolted for the stairs, laughter trailing behind them.

Half in impotent rage and half in a growing funk of despair and isolation, Hermione glared at the staircase for a long moment.

Then she felt a hand on her shoulder.

For reasons she had not quite processed yet, she was hit with a momentary fantasy that the hand on her shoulder was Rob's. Or maybe even Ron's. Then Hermione sighed. She knew that unlike any dreams she might have had recently, this was definitely the summer of 1995 and, as such, she had no basis for any fantasies. She would just have to make do with Sirius Black.

As she turned to face him, Sirius chortled merrily. “Happy as ever to see me, eh Granger? Who pissed in your porridge?”

“Sorry, it's been a difficult day.” She attempted to manufacture a smile. “Why aren't you in the meeting?”

Sirius's roguish look subsided. “I need to check with you first. Albus is supposed to attend tonight, and may ask for an update on the question of a strange charmed object in this dump. He was fascinated by the nasty locket I sent him, but his owl this morning informed me that it wasn't what he was looking for.”

“Oh?” Hermione did her best to hide a rather bitter disappointment.

Sirius shook his head. “Nah, he said that although last night's magical readings here weren't incredibly powerful, and despite them changing character a bit compared to previous nights for some reason, the effect is still in place.” He shrugged. “I have to admit that I'm stumped. Have you come across any other objects that might explain any of this?”

Hermione was in the process of figuring out how best to answer, when they heard a sudden whoosh and clatter coming from the kitchen.

Sirius gazed down the stairwell. “Sounds like the floo; that must be Albus now.” He turned back to Hermione. “So anything to report in thirty seconds or so?'

Hermione shook her head. “No, I was really hoping that finding the locket would ease his mind.”

“And whose mind would you be easing?” Professor Dumbledore was making his way briskly up the stairs. “A good evening to you, Sirius. Congratulations on the unsurprising selection as Prefect, Miss Granger! I hope you're both doing well.”

“As well as can be expected in this squalour.” Sirius winked. “I've been meaning to have a word with the proprietor about the deplorable living conditions.”

“Ah yes — please do so, Sirius. And you, Miss Granger?”

“I-I'm fine, sir.”

Rising to the landing, Dumbledore nodded and gazed pleasantly at Hermione. “Sirius may have mentioned that I'm still on the lookout for a peculiar object of power on the premises. By any chance have you felt any unusual magic in the house today? Perhaps a slightly different sensation than what you may have experienced previously.”

Hermione shuffled her feet. “Well no sir. I haven't really felt any unusual magic today. As I was just telling Sirius, I had hoped that the problem might be solved by removing the locket.”

“Ah, we are not quite so lucky.” Dumbledore's eyes twinkled as he gazed at his student. “Please continue to search this house and your heart, Miss Granger. Not all that feels friendly is truly safe. We must find that item.”

Hermione felt blood drain from her face as she attempted to parse various possible interpretations of his words.

Dumbledore, meanwhile, had already shifted his attention “So Sirius, shall we go learn what wisdom our friends have to offer?”

Sirius glanced at Hermione then turned to Dumbledore. “Please go along without me, Albus. I need a few minutes with Hermione before she goes to bed; we have to coordinate tomorrow's search.”

“Capital plan!” Dumbledore smiled as he began to make his way up the next flight of stairs. “I shall let the troops know you'll be along. Best of luck to you both. I'm certain you'll succeed if you set your mind to it.”

Sirius turned to Hermione and gave her a somewhat strange, serious-looking wink. He opened his mouth, and a bland string of words started to flow. “So, having failed with the dark detectors, I'm going to ask Kreacher to find us a couple of old-fashioned divining rods, and what I recommend is that we divide all of the rooms between us. In the morning I'll do the lowest three floors, while you do the three uppermost. After lunch we'll switch, and check each other's work. In that way…”

From upstairs came the sound of Dumbledore entering the converted store room, then closing the door behind him.

With a look of concern, Sirius turned to Hermione, his business-like speech completely forgotten. “Well blimey, Granger! Do you have any idea what that was all about?”

Hermione felt cold and drained as she faced Sirius. “W-what was what all about?”

Sirius cocked his head slightly. “You didn't feel that?”

Hermione's neck prickled at his question. “Feel what?”

Sirius squinted in thought for a minute. “Well, unless I'm mistaken, and I don't believe that I am… old Albie just gave you a hell of a deep brain scan.”

Hermione stared at him for a moment… then her head swam as blood rushed from it. Just as her knees began to give way, she had the vague sensation of Sirius's arm wrapping itself around her waist to steady her. But none of that particularly registered because Hermione's mind was filled by one single, simple but overpowering thought.

Oh shite!!

Back to index


Chapter 14: Invenies in Tenebris

Author's Notes:

My apologies. I actually had this pretty well drafted before Christmas, but travel played havoc with my editing. Nonetheless, I'm very happy to get the latest installment to you -- some segments of which were particularly satisfying to write. With a little luck, this chapter will bring you a little closer to viewing a certain authour a little less as a weaver of tangles, and slightly more as the drawstring on a pouch, ever so slowly pulling the different creases together.

An exceptional amount of this chapter plays out along the A5, which many of you likely recognize as an oft-resurfaced Roman road. A word to the wise -- if you find a road of any length in England that is actually straight, it was probably plumbed by the Romans; anything else is probably the handiwork of a) drunken Angles or Saxons, b) drunken deer, or c) drunken 20th / 21st century planners. Anyway, there is a growing consensus among the archaeological community that the A5 leading northwest out of London did indeed play host to the final days of Boadicea's rebellion. There are two highly plausible sites near Northampton for the final battle.

Oh, and kakistocratic really is a word -- and a wonderful one at that!


Chapter 14. Invenies in Tenebris (August 15-16, 1995)

Ginny leaped up from the drawing room chesterfield. “What is it, Sirius?”

Sirius stood in the doorway, looking unusually grave. “Hey mates. Granger's in a bit of a state — do you suppose you two can come look in on her for a while; help her get settled for the night? I have to get myself to the meeting upstairs, and all the other adults are already there.”

Harry frowned worriedly. “Sure, we'll help.” He crossed the drawing room and extinguished several of the lamps in the otherwise vacated room. “So what's the matter? What happened to her?”

“Errr…” Sirius glanced uneasily about the corridor and stairwell. “Let's talk when we're downstairs.”

Ginny and Harry both nodded their assent and followed Sirius. Entering the girls' bedroom on the first floor, they found Hermione in the manner that Sirius had left her — curled in a fetal position on her bed; still dressed, partially covered by a blanket, but nonetheless shivering despite the stuffy August evening.

Ginny settled herself on Hermione's bed and put her hand on the older girl's shoulder. “'Mione, are you all right? What happened?”

Hermione cracked open her eyelids slightly. She glanced from Ginny to Harry, then over to Sirius. She closed her eyes again and shook her head slightly.

Sirius shrugged. “All I know is that she had a run-in with the Dumbledore. She's not likely to say much more with me around.”

Harry and Ginny exchanged nervous glances as the room descended into a state of uncomfortable silence. Sirius raised an eyebrow and scrunched his face appraisingly. “Tense lot, eh? I'll reckon that this problem of anomalous magic in the houses involves all three of you?”

Ginny chewed on her lower lip, her actress instincts wearing a bit thin.

“Eh well.” Sirius scratched his head. “Nobody likes to be the odd man out, but I can't exactly rag at you over it. If I recall rightly, I asked you to fill me in if there was anything dodgy enough to run to Albus about, but I never actually said anything about mischief you might be trying to conceal even from him.”

Harry shuffled nervously, running a hand through his hair. “Uh, yes. About that…”

Sirius pinned him with a raised eyebrow for a long moment… then barked out in laughter, slapping his knee in merriment. “Har! Don't sweat it, pup — the best secrets work best if they stay secret. Whenever I see you lot skulking about on your toes, I'm reminded of some sort of mad Hippogriff scheme you and Granger cooked up a couple of years ago. If a Potter keeps a secret, he's liable to have his reasons, eh?”

Harry and Ginny blinked.

Sirius straightened up, his eyes sparkling rebelliously. “To be honest I was a bit hacked off when Remus told me that Dumbledore had asked us to spy on you, so I'm not about to bloody pry. If you reckless Marauder-Juniors get us all killed, I may get tetchy about you not asking for help, but otherwise I'll stay out of your hair.”

Ginny cocked an eyebrow. “Errr, you mean you're…?”

“Leaving you to your own devices? Aye, luv.” Sirius grinned and began to move toward the door. “If at any point, you three contrivers decide you to avail yourselves of my calm, even-handed, sagacity to steer you clear of the rocks, you'll know where to find me and my bottle.” He winked and took hold of the knob but paused before turning it. “One practical detail though. Seeing as how I'm obliged to moulder my night away in that bloody meeting upstairs, did you have any requests? Want me to lay a smoke screen? Whisper a few red Plimpies? Slip the Headmaster some belch powder?”

“I, uh, don't know.” Ginny gazed at him worriedly for a moment then turned to Harry. “What do you think?”

Harry shook his head. “Thanks, but we can't think of anything in particular. Maybe watch and listen for us, please?”

“Oi!” Ginny's hand shot up. “Sirius, if Professor Dumbledore needs any help trying to get us under control, it would be wonderful if you could, uhh, volunteer?”

Sirius winked his wily assent and made his merry way out of the room, leaving the three teens to glance around at each in silence as his footsteps receded.

Finally Hermione pulled herself, somewhat haltingly, to a sitting position. She glanced at the others, then focused uncomfortably on the floor. “I don't know how much he learned...”

Harry frowned. “He? As in, Dumbledore?”

Hermione nodded. “I don't know what he's going to do. I don't know anything.”

Ginny gave her a squeeze. “'S'okay 'Mione.”

Harry nodded. “Right. Some sort of confrontation was inevitable and, as far as I can tell, you helped hold him off longer than if he'd chased straight after the first bee in his bonnet.”

Ginny chewed her lip. “I suppose it's too much to hope that he'll lay off the brooch for another couple days? I think that's all we need to finish off this bloody nightmare once and for all.”

Hermione's eyes went wide. “You think so?”

Both Ginny and Harry nodded.

Hermione rubbed her temples. “Well, if I was correctly interpreting what Professor Dumbledore said to me, I'd say he expects Sirius to work with me and deliver the brooch to him soon — as a proof of our loyalty.”

Ginny gazed at her. “Soon? Like, say, tomorrow?”

Hermione nodded. “Yes, I'd imagine that waiting any longer would invite his direct intervention.”

Ginny locked eyes with Harry and pursed her lips. “So how much do you think we can get done tonight, Harry?”

Harry sighed and glanced at his watch. “Merlin knows, Gin'! But it's nearly ten o'clock, so I suppose it's high time we start to find out."

After ten minutes of walking, the scent of camp fires had become adorned by the aroma of roasting meat. The mid-evening sounds of chirping birds and buzzing insects had been overwhelmed by the undulating hum of thousands of human voices. The princess and Publican had set aside their disillusionment charm and now strode the road freely. Their exploits at Camulodunum were well known and it seemed unlikely that any of the Britons would waylay them en route to the queen.

By the time they reached the edge of the camp, they had indeed picked up an entourage of curious Celts. Several youths — a pair of girls and three boys, all roughly in their mid-teens, volunteered to escort them to the queen, all the while regaling them with stories of yesterday's distinctly one-sided battle along the road to Camboricum. The princess and Publican listened closely for any exploits that sounded magical, but after a few tales, it became obvious that the youths were likely part of the exclusively non-magical rear guard, and their knowledge was limited to the rout in which (by the Publican's estimate) as many as thirty thousand angry Britons had overwhelmed several ill-prepared cohorts of the Spanish Ninth Legion. According to the teens, the only Romans known to have escaped were in a small cavalry detachment escorting the Legion's top officers.

Although the Publican knew very few soldiers in the Spanish Ninth, he was glad to not have witnessed their debacle. With a grim face, he turned the princess. “I dread to wonder how much more blood may be shed in this travesty.”

She shook her head in dismay; her voice emerged as little more than a whisper. “Far too much.””

The Publican gazed around as they passed a wooded area and emerged into wide lowlands lying to the east of a Roman bridge over the River Rom. A graven milestone informed that they were nine leagues from the gates of Londinium.

In the distance, the Publican's eyes fell upon a huge mass of humanity, looking for all the world much more like a bustling borough than a grain field. Just like a city, there was an obvious central square, at the far edge of which (near the river) he could see an obvious display of magical prowess — a wooden long house so large and tall; so opulently augmented with beautiful beech trees and gardens, that it resembled a palace.

The Publican smirked wryly. “Would you say your mother has her magic back?”

Gazing about with offended sensibilities, LanossŽa shook her head, in vexation rather than denial. The Britons had apparently plundered farms along their way and were feasting so lavishly that she almost wondered if the entire horde had been encouraged to celebrate their midsummer's festival four days early. Either way, there was little about the atmosphere to suggest a stolid and staid military campaign.

Finally the princess sighed. “Magic and manic, Terna. Such ostentation bodes ill.”

The Publican's wry eyebrow made it clear that he shared her assessment. “This cannot rest well with either your gods or mine, Lano. Yet, there must be at least fifty thousand people gathered here now. From such numbers I surmise that, for tomorrow at least, your mother's confidence will prove valid. What events shall soon befall Londinium may be inscribed in Roman annals of infamy.”

The princess nodded grimly. She turned to their young guides. “Thank you so kindly for having brought us this far. It shall not be difficult to find my mother from this point."

The five young warriors bowed deferentially and turned about to return to their clan's camp.

LanossŽa led the way through the magical gardens, continuing to shake her head in disbelief as she went. They came to the arch of the huge long house and saw two Iceni warriors, now bearing Roman weapons that had likely been plundered in the previous battle.

The two tall warriors had been speaking to each other casually when one turned and noticed the pair of visitors. “Great Camulos!” He gaped, dropping to his knee. “Princess! You are well! You have returned to us!”

“I am and I have!” She smiled at the man. “Well met, Andras. Could you please inform the queen that we have come?”

Andras rose and bowed, then quickly entered into the long house. He was gone less than a minute before returning to lead them inside.

As their eyes adjusted inside the building to a low light, dimmer than the gathering dusk of sundown, they discerned rows of stern Iceni and Trinovante guards lining the long path toward the throne. Along the way to the queen, they identified numerous chieftains and other important leaders from the southern half of England, now including representatives from the Catuvellauni, Dobunni and Atrebates — tribes that had maintained tenuous (often strained or ambiguous) relations with the Romans. At Andras's bidding, these nobles stepped to the side to leave them a clear path to the queen. Even Diras made way, his dark eyes following their approach, glittering in the lamplight with some sort of inscrutable fascination.

The queen rose up from a massive gilded chair. Even without the raised wooden platform, her sheer majesty would have towered over the assembly, but a combination of her natural height and a magically amplified sense of presence made her seem particularly ominous. She watched her two guests until they had approached within forty feet, then she lifted her staff in the manner of some ancient prophet. “All hail Princess LanossŽa of the Iceni, and every Briton's friend — Peuerellius, most courageous of all Romans!”

“Hail!” Dozens of voices rose in solemn greeting.

The Publican slowed his pace to let the princess advance ahead. LanosssŽa gazed at the faces, quickly scrutinising any close enough and sufficiently illuminated to discern in the darkness. “Hail mother. Hail Diras. Hail Mererid and Llwyd; may our peoples always join in friendship. Hail sister Heanua, our protector and healer.”

The queen's stony formality wavered for a moment. She glanced at her eldest daughter who stood in the shadows off to the left. “Protector and Healer? Heanua, is this true? Did you bear LanossŽa and Peuerellius away from the cold stones of Camulodunum?”

Heanua stood by, quiet and unresponsive.

The hall fell silent for a moment, waiting with uncertain deference for some sort of reply.

Heanua remained steadfastly passive. The Publican assessed her furtively, briefly caught her eye, then stepped forward. “Perhaps we are in error, your majesty. Some woman did indeed bear us away from the battle to heal our wounds, but our mysterious saviour departed before we had the wits to speak and identify her. Perhaps it was someone other than Heanua.”

“Ah, I see.” The queen nodded. “Yes, I believe you must have been mistaken. As you can tell, my eldest daughter is in no mind to deliver to you such care.”

Boadicea paused for a moment to collect her thoughts, then shook her head. “Ah well. None of that is important. What we must all recognize is the joy and hope filling all of our souls with the sight of you both, healthy and whole. Have you returned to join us in our march to destiny?”

The princess stood as tall as her stature would allow. “We have come, Mother, for a private audience. We would offer you our counsel.”

The queen looked past LanossŽa, gazing instead to the Publican who stood ten feet back. “Peuerellius, have you come to offer your wisdom in the customs and wiles of the Romans?”

The Publican equivocated. “Your majesty, to the best of my capacity I will answer whichever questions you put to me, yet the matters of greatest import come from your daughter.”

The queen gave LanossŽa a skeptical glance then resumed her scrutiny of the Publican. “And what counsel would my daughter bear to me? She who has never seen true battle, nor bartered lives and lands with kings and Proconsuls?

The Publican stepped forward to stand with the princess, drawing the queen's eyes back to her own daughter. He fixed Boadicea with a dispassionate gaze. “Your daughter sees that which you and I do not, your highness. Just as was your mother before you, Princess LanossŽa seems to be blessed with the eye of Scathach.”

A sudden buzz of whispers erupted throughout the long house. The Publican furtively cast a muffling spell to privately project his voice over the low din, then refocused on the queen. “Your daughter can read the battles that you have before you and the outcomes thereof. It is she whom you must now heed — in private audience.”

The queen stared, first at the Publican and then at the princess. After a long moment, she rose to her feet. Boadicea's eyes glanced briefly toward Diras, but both the princess and Publican shook their heads subtly and the queen nodded her assent. She turned and gestured them forward, past the wooden seat of power and into the darkness in the farthest reaches of the long house.

As they stepped into the dim recesses, the Publican became aware of a slight motion — two guards standing quietly in the dark moving to open a door through which emerged a low torchlight. The queen strode through the door; the Publican and LanossŽa also crossed into the chamber, followed silently by Heanua.

They found themselves in simple living quarters — far more modest than the large meeting space of the long house yet also more comfortable than the field quarters of most warring leaders. The queen gestured toward seats at a small table lit by a single lamp. The Publican and LanossŽa took seats, as the queen continued forward, stopping to stand in front of them. The Publican glanced back at a slight noise, noticing that Heanua had followed them into the private quarters and was hovering silently in the background.

The queen fixed her younger daughter with an expectant stare. “So. How long have you possessed second sight, LanossŽa?”

LanossŽa met her mother's eyes unflinchingly. “My first experience with it was on the day the Romans attacked our village. I cannot know everything that is to come, but some things are shown to me with clarity. Voices have led me to you with great accuracy; I know both where you have gone, whither you will lead your forces, and when. We have followed you thus to Camulodunum and from thence to your last battle on the marshes by River Stour. We have tracked you over bracken and fen and onto this road, now within striking distance of Londinium. We might even choose to accompany you thence on your march to Verulamium and finally to…”

The queen raised her hand. “No, I bid you say no more. I believe you, my daughter. Diras and I have indeed crafted our plans to raze Londinium and Verulamium, yet beyond that point we have cast no lots. If you say more now, it may displease Adraste and unsettle the winds of Amaethon.”

LanossŽa nodded tacitly.

Boadicea stood, gazing pensively at the flickering flame of the lamp. She exhaled slowly and turned away from her guests, speaking into the darkness. “You, LanossŽa, are the daughter that my own mother might have wished for. To her, I was ever the gnarled pine on a stony ridge — bending ever away from the stone from which I sprang. My mother was a maven of peace. She taught so many Iceni girls the magic of nurturing and healing; she instructed them in the gentle arts of perceiving and nurturing the world around us. It pleased her little, but I was always more nearly a son of Scavo, having no use for the quiet lore of plants and birds, of clouds, stars and dreams.”

The queen grasped the back of a chair with her hardened hands; sinewy muscles rippled in her forearms as she cast her gaze upon the Publican. “Yes. My place was always among the boys, learning to wrestle and hunt; among men, learning to fight, kill and rule. In my youth, I could best any boy or man my age in contests of bow or blade or bare hand, yet when my blood spilled after a fierce fight, I would also have to seek some girl or woman to cleanse and heal the wound.”

The queen turned back to LanossŽa. “It may be shameful to admit this to you, my daughter, but I am uncertain I ever loved your grandmother, and I appreciated her magic even less. The eye of Scathach I regarded as the magic of cowardice. To declare that a fight is lost even before the first horn sounds and a blade is drawn? That, LanossŽa, I believed to be pure weakness, unworthy of the courage of Adraste and the might of Camulos. Yet you, my valiant princess, although a great healer and now a seer, shall never be a coward. Thus I know, looking in your eyes, that you shall not attempt to sway me from my chosen course.”

Rising to her feet, the princess lifted her gaze to her mother's. Despite lacking more than seven inches of her mother's height, LanossŽa stood tall and unbowed. “You are correct, mother. I will not sway you from any just course toward, nor push you to any compromise that you might view as timorous.”

The queen's eyes shone in satisfaction. She opened her mouth to speak, but her daughter had not yet finished. “Yea mother, plan your course as you will. By Amaethon, may you you choose it with the wisdom of Scavo and the composure of Prasutagus. But whatever path you deign to follow, never forget the honour of an Iceni! Do not prey upon the weak; do not raise arms against those who have none; do not tread upon those who cannot stand.”

“Why, that is…!!” The queen glared a LanossŽa, incensed by the advice, then she took a deep breath and turned away. “The mere suggestion that any Iceni would stoop thus is an affront beyond measure. If I did not owe you my life and liberty, I would throw you from my presence and rub your insolent nose in the dirt.”

LanossŽa's eyes remained locked upon her mother, fiercely enough to break the queen's pique. The princess shook her head. “So you say, mother, yet thousands of innocents and elderly died at Camulodunum.”

Boadicea trembled in partially restrained anger. “If that is true, then they died at Trinovante hands.”

The Publican stepped forward. “That may be true your highness, yet history judges leaders by the deeds of the led. Future generations may not recall Diras, Mererid and Llwyd, for the name whispered around the hushed circle will be 'Boadicea'. Speak truthfully, your majesty. Will they tell the tale of a Great Queen of the Iceni? Or a terrible rapacious fiend?”

The Publican stood at the princess's side, facing the powerful queen with neither fear nor humility. His tone softened. “Your highness, civilians in Londinium and Verulamium outnumber soldiers by nearly twenty to one. What will become of these simple colonists in the face of an avenging army? Very few of those rising up in your name have the discipline and training that comes of life-long service of the sword. These are woodsmen and farmers. Many are angry and unprincipled. Will you be able to control these hordes of furious Trinovantes, Catuvellauni, Dobunni and Atrebates who are licensed to tear and slash in your name? Can you protect your own legacy from endless cuts and bludgeons when the blood of merchants, priests, women, children and pensioners spills over cold stone?”

Her anger diffusing somewhat under the measured words, the queen gave the Publican a brief glance and nodded. “Your advice is duly noted, Peuerellius.”

Boadicea turned to the side and picked up the staff of Scavo from where it rested against the wall, and cradled the copper head thoughtfully for a moment. The Publican gazed it it curiously — the hideous gargoyle was gone, and a noble horse head once again graced the staff, but he was not completely certain the object was completely cured of all evil that the Legate might have inflicted upon it.

Heedless to any risk from a defiled object, the queen leaned heavily on the staff, deriving comfort from its great strength and power. Equilibrating quickly from her barely-suppressed rage of minutes ago, she turned to face her daughter and the Publican. “Thank you both for your candid words — too few are those wise enough and brave enough to risk the wrath of a monarch. Noble Peuerellius, have you ever uttered advice that I did not, at the very least, eventually wish I had heeded? And my sweet LanossŽa, so valiantly restraining her tongue in the presence of her idiot mother — may you be someday blessed and vexed with humbling advice from your own wise and willful daughter.”

For the barest, fleeting second, the princess saw the ghost of a wry smile grace her mother's lips before it was subsumed by the usual disciplined severity. The queen's gaze brusquely swept their faces. “So, have you anything else to say?”

The princess met her eyes. “Yes, I do.”

The queen nodded.

“The Coritani wand, Mother — have you returned it to its maker? The bargain with the old Druid was to use it only until you no longer had need of it.” LanossŽa glanced at the staff in the queen's grasp. “It appears clear to me that the wand has fulfilled its duty to you.”

Boadicea's eyes flickered in momentary discomfort. “I… No daughter, I have not returned it. I must admit that… although the wand has been of almost no use to me… I was hoping to offer it to you.”

“Me?!” The princess's skin felt prickly; she found herself paling in the dim light. “I have no wish to touch that fiendish thing!”

The queen shifted uncomfortably. “It is an object of great power, LanossŽa, and for reasons I do not grasp, it has chosen you. I believe that in your hands that wand might produce magic as prodigious as any that I have with the staff. To be truthful, I had hoped...” She looked down and away, unable to meet her guests' alarmed eyes. “I had hoped that we could revisit my offer from Camulodunum — that, together perhaps, we could rise in power, blending with our differing strengths the wisdom of Peuerellius. None in all Britannia would stand against us in our just rule, and we could drive out the foreigners forever.”

The princess stared at her, agape. “Are you mad, Mother?”

The queen said nothing for a moment. Just as she was raising her head and opening her mouth to speak, her daughter's voice cut across hers. “Such wands may bewilder and manipulate, just as may the Coritani who make them. It was Coritani poison that felled my father and your king! Are you prepared to risk some other form of fell power by breaking a Coritani contract?”

The queen gazed at her quizzically. “Do you believe that the wand is cursed?”

LanossŽa glared. “It may well be. I would not touch it to find out.”

Boadicea exhaled slowly. She reached into her shift and withdrew the ornate stick, weighing it in her hands. Finally she nodded. “As much as I loath to part with such a great weapon in times of war, I shall heed your warning, daughter. I will dispatch a runner to return this wand to the Druid in the north.”

“Thank you Mother.”

The queen made no reply. Rather than escort her visitors back through the main meeting hall of the long house she retreated deeper into the dim recesses of the back chamber and unlatched a second door that opened directly to the dusky night air outside. Leading them past the two guards stationed outside, she stood in the moonlight, seeming slightly less tall and powerful than LanossŽa had always remembered her.

“So Peuerellius.” The queen turned one final time to face them. “Shall you and your esteemed princess remain as my special guests as we march tomorrow into Londinium?”

Lest his face betray a flickering of consternation, the Publican bowed his head deferentially. “Thank you, your highness, but no. Your daughter and I have other business to attend to.”

The queen cocked an eyebrow. “Oh? And might I inquire as to the nature of this business?”

The princess nodded. “We go unto our own battle. It is time for us to seek out the true enemy of us all; the Roman whom even Romans despise.”

Without waiting for the queen to respond, LanossŽa took the Publican's arm and began leading him away into the night. Avoiding tents and people, they made their way quietly past sodden tickets, down to the smooth, clattery stones beside the River Rom. They paused for a moment beneath a tall alder tree; the breeze rustling their hair. The princess turned to the Publican. “Do you think my mother will truly return the wand?”

The Publican sighed. “There is a part of her that apprehends our logic, but I know not whether that good fragment is strong enough to outweigh the hand of destiny.”

“Or the hand of her own stubborn will.” The princess frowned and clenched her fist. “May we find the means to avert disaster, in spite of her thick skull.”

The Publican nodded. “Yes. And may we find the Legate before it is too late.”

With a flick of wands, the pair disappeared into the night air. The faintest rattle of stones descended from beneath the alder, heading down toward the river and they departed — marked by nobody, except for the silent willowy blond woman who had been listening to them so intently.

The moon and the stars, the breeze in her hair, and obscure conversations of Coritani wands and Legates swirled disorientingly in Hermione's mind. Still drained from her recent trial by Legilimency, she found herself teetering on the uneven ground. Catching some loose stones the wrong way, she lurched abruptly forward, past her balance point. She plunged forward, thrust out her hands, and bracing blindly for…

Hermione blinked.

The world was suddenly bathed in daylight — albeit of a dim and grey variety, filtered through the overhead branches of tall elms and poplars. She rose to her knees and began brushing the grime and moist plant matter off her hands and anorak.

“Oh dear! Are you all right?”

She jumped and gaped in alarm to see a stooped, cloaked man emerge from the shadows, making his way toward her. With his hood pulled low in the mist, Hermione couldn't see the man's eyes… but his mouth showed genuine, non-threatening concern. He reached down to her. “Would you like a hand, little girl?”

She leaped to her feet; her chest puffed out indignantly. “I'm not a little girl, sir. I'm eight years and seven months old, and I'm already studying Secondary 1 Literacy and Maths!”

“Oho!” The man's lips twitched slightly. “Bright as a brass button, eh? So, you will not be needing my assistance, young lady?

Hermione smiled at what she considered to be a more suitable appellation, but her smile faded as she gazed around herself at the tall trees, the bright spring bluebells and the peculiar saw-toothed rock formation half covered in ivy. She found it all incredibly peaceful… but distressingly unfamiliar.

Her smile devolving into vague anxiety, Hermione turned back to the cloaked old man who stood by, leaning patiently on his walking stick. “I'm sorry sir, but I may have gotten myself turned around. By any chance, would you know the way to my grandmother's house?”

“Perhaps. Would you recall your grandmother's address, milady?”

“Farthingstone Road,” she proclaimed smartly. “My dad and mum bring us out here nearly every Sunday. We follow the A45 into Weedon Bec, take a short jog left onto Bridge Street past the red brick wall, veer onto Farthingstone Road, then nigh on two and a quarter miles out of town!”

The man grinned at the highly specific detail. He raised his gnarled old hand to point past Hermione. “You've gone a hundred feet off the dirt path — it's off yonder a bit. Turn right, and you'll be back to the road in five minutes… but tell me, milady, what's that resting down there by your foot?”

Hermione looked down to see a clod of lush moss that had seemingly overturned in her tumble. Embedded within it was a glimmer of something winglike, the silver glinting against the rich, dark humus.

“Oh! Now what would this be?” Hermione knelt down and pulled it gingerly from the earth. “Is it an old clasp, perhaps? Rather striking isn't it? But what's this? Writing?”

She began to carefully wipe away the dirt with her sleeve, then paused and squinted. “It has an inscription... Invenies in Tenebris? Invenies in… Darkness… You will f… You will be found in the darkness?”

The man shook his head slightly. “Active not passive conjugation, milady. Invenies in Tenebris. You will find in the darkness.”

Hermione's eyes brightened, but then she frowned. “But what does it… mean? You will find in the darkness? Find what?”

“Hmmm? Strength, friendship, compassion?” A pleased smile on his face, the old man shrugged. “In the darkness, you will find hope, perhaps? Put it in your pocket — keep it very safe and secret until the time comes when it is needed.”

“Keep it?” Hermione bit her lip. “But wouldn't that be… stealing?”

He shook his head. “Nay, not at all. It has waited such a very long time to find you.” He stooped beside her and wrapped his papery-skinned hand around hers, closing her fingers around the brooch, and guiding both her hand and brooch into the pocket of her anorak.

Straining on his walking stick, the old man straightened up and smiled. “Now, it is time for me to bid you farewell, young lady. I believe your parents are calling you.”

She sprang up, cocking a hand around her ear. “Are you certain? I don't hear any…”

“… Hermione dear! It's time to go!”

Hermione's eyes flashed wide. “Coming Mum!” She paused a moment. “Sir, would you care to come along and meet my…”

Hermione gaped in astonishment, and glanced frantically about herself.

She was all alone.

“Hermione, can you hear us? We're out here on the path.”

“Just a moment, Daddy!” Hermione glanced all around again — at the tall silent trees, at the damp bluebells shining brightly against the misty late April gloom, and at those curious jagged rocks in the distance. She felt the weight of something even more curious, lodged safely and secretly in her pouch… then, with the tingling sensation of mystery creeping down her spine, she turned away to join her parents on the path.

In the sultry shade of a tall elm tree, with his feet resting in the pool of a brook, the Publican's head swayed, drooped… and he startled awake.

The princess looked up from her herb gathering. “You should rest Terna. You let me sleep earlier; it is your turn now.”

He yawned. “You are right, Lano, but I cannot stop myself from dwelling upon the Legate; fretting over what his scheme may be; wondering whether we've come the right road. I wish those voices could tell us where he is. I still worry that we should have returned to Camboricum, to whence we knew he last fled.”

The princess frowned. “It is unlikely that he would remain there. He is on the move, and our best reckoning is that he will seek to intercept Mother's campaign at its position of greatest weakness.”

“The voices believe the Romans will make a stand somewhere north of Lactodurum?”

LanossŽa stood and stretched her legs. “Yes, and likely south of Tripontium.”

The Publican exhaled slowly. “Jupiter, Lano, I need not the voices to read your mother's fate. Proconsul Paulinus must be marching down from northern Wales; the queen will march her army straight into his teeth. Would that I had warned her to not judge all Romans on the basis of her success against the imbeciles she has faced thus far. Decianus is the simplest of crooked dolts. By contrast, I fear that Paulinus will, in his spirit of professional efficiency, tear her horde to quivering shreds.”

The princess knelt by him and took his hand. “You have done your diligence, Terna. You counseled her months ago to appeal to Paulinus. I stood with you in that camp above the Ouse, and loved you for your wise words, and my heart quailed with yours when my mother declined. You have tried to help my people, and may history record your virtues, but the time has come now for Amaethon or Jupiter to lay their hands upon the earth and shape it as they must.”

The Publican sighed and stared into the swirling stream for a moment… then he tensed again and scowled. “Jupiter or Amaethon may lay their hands about us as they see fit, but damn the Legate and his meddlesome ways! I shall not let him play god with our fate, or that of our unborn child! A pox on his shriveled, devious little mind and it's foul plans!”

“I commiserate, my love.” The princess stroked his hand. “I wish I could offer some insight but, as I understand it, the voices can tell us only what people of our own time have recorded in their histories. The voices have read many details of Mother's final days, yet no tales offer any mention of the Legate.”

“Perhaps because the man is very secretive.” The Publican closed his eyes for a moment in thought, then reopened them. “I am not certain that even the Romans truly know who he is, or why he should have been assigned to Britannia. He seems to hold the paunchy flab of Procurator Decianus within his vice-like grip, steering him about like like a puppet, but without any real role or mandate of his own.”

LanossŽa gazed into his eyes. “The voices believe that his only real purpose in this life is to destroy ours, Terna, yet history does not register his success or failure in this goal.”

The Publican gazed at her quizzically. “Is that good news or ill?”

“History reflects very little of us.” The princess shrugged. Her face was impassive for a moment before the slightest glimmer of a smirk arose. “This means, Terna, that you and I are every bit as secretive as the Legate. Our fates and his are thus open to our own composing. I take this to mean that we will secretly obliterate his every dream or hope, and drive him whimpering secretly to his trembling knees.”

The Publican found himself, one more time, grinning at the strength and verve of this young woman who had chosen him. He rose to his feet and extended his hand. “Come, my princess. If you have finished gathering herbs, then we must rejoin the road, if we are to make our secretive way past Verulamium tonight.”

The princess gained her feet and raised her hands to the Publican's cheeks, guiding his face toward hers. For a long moment in the sultry shade, standing beside a lazy brook that would someday be known as Tykes Water, two lovers set aside fate, destiny and worldly machinations. What remained to them in that moment was joy.

Leaving their two progenitors to a brief blissful respite from the long tense journey north through the ancient Midlands, Harry and Ginny found themselves dreaming of their own embrace. Beneath a perfect sky, surrounded by verdant gardens and white colonnades, and sheltered from angst and peril, they swirled gently through a shimmery mist in time to slow lilting music. In easy harmony, their feet glided lightly over the same marble tiles they had known from a previous night. Ginny gazed around at the idyll, yet for all that it soothed her mind, she knew what she most desired — to lower her head comfortably onto Harry's chest, letting her eyes to drift shut, while listening to the sound of his heart.

Harry sighed happily. One hand crept upwards from its place on her lower back, toward her face, to gently brushed aside a lock of her hair and caress her cheek.

Ginny's eyes flickered at the touch. “Hmmm?”

His breath tickling her slightly, Harry lowered his face to whisper to her. “There aren't any idiots around this time.”

Ginny pulled back a bit; her eyes were quizzical for a moment then a delighted grin slid across her. “Oh? And was there something you were going to say to me then, Mr. Potter?”

“There is, Miss Weasley.”

She smiled, her eyes alighting on his.

He coughed slightly. “So I know that sometimes it's difficult to say important things. It seems like every word or phrase can have different meanings, and I worry that I'll mean one thing and say another, but… well after all of the nasty scrapes, after being afraid so many times that I'll lose you, or worrying how you'd feel if you lost me, it's seems to me that the worst thing I could do would be to never even try to say…”

Harry's eyes flickered away for a moment, but Ginny's gentle touch refocused them.

“I mean, I guess I have spoken the words before, but only when we're flailing about in the frenzy of battle or something. It really seems important to finally tell you at a time when we can pause and think about what we mean… you know?”

Ginny nodded; she parted her lips slightly, expectantly.

“Ginevra Molly Weasley, I…” Harry inhaled a small breath. “Ginny, I love you, and I know you feel the same way about me…”

Ginny watched in breathless silence, waiting for Harry to continue.

Harry closed his eyes pensively. “I know that a lot of people say things like that, right? But doesn't this somehow seem different? Don't you think that when you and I say something like that it'll be more than just words? That it's a promise over all time — past present and future? Feelings like this are stronger than time, aren't they? Stronger than cause and effect? I mean, once we've created something like this, how could anyone ever take it away?”

Ginny cocked her head reflectively, slowly working her way through the maze of words, not quite certain what Harry truly meant.

A moment of silence passed slowly between them as Harry reorganized his thoughts. Finally, he opened his eyes to meet her curious gaze. “What I'm trying to say, Gin', is that there's no way that the Legate, or Malfoy, or Riddle can ever break this feeling. They might try to kill me or even erase me from history, but you will always have my love. It is, it was and it will be. It's as much a part of this universe as all the stars and the space around them.”

Ginny stared at Harry, peering into him, gradually seeing and understanding. It was difficult to completely believe — a part of her wondered whether her waking self wouldn't pull back a little, self-protectively, from such glowing, sanguine optimism, but…

Ginny smiled. Within this dream there were no more obstacles; there was no more reason to question their faith in each other or set limits on its power. She reached up to caress his chin. “Yes, Harry. Our love for each other will always be. Nobody can take it away.”

Harry nodded ever so slowly. “And, you know what that means, Gin'? If our love will never fail, then neither will we, right?”

“Right.” Ginny pulled herself close to him again, and pressed her face to his chest, nodding softly. “We won't fail, Harry. Who knows how exactly we're going to pull through this mess, but I know we'll work it all out. We'll come out on top.”

The music had stopped, and their feet came to a gradual halt. Still clasping each other with one-armed embraces, Harry's left hand found Ginny's right; their fingers wove together loosely and, instinctively, they extended their hands outward, as if they were both reaching out together to touch something.

In the quiet of the garden, the sky faded past the deep red and lilac hues of twilight, yet in the fading glimmers a new glow arose, enveloping their outstretched hands in a soft, pulsing, white radiance.

Ginny merely nodded, as if greeting an old friend, but Harry stared at the glow quizzically. “What is… it? What is the light, Gin'?”

Ginny looked at him, her eyes sparkling in the reflected incandescence. “It is, Harry.”

Harry blinked. “It is? Is what? What is?”

Ginny equivocated. “I don't know if there are any words for it. It simply is. It's a part of us. We're a part of it. If everything goes dark, it will still be there — something to guide us.”

“Is it magic?”

“Oh, I'm sure it must be.” Ginny pursed her lips thoughtfully. “But I really doubt it's the sort of magic anyone would ever learn at a place like Hogwarts.”

“Is it, uh…” Harry cocked his head to examine the light from another angle. “Is it love?”

Ginny shrugged and smiled. “I bet that's part of it, Harry. But, like I say, it just is.”

Harry shook his head slightly. “I love you, Gin'… but you're a bit mystifying sometimes.”

“You too, Harry.” Ginny grinned. “You too.”

In the pitch black of a starless night, still holding Ginny; still being held by her, Harry continued to gaze at the soft white pulse as everything else around them faded into total black.

“They'll try to drive us apart, Gin'… but we'll hold on. I'll never let go.”

“I'll know, Harry. And I'll always find you.”

The Publican rolled over under his blanket and opened his eyes to the bluish light of the predawn. He sat up and looked around, spotting LanossŽa about fifty feet away, contemplating a fresh pool of the River Ver.

Sensing her partner's awakening, the princess turned and walked back to the campsite. She wore a morning smile of greeting, but the Publican could sense an underlying disappointment. He rose to his feet and gazed toward the water. “So, I am guessing that the waters are not navigable?”

She shook her head. “The Midlands must have been drier than the east, and the terrain is too hilly. The Ver is betimes a merry path, but then threads its way through coarse stones and is wont even to disappear.” She sighed. “We are better off on the road.”

The Publican nodded. The princess had never been this far from her home before, and he himself had only traveled northwest from Londinium twice in the sixteen years he had spent in Britannia, so neither of them knew the terrain or paths well. It seemed somewhat unsettling to spend so much time out in the open, traveling on one of the Romans' busiest roads, but there were no good alternatives.

He reached out to take the collection of dry tinder she had gathered from a mossy tree nearby, and gave her an encouraging smile. “The rivers Tove or Nene may soon well give our aching feet a rest, but even if not, we should be less than two days march from Lactodurum.”

She nodded emotionlessly then gazed southwards. “Did you learn anything interesting in your visit last night to Verulamium?”

Stooping to pack his meager belongings and add the tinder to his bundle, the Publican nodded. “Yes — the street near the basilica was thronged with gossipers out in the warm night air, and I learned a fair bit from them. It seems that the beacon hills were alight in the early evening with news of a great conflagration in Londinium. Then nightfall brought warning of a great horde of Britons camping near the Silk Stream marshlands.”

The princess frowned. “Where is that?”

“Along this very route, several leagues south of where we joined the road early yesterday morning. In any case, supposedly the legionary fort at Sulloniacis was requesting reinforcements from Verulamium, but the local Tribune countermanded the request and demanded that Sulloniacis be abandoned, and the cohort fall back to protect Verulamium.”

LanossŽa sighed. “And indeed Verulamium shall burn next — the beginning of the bitter end. When would you estimate that Mother will reach here? She is a day behind us?”

“Yes, roughly a day. For now, at least.” The Publican handed the princess her pack and they trudged their way up the grade and back onto the road. “I believe her forces will camp south of Verulamium tonight, and attack tomorrow morning. Yet even assuming they prevail efficiently, they are unlikely to pass this point before tomorrow evening, at which time they will be closer to two days behind.”

LanossŽa chewed her lip. “Any news of your Proconsul? The mighty Paulinus?”

“No, not yet. Let us spy a bit more on our way through Durocobrivis and Magiovinto. I suspect that Paulinus is already on the move, but unlike that thundering oaf Decianus, the Proconsul moves like a quiet wolf through the underbrush. We may be nearly upon him before we hear him rustle a twig. We will need to…”

“Look Terna!” The princess paused and grabbed the Publican's arm. “The sun is coming up!” She turned to let the red glow bathe her face and send a coppery sheen rippling through her hair. “Never let pass a fine sunrise without appreciation. We know not how many more we may ever see.”

The long day's march from the banks of the Ver brought observations that seemed initially very contradictory, but ultimately proved subtly and worrisomely logical.

In mid-morning, the princess and Publican had been forced to dash into the bushes to avoid detection by a Century on forced march south to Verulamium. The soldiers had been moving rapidly and without speech, so the Publican had not been able to glean news from them, however he did notice the badge of Durocobrivis on several of the passing men, suggesting that the more northerly fort was sending troops down to bolster Verulamium. This was not particularly strange although the Publican was somewhat curious about the small size of this one force, and the absence of other troop movements through most of the day.

The main contradiction presented itself in early afternoon along the road to Magiovinto, when two whole cohorts swept past them… going north!

Why would some troops from the north be moving south, while those from the south were moving north?

Two hours later, by the time the Publican and princess were making their way under disillusionment charm directly through the heart of Magiovinto, they had determined that the value of news was worth risking a few more discreet inquiries.

The nearby fort was a hive of activity, with the apparent mustering of a mixture of local auxiliaries as well as the Valeria Victrix twentieth Legion; but the local merchants catering to the fort were every bit as busy planning for the mobilization, and the Publican suspected that they would be more open to sharing news with strangers. Leaving the (disillusioned) Princess outside, he cast quick spells on himself to banish the dirt and road weariness that covered him, and entered a wooden commercial building just off the via.

He gazed around the busy shop floor, and waved to the best dressed man. “Salve mercatore! How are you?”

The man finished rolling a large barrel onto a wagon. “How am I? Swept off my feet, as you can see!” He dusted off his hands. “What may I help you with?”

The Publican laid a hand on a barrel and began to roll it toward the wagon. “Two weeks ago I was requisitioned to deliver three wagon loads of oats and barley to this fort, but I have heard that supplies are being redirected elsewhere now?”

The merchant nodded, accepting the barrel from the Publican. “This is true, yes. It seems as if the whole country is on the move now.”

“Yes, it does appear that way.” The Publican gazed around at the many wagons in various stages of being loaded. “Unfortunately I have received conflicting instructions of exactly where to direct the shipment, and matters at the fort are too frantic at the moment to get clarification. May I ask where your shipments are headed?”

“North.” The merchant grabbed another barrel and began rolling it toward the wagon. “Nobody is being told a precise destination, but instruct your driver to make for Lactodurum and await further instructions.” He stopped and braced his barrel at the bottom of a ramp. “And do yourself a favour as well, dear fellow. Haste away from this road and any dwellings upon it — an evacuation order has issued for all towns and forts south of Bannaventa, effective tomorrow night.”

A frown of deep consternation on his face, the Publican thanked the merchant and walked quietly out of Magiovinto, seemingly alone, but in fact accompanied by his invisible partner. Over several leagues, they passed quickly into the quiet countryside where the bustling activity of the small military town seemed a distant memory. Near the marshy upper reaches of the Great Ouse, they found a shaded copse off the road where the princess canceled her disillusionment and the pair paused to prepare their evening meal.

The location provided well for them. Reedmace grew plentifully in the shade; they collected a substantial amount of rootstock and fresh leaves to boil over a low fire with some of their dried meat. As the the princess finished chopping the roots and leaves into their cauldron, she turned to the Publican. “You have been very silent, Terna. What did you learn from the merchant?”

The Publican sighed. “I believe, Lano, that I learned what I already knew.”

“Ah yes, but my dearest Publican knows many things, doesn't he? What in particular did the merchant confirm?”

“He confirmed that we are on the right road; tomorrow we shall likely ascertain our final destination.” He turned to LanossŽa with a reticent expression on his face. “I also learned once again that the Proconsul is a fox among fowl. I am beginning to glimpse his plans, Lano. I fear I see the outlines of a brilliant trap.”

Hettie stood in front of the dusty, cracked mirror in Rob's small and sparsely appointed North London flat. She made one last attempt to tame her hair, then huffed quietly to herself. Nonetheless, as Rob entered the room, she turned and faced him gamely. “So where are we meeting this fellow Duff, then?”

“Er, sorry — best for you to not know.” Rob smiled uncomfortably. “Yet another secret, eh?”

Hettie smiled and shrugged; she had given up arguing. “But at least you can verify that we're meeting at four o'clock?”

Rob grinned. “Right. At least I don't have to dodge that.” He glanced at his watch, and the grin faltered. “Reminds me though — there was one last thing I was supposed to talk to you about. We still have some time before leaving, so would you like to grab a seat out on the sofa while I make us some tea?”

She nodded. Stepping out into the drawing room, she settled on the edge of the clean but threadbare seat and listened to the homely clatter from the kitchenette around the corner where Rob was starting a kettle and fetching cups.

Jittering slightly, wondering anxiously what he planned to talk about, Hettie spied an old photo album lying on the coffee table. Having never seen it there before, curiosity got the better of her; she reached for it and began leafing through.

The first photo fascinated her — a rickety-looking, ramshackle, but oddly welcoming stack of mismatched wooden compartments, sporting strange doors and odd windows, all set amidst an eccentric English country garden.

After examining the house picture for a couple of minutes, Hettie turned the page and nearly dropped the book! The picture facing her was of a bright sunny paddock above which two red haired boys were zipping about on broomsticks! She laughed aloud at their animated antics. The younger of the two boys, a precocious fellow of six or seven — was flying one-handed while blithely, cheerily waving at her!

Hettie grinned. Magical moving photographs! Magic!

Hettie knew very little about magic other than that Rob had confirmed her long suspicions that she herself also had unusual, untapped powers. He had otherwise been very circumspect on the topic, and had always been exceptionally discreet when he cast any spells in her presence. Not to be completely denied, she had pressed him about it, extracting from him a bargain that he would begin to teach her some magic when, or if, they completed their current… task.

She fingered the book, wondering what other marvels were out there within her possible grasp. Then she flipped the page.

A family photo!

The man in the centre of the photograph was immediately recognizable as Rob's father — shorter, more stout, with finer, thinner hair, but otherwise a strong family resemblance.

Hettie gazed at the mother. Short and somewhat plump, the woman must have been a beautiful woman in her youth — those high, delicate cheek bones and vibrant eyes were of rare form. Yet here, in this photo, it was obvious that her graces had been poured into producing and raising a family. Six handsome sons!

Within the mother's arms, lay a small sleeping baby whom Hettie somehow guessed to be Rob. Flanking the parents, Hettie recognized the two boys from the previous page's broom flying photo. In this family photo, they were now handsome young lads of perhaps ten and eight; once again the stocky eight year old gave her a cheeky wave, bringing a smile to her face.

Hettie gazed fondly at the three characters in the fore. In the centre front was a tall but frail four year old who, judging by his stiff posture, might have been wearing shorts a couple of sizes too small. What brought the most mirth to Hettie's eyes, however, was a pair of the cutest, naughtiest little ankle biter twins flanking the four year old. Just as Hettie's eyes were flickering over them, two small hands crept furtively upward — the twins giving their unsuspecting older brother two waggling antlers.

Hettie was just stifling a giggle when Rob entered. Carrying the service tray, he gave her a sad smile. “Oh good. You've found what I was about to show you.”

She looked up in surprise. “Really? You were going to show me family pictures.”

“Yes, sort of.” He put the tray down and handed her cup and saucer. “Green. No milk or sugar.”

“Thank you.” She smiled and shifted over to give him room on the sofa.

Rob settled in and helped Hettie hold the book. He turned one page forward. Without speaking a word, his finger traced the caption of a baby picture. It read, 'Gemina M. Weasley, born Aug. 11, 1981.'

Hettie tapped her bottom lip thoughtfully. “Gemina? That's… an interesting name?”

Rob stiffened slightly. Distractedly, he placed his hand part-way over his mouth, and Hettie had to strain to catch his mumbled words. “Er, well, Gemina is like 'Gemini'. You know, as in 'twins'? You see, the twins disappeared just before Gemina was born and, well, Mum thought…”

Rob trailed off and fell silent. His pained expression froze Hettie, and she watched in numb silence as he slowly stirred again and began paging past other photos. She saw the eldest boy standing beside a massive, ancient looking red locomotive. Various other pictures of the other siblings followed. Some pictures included the girl Gemina as she grew, but no more photos ever showed the rascally little twins, and never again was there a full family photo.

As Rob continued to move somewhat robotically through the book, Hettie caught sight of a newspaper article depicting the eldest boy. Her heart sank. It was an obituary.

Rob angled the book away and turned grimly past some more pages. Finally, with his jaw set, Rob spread the album back within Hettie's view, open to an article written in clumsy amateur typeface.



A Heroine's End. By Lucy Lovelace, Quibbler Special Correspondent

It is with the heaviest of hearts that we at the Quibbler find ourselves entrusted with a task of great importance and solemnity. Kind readers, I would ask you to all share this full page memorial dedicated to a final celebration of the life, and a final testament to the loss, of one of British wizarding society's brightest lights.

Last Friday, when most of the school-aged youth in our country were celebrating Halloween with treats and silly costumes, one sixteen year old girl spent the evening on call, prepared (as she so often was) to place her life on the line, safeguarding vulnerable members of our Wizarding community. When a horrific blaze erupted within the residence of a Muggleborn family in the Allesley Old Village, Gemina Marie Wilsey was first on the scene. As usual, she acted with skill and efficiency. She was so prompt, in fact, that she had already guided the family of six safely from the jaws of mortal peril before her partner even arrived in the neighbourhood.

Unfortunately, in the barest of minutes between her successful rescue efforts and the arrival of Gemina's partner, an unthinkable disaster occurred. At 10:52 p.m. on the night of October 31, 1997, Gemina Wilsey was found dead in front of the still-burning building.

So how should we all recognize such a fine young woman, her life of selfless service and her final, ultimate sacrifice? Surely the courage extended in preserving our fine citizens would warrant consideration for prestigious commendation by our Minister of Magic? Should not the Wizengamot now be discussing a nomination for posthumous awarding of the Order of Merlin? Certainly such heroism would feature prominently in all British Wizarding publications, just as the Quibbler has done?

No?

What does it tell us, dear readers, to leaf through the November 1st edition of the Daily Prophet and read not a single mention of the Allesley fire or Miss Wilsey's tragic demise? What should we infer from a newspaper that instead devoted the entire day's coverage to the “glorious education reforms” inflicted upon our Wizarding youth by Mr. Tom Riddle, the self-appointed Headmaster of the Lord Voldemort School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?

Is it possible that these appalling miscarriages of common decency were related to the fact that the Allesley conflagration arose not from accident or natural causes, but rather from a Fiendfyre curse unleashed by operatives of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement? Or perhaps there was some embarrassment on the part of our kakistocratic Ministry of Magic and a cowed wizarding media over the unseemly fact that Gemina was overcome, not by the Fiendfyre (for which she knew suitable protective charms), but rather from a killing curse cast by none other than the head of DMLE himself, Mr. Edouard Yaxley.

What unspeakably foul… ?!!

Sorry.

No kind readers, today I must stay my furious quill. This is not the time to anoint another in a long line of great martyrs rising from the crushing fists of a maniacal dark pogrom. Now is the time to respect the wishes of Gemina Wilsey, who would not want to be remembered that way.

Throughout her life, Miss Wilsey refused to ever admit that she was anything special. Even now, I fear that somewhere she would roll her eyes in embarrassment if I tried to relate to you what a kind, dedicated and brilliant witch she was. With some persuasion, however, I believe she would begrudgingly permit me to describe her extraordinary compassion for the human spirit in all its forms. I am quite certain that she would want me to remind you that compassion triumphs over all prejudice.

Gemina set high ideals for herself and always lived to their rigourous precepts. While many wizards and witches choose their associations based on measures of wealth, power, pedigree and blood status, she saw only humans. Whereas many people wonder first what they might receive, she asked only what she could give… and give she did. Gemina offered anything within her means to everyone in need, whether it was her sympathy, her time, her energy, or even her last Sickle.

The only people disqualified from receiving Miss Wilsey's kindness were those least deserving. She loathed the dark elite and fought against their appalling prejudice with a rare fury. From her first day as a Hogwarts student until the night of her death, she was a constant thorn in the side of bigotry. Yet, despite her stridency, Gemina was admired by people from all walks of life. She received innumerable (distinctly unwelcome) propositions from the heirs of some of the most wealthy blood purist families such as the Malfoys, Notts and Zabinis. That was hardly a surprise to most of us who recognized that such a beautiful and powerful young witch (the seventh child of a seventh child in a pureblood family) could likely have secured a betrothal to even the most privileged Wizarding family. However, neither promises (of wealth or security) nor sordid ultimata (including threats worse than death) could sway her to such denigration.

Yet there was something more than just idealism that kept Miss Wilsey pure. She spurned all disingenuous advances with ease, but she also frequently found herself in the regrettable position of having to turn aside genuine affection from the kind, brave young wizards who fought alongside her. Over time, boys and men in the resistance stopped beseeching her, and instead speculated (admiringly if dejectedly) that Gemina was bound monogamously to her causes; that so long as any persecution and intolerance remained for her to vanquish, she would never accede to whimsical human instincts such as love and romance.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, for Gemina Wilsey was secretly in love. She certainly laboured assiduously to hide or deny her feelings, but one late night, immersed in the murky depths of a Firewhisky bottle, she confided to me how her heart belonged to a boy she had never met. He was kind and gentle, blessed with awe inspiring power and sweet modesty. She described to me his sensational green eyes, and the endearing way his tufty hair fell about his face. Gemina didn't actually know his name, and could not prove that he had ever really even existed, but she knew him. She knew that she loved him and he loved her. She knew from her dreams that her lover was the embodiment of our victory — that he would someday emerge, bringing justice to the persecuted, vindication to the good, and peace to the peaceable.

On October 31st 1997, Gemina Marie Wilsey finally found her green-eyed hero. Within his loving embrace, she completed one long harrowing journey, and together they have commenced another. The path that our two noble icons walk is beyond my sight, but I grasp with all my heart that they will return for us, with open arms and helping hands, ready to lead us all home.

Gemina Wilsey is survived by two older brothers, Pierce and Robert.



Rob stood and began to pace. Every so often, he glanced surreptitiously at Hettie as she made her meticulous way through the article; as she paused for a while to gaze mistily at the accompanying picture — the smiling, windswept girl holding a broomstick, framed against the moody background of some barren northern crag.

When Hettie finally looked up, Rob was steeling himself to ask a question. He met Hettie's eyes and nodded toward the article. “I, uhh, I'm supposed to ask you, well… what do you think?”

“Rob...” Hettie bit her bottom lip tremulously. “I can't explain it. It's almost like it was something in a dream…”

Rob nodded, his expression blank as he awaited clarification.

“I've never known her or even seen her, Rob, but in some strange way, I… I find myself saying that she, Gemina, was the... the sister I always wanted.”

Rob blinked in surprise. The grief he had been fighting so valiantly suddenly seemed to recede, replaced by an expression of confusion, curiosity, and perhaps even hope. He cocked his head. For a long moment, he simply gazed at Hettie, then he opened his mouth to speak, saying...

Knock knock!!

Hermione jolted awake, spilling her pillows onto the dingy floor of the Grimmauld place bedroom. She shook her head in confusion.

“Oi Granger. Rise and shine, sweets!”

Sirius's gravelly voice sounded neither sweet nor particularly shiny. “Bloody watch is broken so I'm not sure what time it is, but there's a bit of light outside, so I reckon you and I ought to get hopping. We need to find that damned thing Albus is looking for before he decides to come back and find it himself.”

Back to index


Chapter 15: Very Very Wrong

Author's Notes:

Wow! Even I have to admit that (as the title may suggest) this chapter does not quite end on a cutesy/fluffy note. Please do remember the old "sunshine after rain" business, though.

The Boadicea speech fragments are from Cassius Dio's text, and the T.S. Eliot stanza is from "The Hollow Men" (inspired by the distinctly uninspiring end to Guy Fawkes's gunpowder plot).

Anyway, my calendar tells me that it's taken nearly two weeks to produce the chapter, but I've actually been slaving quite diligently at it. Next chapter will be require some careful thought, but I have a strong impetus to not want to keep readers hanging on the cliff so hopefully I can deliver on a reasonable time frame.

Note that when the challenge call went out, I was a bit torn because the latest Apparition call would have worked well for completing the 'Fuddle Fog' trilogy... but I decided that there was enough interest in Splinters to not want to keep readers waiting while I crunched through a completely different story. If you think I erred in the decision, please don't hesitate to flame me -- it's the only way I learn ;)


Quick update: Good weekend of writing; may have the next chapter ready by Friday if things continue to go well!


Chapter 15. Very Very Wrong (August 16, 1995)

Hermione burst out of bed, and opened the door a crack.

Sirius was on the other side. He was unshaven, he had rumpled hair and clothing, and his breath was somewhat questionable, but the man's eyes looked alert, and his mouth was already in gear. “Great, you're already up! So, the way I see it…”

Hermione's finger shot to her lips; she shushed him as effectively as she could without actually making more noise than he was. She took a step back and beckoned him in.

Sirius entered, silently and quizzically. He glanced around and froze, seeing Ginny peacefully asleep. “Oops. I didn't mean to…”

“Ssshhhh!”

Sirius closed his mouth and shrugged resignedly.

Hermione turned to face Ginny; she watched her sleeping friend conflictedly for a moment, then raised a thumbnail to her teeth and chewed it anxiously. Finally Hermione's resolution took hold and she approached the girl and knelt by the side of her bed. “Ginny…?”

Ginny's face remained placid and still; she didn't even make the slightest stirring.

Hermione's face scrunched slightly. For a moment she made as if to stand again, but then changed her mind, and continued whispering. “Ginny, we don't have much time. Can we show Sirius the, uh, thing?”

Ginny continued to lie undisturbed, breathing softly.

Hermione bit her lip and huffed softly.

Sirius smirked slightly. “Reckon she's a mite tired out. Up late with someone I know?”

Hermione shook her head with an annoyed look on her face. Finally she reached over and laid her hand on Ginny's blanket. After a slight hesitation, she tugged it down a bit to expose her room mate's hands.

Ginny's left hand was wrapped tightly around the brooch; its silver glinting slightly in the low, predawn light.

Sirius frowned. He came a bit closer, but stopped a few feet short, as if not wanting to intrude on a sleeping girl's privacy. He squinted curiously. “What is that thing?”

Hermione pulled the blanket back up to its normal level and rose to her feet, turning to face Sirius. “I'm not completely sure. I know it's an old brooch from Roman times. I know that it's magical, it's very important to them and it seems to give them dreams of the past or the future. They've never told me much beyond that, but I know that Ginny and Harry have been taking a lot of notes on it.”

Sirius raised an eyebrow. “Okay. So you figure that thing is what we're… I mean, what Albus is… looking for?”

Hermione nodded.

“And where are these… research notes?”

Hermione jabbed her thumb toward the door. “I think they've left everything important in a drawer inside the old escritoire in the library.”

Sirius pursed his lips for a moment then nodded in reply. “Okay. Shall we do a bit of swotting then, Granger?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. Several seconds later, she had a bath robe wrapped around herself and was making her way up the corridor with Sirius in tow. As their footsteps receded into the distance, a slight stirring sound issued from the corner of the closed bedroom they had just vacated, and an elderly man with a long grey beard and half moon glasses materialised.

Whether from subconscious premonition, or from something in her dreams, the sleeping girl tensed. Albus Dumbledore gazed down at her with a look of vague disappointment in his eyes. Approaching her, he pulled out his wand, and reached for the frill of her blanket.

Exhausted from the long foot journey, the princess had slept for much of their time in the currach, letting the Publican take care of the piloting. Now that they had emerged into the flat meadows near the uplands of the River Nene, she had awakened and was indeed now very alert and engaged. In fact, without noticing it, her hands were gripping the sides of the small vessel, white-knuckled in nervous anticipation.

The Publican leaned over and laid a hand upon one of hers. LanossŽa glanced back and smiled, but her tension didn't subside. Her smile fading, she nodded slightly toward the northwest. “This is the Romans' chosen site, is it not? There are several grey plumes on the horizon.”

The Publican nodded. “Yes, this fits all that we have heard thus far. By way of the road, we would now be roughly five leagues north of Lactodurum. West of the road near here there is a ring of hills surrounding a marshy depression. I believe that Paulinus plans to lure your mother into it and pen her forces in.”

“Lure?” The princess frowned for a moment. “A small Roman force will bait her along? Draw her into the trap?”

“Yes.” The Publican paused for a moment to survey the waterway. Finding the upstream water unexpectedly low, he sought a place to beach their craft, sighting a gravel shoal that looked solid enough to walk on.

He turned his attention back to his companion. “Yes, that is my belief. When we noticed larger, heavier Roman units moving north, while a smaller, agile Roman unit moved south, I sensed a strategy. The small unit I believe to be the quick Roman mice, and I am guessing they will try to entice the Briton cats into a narrow den of hungry Roman bears.”

As the Publican landed their currach quietly and grappled for a nearby branch to brace them, LanossŽa contemplated the scenario. Her eyes widened as she stepped carefully out into the ankle-deep stream, then she nodded. “Ah! A fine strategy. I fear that Mother is unlikely to descry such a gambit in time to avoid the trap. The Iceni are versed with charging upon the open battlefield and thrusting silently from the undergrowth, but I don't believe we have ever blended the two. Yet despite this, I should wonder that Diras would not be more cautious. Might he not restrain Mother from striding boldly into disaster?”

The Publican shrugged as he disembarked. “Diras may exercise caution, although forget not that his greatest skills were in leading scores of men, not scores of thousands. His head may swell with the size of the force. After all, the ox is less wary than the fox.”

The princess grinned. “Your world is such a merry menagerie, Terna. Oxen, foxes, mice, cats and bears? And what exactly are we? Playful otters splashing about every stream in Britannia?”

The Publican laughed. “We may hope for such a merry future, Lano. But for now we must be the sly lynxes, stalking a certain grey rat.”

And so, the two self-proclaimed 'sly lynxes' made their way westward through an oak and willow carr. For the first ten minutes of walking, a brisk breeze masked any surrounding noises, but suddenly they pulled up short, both hearing voices at the same time.

The princess angled an ear toward the noise and frowned. “Romans.”

The Publican nodded. “Yes. On the road, I would guess. If so, we are closer to our destination than I might have believed.”

They both disillusioned themselves and began to make their way upwards through the underbrush toward a bright patch on the wooded horizon that signified an open pace. It was clearly busy with human activity; before even leaving the woodland cover, the Publican and princess had already begun to spot flashes of red tunics going to and fro. They paused to listen.

“… axes to hack it up, and throw the wheels and shards into the bushes. There's hardly the time to repair every broken wheel, Naevius. Besides, we'll soon be awash in Britons' carts for the taking.”

“Eh, but what about the crates? Praefectus castrorum has paid already good money for them. Surely we won't wish to leave sixty Aurei worth of medicines, surgical tools and bandages lying here for the barbarians, do we?”

“Don't be simple. Have your driver ride up to the castrum and ask someone to bring down a fresh wagon. Just get your carcass off the road — Postumius wants everything clean, empty and quiet down here by sundown.”

“Aye then! Valens, take the horse and follow the trail up to camp. Scaevola and I will dismantle the cart.”

The Publican and princess crept carefully out of the bushes to observe the gathering as it broke apart — three tradesmen set about cleaning up the wreckage of a collapsed cart, while an officer in uniform (the Publican recognized his colours as those of an administrator — a Tribunus angustsiclavius ) turned and strode north along the road to intercept another wagon.

One of the tradesmen cut a pony free of the tangled harness, quickly saddled the pack animal and rode quickly down the road a short distance, soon veering onto a path leading uphill, westward off the road. After watching the man's progress for a moment, the Publican reached for LanossŽa's invisible hand. He gently tugged it, urging her to follow.

Immediately off the road, the first roughly hundred feet of path looked quite unusual. A five foot width of sod had been carefully cut away from the trail bed and stacked to the side, and the remaining surface has been lined with flat slate, almost like a miniature road. Where shrubs and small trees had recently stood in the path's progress, they had not been hacked down, but had instead been meticulously uprooted, and their stems leaned against the sod.

Once they were out of earshot of the Romans, the princess leaned toward the Publican. “What do you make of the path? It seems normal for the Romans to take care in building roadways, but I have never known them to lovingly preserve any plants and trees in their way.”

By the look on the Publican's face, it was clear that he had been contemplating the same question. He gazed around for a moment, then observed further up the trail that the construction changed dramatically. As the route moved into a thicket that shrouded it from view of the road, the path was beaten into the plain ground, and downed saplings had been tossed carelessly off to the side. He smiled wryly. “I think, Lano, that by morning tomorrow, all of the lowest stretch of trail is simply going to disappear — almost without a trace. The fox leaves no trail to spook the hare.”

“But of course.” LanossŽa sighed. “This fellow Paulinus has been battling the western tribes for too long, Terna. He is beginning to think with the hard edge of an Ordovice, or the wily malice of a Silure.”

“That he is.” The Publican nodded. “He grows more cunning by the year.”

The path progressed upwards through elm, birch and poplar trees, steadily gaining in elevation. Although the trail was heavily beaten down, it was no longer heavily trafficked, indicating that the Roman orders to phase out transportation on the road below them were generally being heeded.

After fifteen minutes of fairly peaceful walking, the route crested a ridge and leveled off. Spotting a raised glade off the path, they both instinctively made for it and, after a minute's scrutiny, the princess had located a tall, well-branched tree suitable for climbing. She pulled herself nimbly upwards until she had surpassed the height of most of the surrounding woods.

Reveling in the beautiful weather, LanossŽa paused for a moment in her lofty vantage. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, letting the fresh breeze run free through her hair… then returned to her task. Facing the southeast from which they had come, she scanned the surroundings. Along that direction, she saw little out of the ordinary — a grey ribbon of road carving its way through the scrub and grasslands. The most noteworthy observation was that the southerly route was preternaturally quiet — not a single traveler could be seen along the entire visible stretch. Turning her gaze further east, her eyes registered patches of deeper green which suggested the presence of various waterways intersecting the Nene, the only other evidence of which was the occasional glint of sky shining on its trickling surface. There were no signs of boat travel or distant campfires.

Then she grasped a higher branch and swiveled herself around to face the other direction... and her eyes widened.

Deep brown scars against the greenery were obvious in the northern reaches of the Nene — a prodigious diversion of much of the river's flow away from the natural stream bed, directed instead into channels that lay behind man-made dykes which flanked a trough of rolling grasslands that formed a natural bowl off to the northwest. Along the ridges that encircled this grassy hollow on three sides were earthen defenses — primitive battlements which seemed to be strategically situated behind convenient stands of trees. She immediately concluded that the configuration would most likely be well hidden from down below — likely undetectable from the lowland vantages of the valley, and from other points to the east.

With a deepening frown on her face, the princess braced herself against the tree trunk and angled herself due west. This horizon was dominated by a large Roman encampment, not far from which was an old Celtic hill fort onto which the Romans appeared to have expended some major efforts enthusiastically refurbishing.

LanossŽa stared in awe at all of the artificial constructs scarring the landscape. She took another several minutes to carefully survey the layout of the various constructions, then finally clambered down.

The Publican had an expectant look on his face. “What did you see?”

The princess whistled softly through her teeth. “Do your Romans even fight with swords, Terna? Is it instead with earth and stones and water that they do battle? The lands ahead of us are no sane battlefield — the meadows look like a Gwyddbwyll board in which every fourth square has been pitted, pockmarked or piled high against us."

"Yes, such is the Roman way if they are given the opportunity to prepare." The Publican grasped her hand and paused pensively. "Please tell me everything that you saw, Lano. But first let us get a bit closer. It is time to spy on these busy builders."

Over the course of a busy afternoon, the Publican and princess reconnoitred most of high ridge, ultimately focusing their greatest attention on the area around the hill fort and nearby military encampment. The primary castrum occupied a high flat meadow near the southwest corner of the ridge. It was comprised of rudimentary earthen fortifications surrounding a sea of tents of the sort likely to house auxiliaries and most of the standard infantry of the Legiones XIV and XX. A quarter mile to the west lay the hill fort. Perched imposingly upon the highest hill of the ridge, the fort's new stone work looked distinctly inelegant, but the result was highly practical — strong, thick walls that would pose huge challenges to any attacking force, let alone an army of Britons whose hasty assembly and mobilisation was unlikely to have afforded them the luxury of advanced siege engines. The Publican surmised, based on the impregnable nature of the edifice, that it was likely intended as a praetorium (command centre), and as a possible fall-back location for lesser troops in the event of a severe setback in battle.

Making their way around the high ridge from the castrum and praetorium, the Publican and princess gazed down into the hollow below, trying to imagine how the battle would likely unfold. Walking quietly, always under disillusionment, they approached fairly close to several of the crude semicircular earth walls that had been arranged semi-regularly around the ridge. Confirming LanossŽa's original assessments, they saw that these fortifications were visually obscured from the valley, and concluded that they were almost certainly intended to give cavalry a degree of cover. Both the Publican and princess were versed with cavalry tactics, and saw clearly the brutal element of surprise that the Romans had crafted — every alignment was honed to permit deadly forces to lurk completely unseen, ready at a moment's notice to charge down into battle in the valley, or to cut off any possible attempts by the Britons to escape up the steep hillsides to the north, west or south. Under this configuration, the only viable exit potentially left to the Britons would be along the path that led them into the trap in the first place, via the eastern mouth of the hollow — which the Romans obviously intended (undoubtedly at the worst possible moment) to flood with waters redirected from the Nene and various other local streams.

Walking just east of the ridge along the boundary between the western woods and the expansive meadow that covered the bowl, the Publican and princess came to a halt, finding a fallen tree trunk to rest upon as they once again surveyed the valley. LanossŽa gazed at the lengthening evening shadows that had begun to fill the hollow. She sighed. "Well, we know where we are. We likely know what these cagey Romans are planning and perhaps we can even guess how and from where Mother shall enter the battle... but whither the Legate? We have neither seen nor heard anything to suggest he is truly here."

"Yes, whither...?" The Publican gazed southward toward the rebuilt hill fort that hda become a praetorium, partly visible through the mid-level branches of a tall pine tree at the edge of the woods. He lifted her disillusioned hand to gesture toward the imposing structure. "I don't believe he is up there."

"Not hiding behind a thick stone wall as he did in Camulodunum and Camboricum? Do you give him credit for some courage, Terna?"

The Publican chuckled softly. "No, I merely guess it would take him more courage to show his face within those walls than to skulk about, invisibly, somewhere else on the grounds."

The princess gave him an inquiring look.

The Publican smiled. "I do not believe that he has ever met Paulinus. The Legate arrived in the southeast of Britannia only after the Proconsul left for his war in Wales, and never before have both come within the same region before. But although they have likely not met, I am certain they both know of each other; if the gossip I heard in Verulamium was to believed, the Proconsul might well want the Legate clapped in irons and shipped back to Rome... or to Hell, perhaps."

"Oh? For starting a needless second war in the island before the first was won, perhaps?" The princess sounded distinctly amused. "So what sweet news did those chatty Verulamium townsfolk have to offer on the matter?"

The Publican cleared his throat. "Well, the rumour I heard was that as your mother marched upon Londinium, Procurator Decianus was already fleeing in disgrace to Gaul by the southern via, handing all administrative responsibility and commensurate blame to his most trusted advisor."

"The Legate? "

"Exactly." The Publican's gaze shifted east again. "I suspect that the Legate's administrative career is over... but he still has his own task to fulfill. I know that we had hoped to find, strewn somewhere within Paulinus's many devious machinations, a sign that the Legate had added his own little trap to the mix. I'm certain that he has something planned, but perhaps he is lying low, and will remain that way until the time is right."

She nodded. "He will wait until Mother is here?"

"Yes, I assume so. In that case, if he is being subtle and secretive, perhaps we too must wait quietly."

The princess rose to her feet. "We must wait, perhaps, but we must not dawdle. We may still make our own preparations, yes? We need decide upon a place of refuge to spend the coming night without fear of lumbering Romans tromping upon us; a place we can return to in the event that we ever get separated."

"Exactly." The Publican stood and grasped her hand. "Was that wooded hill to your liking? The one up above, half a mile west of the encampments?"

"Yes, most certainly. It is quiet and well removed from Roman paths. It is not too distant from the battlefield, and upon the branches of the tallest trees, I can see from there even down to the road and the Nene. Perhaps the last crucial task before nightfall is to define our own secret path back to it."

The Publican nodded and gazed around the horizon analytically. He gradually settled his eyes to the northwest, facing a thick stand of pines that towered dark against the dimming sky. Slowly, thoughtfully, he raised her hand. "Straight up through these trees. The branches are too low for cavalry to ride through, and the steep slope will hinder heavily armed infantry from using it, but the way is clear enough for two sly lynxes to prowl under the cover of dusk or the heat of battle."

LanossŽa squeezed his hand. "So it be, my love. Let us map the way, and retire to our latest humble den."

The light grew dark early under the heavy shade of thick pine trees, but they made their way slowly and methodically up the slope, stopping every hundred feet to cast subtle 'memento mei ' spells on the occasional rock or stump, giving them the cues to retrace their way, even in pitch blackness or in a state of blind confusion. Once they had crested the ridge, the dense pine stand gave way to thinner deciduous trees and the long eastern shadows were replaced by purplish glimmers marking the final throes of what must have been a spectacular sunset.

A while later, as gloaming fell in earnest, their feet felt the ground soften as they descended. The spongey earth soon became wet as they encountered a small spring that led upwards to the southwest, straight to their destination — a hilltop adorned with an unusual outcropping of jagged grey stones that they could recognize even in the darkness. Immediately beyond the outcrop lay their refuge — a placid stand of high oak and chestnut trees.

With neither flame nor lamp for comfort, two weary travelers huddled together for long enough to eat some berries and dried meat. Letting the princess curl herself into the blanket beside him, the Publican remained awake for a while, gazing in fascination at a series of lights that flickered faintly from the east. Once the signals faded, he settled into the place ar her side, drifting off to sleep as fog swept down to shroud the skies.

Everything was totally black.

Something was clearly but undefinably wrong. Harry could see nothing — not even his own hand in front of his face.

For that matter, he couldn't actually even feel his hand...

"Can you hear me, Gin'?"

Harry heard a soft breath coming from somewhere in the void... and then a very welcome voice. "Yes, Harry."

"Are you in total darkness too?"

"Yes." Her voice was growing noticeably fainter; more distant.

"Do you have any idea why?"

There was a long pause in which Harry imagined (or at least hoped) that Ginny was thinking. She was.

"I don't know. I guess it's some kind of dream." Her reply was so faint that Harry could barely make it out, even without any other competing noise.

When Ginny spoke again, her first words were too soft and remote to for him to discern... then her voice faded out entirely.

"Can you still hear me, Gin'?"

No response.

"Ginny?? Can you hear me?!"

No response.

Harry's non-existent head swam. Obviously they were dreaming. Weren't they? They seemed to both be experiencing this strange isolation equally, right?

He had a dreadful thought.

What if they were both suddenly... failing to exist?

But how could that be? Disaster hadn't somehow struck them, had it? Matters were far from resolved, but he and Ginny had been working well toward any challenges they'd faced. The same was true for the Publican and the princess. Besides, wasn't it so obvious that they cared far too much for each other and for the world around them to ever fail like this?

Had he been wrong?

Had Malfoy cast some spell? Twisted some knife? Had he outmaneuvered them? Moved his nefarious plan along too quickly for them to catch up?

Bloody hell — is it all over?!

Harry had never cared much for literature, but he somehow found himself recalling the voice of an old school mistress reciting the immortal (if repetitive) words of T.S. Eliot.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

A horrific ache settled upon him. Part of Harry's conscience could not help but agonise over the thousands and thousands of lives that would be ruined — not because he hadn't tried to save them, but because mere trying had not been enough. All of the immense effort and strain — his and Ginny's both — seemed to have fallen short.

They had failed.

Another major portion of Harry's psyche suddenly found itself wondering if this outcome might truly have been inevitable all along? They were merely two teens, neither of them through their basic magical education; neither of them even of age. They were battling the strength and wills of grown men, some of whom were powerful; some actually fairly intelligent.

Perhaps even Voldemort himself had somehow acted to secure an elusive revenge he had lusted for so long?

How could Harry have hoped to stand firm against such brutal strength? How could he not have known last June, sobbing on the Quidditch pitch with a dead Cedric Diggory in his arms, that Voldemort, or one of his powerful followers, would somehow find a way to end this. Harry had been brave and lucky for years, but surely he was always merely just forestalling an inescapable fate. Failure and death.

Not with a bang but a whimper

An icy desolation creeping over him, Harry felt himself drifting downward, falling from nowhere to nowhere, two parts of his own soul battling each other with two different flavours of the same despair... until despair itself slumped into a weary heap.

Yet as those two voices wore each other down into tepid silence, a third articulation gave a slight cough. It was soft and unassuming, but the voice that Harry heard — the memory of his own simple declaration from not so long ago — was anything but meek.

They'll try to drive us apart, Gin'… but we'll hold on. I'll never let go.”

Harry thought about that resolute statement. It had been spoken with pure heart and conviction, but how could he possibly live up to that promise, now that...

“I know, Harry. And I'll always find you.”

Harry gasped!

That response! Had he actually heard it, or was it just a memory? An old echo of his mind?

Maybe he just had to believe! Maybe Harry simply had to trust that he and Ginny would be the ones who would always find a way!

Harry decided that the answers would come in knowing that Ginny truly had spoken to him; that she had answered him; that the two of them could truly promise to always be there for each other and keep that vow — no matter what other forces came to bear on them.

Now he merely had to test his belief; to confirm it. But how?

The only tools that Harry had to work with in this bizarre dream-void were his mind, his hearing and his voice. Maybe he should just call out to Ginny?

But what if she really isn't there to answer?

Sometimes one just has to believe, right?

Harry pushed aside fear and built a great hope. He spoke the first, most natural, words he could find.

“I love you Ginny.”

“I love you too Harry.”

There was a slight sniffle… and in the darkness, Harry felt a hand on his arm; a cheek pressing itself against his chest; soft hair brushing up beneath his chin; a subtle aroma of blossoms…

Harry pulled Ginny tightly to himself with one arm. Once again, as if prepared for a waltz, he found that they had embraced with one hand each (his right; her left) extended and clasped together.

A soft pulsing glow came from their hands.

Harry released a deep sigh of relief. They were together; they had not been driven apart. He took a moment to calm himself, then whispered, “Do you know what just happened?”

Ginny was shivering slightly and inhaled a ragged breath. “I don't know. A test perhaps?”

A long silence ensued as Harry wondered what sort of test it might have been; what strength it was meant to assay. Finally he decided to just accept the outcome. "Er, well... We passed, I reckon."

Ginny nodded. She pulled herself closer, resolving silently once again, somehow, to never let go.

Both Harry and Ginny slept significantly later than the Romans to their east. They awoke to a grey mist of indeterminate hour, roused only when heedless sparrows began foraging for seeds mere inches from their faces.

Their arms still wrapped around each other, the two protagonists struggled to a sitting position as the birds flitted off in startled agitation.

Ginny gazed about the quiet, wet woodland vista disorientedly. "Where are we?"

Harry groaned slightly. "Up somewhere in the Midlands, right? Sure as hell isn't Grimmauld Place."

The damp woolen blanket slipped from Ginny's shoulder. She stared in surprise at her own taut muscles emanating from the tunic she wore. "How strange, Harry. This..." She flexed her arm demonstratively. "This is the princess's body, but she's not really here, even though we're in ancient Britain. I'm really just me."

"Same for me and the Publican, right? Do you see lots of grey hairs?" Harry's eyes glanced upwards, trying to see the fringe of his own hair. "Just like for you and the princess, the Publican isn't really here, but I can sort of hear him. Just the occasional message, as if from a distance."

"Oh?" Ginny regarded Harry quizzically. "So what is he saying..."

"Er, well..." Harry blushed slightly. "Right now, he's kind of reminding me that the princess, or at least her body, needs taking care of."

Uncomprehending, Ginny gazed for a moment at the man who looked like an attractive, middle-aged Harry, watching as he decoupled himself from her and used his wand to fill a flagon with water. She was about to ask him what he had meant by 'taking care of', when a familiar acrid sensation lodged itself suddenly in her esophagus. "Oh shite." She gulped, and nodded vigourously. "You can make the morning tonic?"

"After a fashion, yes." Harry was reaching for a small pouch containing dried leaves when he noticed the urgency in her face. He hastily cast several pinches of the mixture into the flagon, heated it instantly with one of the Publican's thermal spells, and handed it to her. "Here, try this. It's not our usual recipe — I think it has raspberry leaves and a couple of other herbs. I hope it works."

After testing the temperature with her finger, Ginny dashed it back quickly, ignoring its grassy, somewhat bitter taste. The clenched feeling in her chest released immediately and she sighed in relief. Then she leaned over and kissed her thoughtful companion.

Harry settled in against her, still feeling somewhat disoriented. "Okay, that's one thing taken care of... but I wonder why we're us — why we're you and me?"

Ginny gazed off into the mist for a moment. "Well, I suppose it might mean that this last battle is ours, yeah? We're the ones who are supposed to know what needs to be done to save our own future, right? The princess and the Publican signed off on the Iceni Rebellion some time ago; they got us to this point, they set their own future on the line so that you and I could get our chance to thwart Malfoy, but it seems perfectly natural that the final actions would be left to us."

Harry nodded. "I suppose so — we're the ones who started this mess, so we should be the ones to finish it. I only wish I knew what it was that we really had to do."

"Watch and wait. Trust ourselves." Ginny shrugged and peered up at what little of the grey sky showed against the lightly dripping leaf cover. "Bloody fog — I wonder what time it is?"

"I don't know. I guess at this point, time is a bit irrelevant until the queen arrives."

Ginny pulled herself to her feet. "Right. Would you reckon that to be tomorrow morning?"

Harry pursed his lips. "The Romans over in the camps would probably have a rough idea. In the darkness last night, the Publican saw lights. He assumed they're using the praetorium tower as a link in the beacon chain, and likely are receiving regular news regarding the the queen's progress."

Ginny gazed eastward in the impenetrable gloom. "Well, maybe now we know a useful thing to do while we wait — see what the Romans are up to; listen to what they're saying?"

"Yes, good plan. But should we have a bite first?" Harry stood up as well and glanced dubiously at the meager bundle that the Publican had been carrying. "Errr, some leftover reedmace roots?"

Ginny's face was distinctly unenthusiastic. "No, let's chew on knowledge first. Once we've filled our heads for a bit, maybe we can use our friends' hunting instincts to find ourselves some game; maybe lurk behind a seclusion ward and roast a real meal?"

Harry grinned appreciatively at his true love. He knew that it was an incredible amount to ask from her, but he loved how Ginny so often found ways to keep him grounded. Without losing the steely edge required to confront peril and an unknown fate, it seemed to him that no matter how close Ginny got to the encroaching moment of crisis, she was almost always still able to bring him back to homey, comforting thoughts.

They walked in silence for a while until they found the spring head from which arose the trickle that marked the route down to find the first of the magical pathmarkers that the Publican and princess had installed the previous night.

Making their way down through the pine woods on the west side of the hollow, Harry and Ginny began hearing ample evidence of vigourous activity, especially the eerie, fog-amplified sound of hundreds of men shouting slogans in unison. The choral shouts were then punctuated by the occasional lone call of a Centurion barking out commands or admonitions.

Emerging into open but misty air below the lip of the valley, they could discern numerous century-sized groups of infantry clustered in various spots just above the base of the depression. Each group, seemed to be proceeding according to its own unique set of assignments. Some centuries were carrying out coordinated maneuvers (sometimes on their own and sometimes coupled with multiple groups), while others worked on simple weapons-oriented techniques. Still others seemed to be reviewing commands or battle tactics.

Ginny stared wide-eyed. "Muggle fighters practise working together? They're acting like, well, rather like Quidditch squads."

Harry nodded silently as they watched the crisp, coherent responses of what the Publican would have recognized as the elite first cohort from Paulinus's own Legio XIV Gemina.

Ginny shook her head. "I know it's one thing to hear mad tales from Sirius, but if you listen to accounts from Mad-eye and even Professor Lupin, it's clear that if you're in the Order of the Phoenix, the focus is all on the individual. You may learn all kinds of complicated defensive and offensive spells, but as soon as you go into action you're on your own. You might cover a friend here and there, but it never sounds as though people actually plan how to work together."

"That's true, isn't it?" Harry stroked his chin pensively. "The Romans make it look so natural how wedges and flanks work. They force their soldiers to enshrine the functional differences between their different units, so everyone knows his own role."

Harry stopped to watch several dozen soldiers practising a Testudo advance — the entire group covered in front and on top by a perfect lattice of shields, out of which the only protrusions were a hedge hog's worth of sharp spears. He shook is head in wonderment. "Wow! I wonder one could ever get wizards and witches to subscribe to teamwork like that for defensive magic?"

"What's that you said, Harry?" Ginny winked at him. "You wonder if you should teach the rest of us teamwork like that for defensive magic?"

Harry rolled his eyes at her twisted words... but he was still stroking his chin as the pair disillusioned themselves and began to climb southwards toward the praetorium.

As they ascended, holding hands to avoid separation, they both spotted two men in elaborate uniforms walking toward each other; both carefully observing the exercises. Harry sensed (likely from his vague perception of the Publican's knowledge) that they were senior officers of the Tribune rank.

Sensing that the officers might be useful sources of information, Harry and Ginny approached them as noiselessly as possible and listened to the conversation in progress.

"... complete the exercises at the evening horn. At which point all cohorts are to report to the castra for a meal and rest."

"To the castra? So the Prefectus does not wish for the men to spend the night in their assigned positions?"

"No, the Britons will not be close enough to attack until early morning, so the Prefectus desires that the troops be rested. A silent signal will circulate to the camps two hours before sunrise. All men are requested to arm themselves and be in position no later than one hour before the sun. Our decoy cohort will attempt to pull the Britons into the valley shortly before the first rays touch the hillsides."

"Ehmmm... Pardon the foolish question, but will there actually be any rays touching the hilltops? It is all so very grey here!"

"Ha! A fine observation Horatius! Indeed no, by decree of the Proconsul, tomorrow shall lack either rays or shine. We shall do battle beneath a dark and dreary sky — chill and damp to quench the fire of the demon lady."

"By decree of the Proconsul? Lord Paulinus controls now even the skies above our heads."

"Well no." The man's voice dropped to a whisper, just on the edge of Harry's hearing. The senior Tribunus jabbed a subtle thumb toward the tallest of the praetorium's towers. "The skies may not heed directly the voice of our Proconsul... but it seems they are bent to the will of that cheerful fellow."

With a chill spiking along Harry's neck, his eyes tracked toward the hill fort's highest peak, coming to rest upon a solitary figure cloaked all in black, whose silhouette rose above the parapet, facing obliquely away.

With a wand extended outwards, the man on the tower seemed to be concentrating intently on something distant, focusing away down near the mouth of the valley. In the very instant that Harry set eyes upon him, however, the tall dark figure on the tower seemed to stiffen. He turned abruptly, raised his hooded, unseen face upward toward the sky, as if he had heard something, or felt something; as if he was suddenly listening... sensing...

Harry's blood ran cold; he felt his backbone and knees, and even his brain, begin to lock up from some undefined apprehension.

Ginny hissed under her breath and tugged Harry's hand.

Morbidly fascinated by the mysterious display, Harry barely even noticed.

Ginny yanked hard on Harry's arm. Caught by surprise, he gasped audibly — loudly enough to attract a sudden confused glance from of one of two Tribuni.

Fortunately the officer's confusion did not matter. By the time the soldier's puzzled eyes had spied a rustling bush that Harry and Ginny had disturbed, the two teens were running like mad, back along the wooded edge of the hollow. They didn't stop until they had returned, wheezing, to their woodland refuge.

Under the protection of their seclusion wards, Harry canceled his disillusionment charm and doubled over, hands resting on his knees. Seeing Ginny reappear nearby, he gazed blearily at her, trying to catch his breath. "Wh... why did y... you run, G... Gin'?"

A blend of the day's mist and her own perspiration was streaming down her forehead. She looked at Harry. "What do you mean, why did I run? You were running too!"

"I was worried you might pull my arm out of its socket."

Ginny stared at him for a moment... then gazed down at her feet sheepishly. "Oh, I guess I did pull a little hard. Sorry."

Harry shook his head. "Don't worry about that. I just wanted to know what spooked you? I mean, other than the fact that it was Antioch Peverell up in that tower."

Ginny chewed her lip. "Harry, that man creeps me out! He can see through your disillusionment."

"Okay, that's a good point." Harry nodded. "But I think he can't sense me quite as well as he does the Publican."

"Thank Merlin for that!" Ginny began to pace. "Regardless, I don't want to mess with him if there's any way to avoid it. He wants us dead every bit as much as Malfoy does, even if it's for different reasons. Historically, he's not supposed to succeed in killing us... or I mean, at least we know he's not supposed to succeed in killing the princess, but, well..." She gave Harry a pained look. "I'm just worried that perhaps you and I fouled things up, Harry. We dragged the princess and Publican all the way up here when they would have been just as happy living out the rest of their lives peacefully in the woods of Norfolk. Wouldn't it be awful to find out that we hauled them here to stop Malfoy, only to give Antioch a chance to kill off your line instead?!"

Harry had glanced only the barest split second toward Ginny when he saw the full depth of doubt and anguish in her eyes. He stepped forward and caught her in his arms. "Thank you, Gin'! Thank you for thinking on your feet and getting us out of there. I... For some reason, I wasn't thinking about any of that. But we won't let it happen, okay?"

Nodding slightly, she slumped into him. Harry could feel the exhaustion and worry pouring off her. He knew then that, for all her strength, the strain of oscillating emotions and constant barrage of perils striking them from three different time periods was taking its toll; beginning to corrode the extraordinary resilience she had shown.

For an indeterminate time, Harry merely held her close, stroking her hair gently, humming a peaceful tune softly into her ear.

Without letting go, he cast a drying charm on the Publican's blanket that, in their earlier haste, they had left lying in the morning drizzle. Suitably straightened, they settled quietly down onto it, side by side with Ginny leaning her head against his shoulder.

Ginny flexed her fingers and sighed. "Things are far too tricky out there right now. I think we should stay out of harm's way until the battle starts."

Harry nodded as he put his arm back around her. "Yes, I agree. We've learned almost everything we could have hoped to. We never figured out where Malfoy is and what he's planning — but I'm convinced he'll lie as low as possible. The only thing we're likely to get from more prowling right now is trouble from Antioch."

Ginny rubbed her cheek against him as she nodded. Her voice was soft; barely audible. "Thanks."

"And the only thing that might roust me from our nice little sanctuary..." Harry paused for a moment to nestle his cheek in Ginny's hair. "... is food. I thought I saw a beautiful raspberry patch about a hundred feet west of the wards."

Ginny pulled back just enough to gaze up at Harry. Her eyes were twinkling and a wand had found its way into her hand. "Harry, have you ever heard of... Accio berries? "

For their quiet day alone in the misty woods, Harry and Ginny found themselves temporarily exiled both from the mundane real world of Grimmauld Place and from the gripping drama gearing up around them in the ancient hills of Northamptonshire. Without knowing of any other final preparations they could (or should) be concerned with, they opted simply to take one more (perhaps one last) opportunity to cherish their time together. Many teens their age would have been able to experience countless casual summer afternoons with few cares in the world other than enjoying each other's company, but very little of Harry's or Ginny's life had ever resembled such frivolity. Perhaps it was not yet too late.

For these rare, treasured hours, they had sworn off all conversations about an impending Roman-era battle. No mention was to be made of a mysterious brooch. They would forget any prospect of a future showdown between the forces of light and dark magic. If this didn't leave many other natural choices of conversation, that was all for the better... since they were able to find other, very happy, wordless ways to put aside their worries.

It is thus not surprising that as the dim daylight gradually waned to nondescript dusk and onwards into darkness, Harry and Ginny remained most contentedly together, ensconced in folds of the Publican's rough woolen blanket, wrapped within each other's arms; bound by each other's gentle breaths and embracing souls. It was in precisely that position that they found themselves, much later, when the horns sounded.

Their eyes fluttered open and saw... nothing. The morning was early, and it was still pitch black. Although charms had kept them comfortable, the air about them was still distinctly wet. A light drizzle on the leaves above gave a soft, undulating rhythm that, under any other circumstances, might have lulled them back to sleep.

Not today, however. The gentle background hum could not compete with the distant noise of hoarse cheers and shouts, and another round of horns... The distant din of emerging chaos.

They both leaped to their feet at the same moment, clutching their wands. In the thick gloom, Harry chanced a Lumos spell. Without a word. They set off together down the hill, leaping over the jagged outcrop to locate the spring from which trickled their tiny stream. They raced down the little waterway, somehow managing to not slip in the mud or stumble on the uneven stones.

A short while later, they found the first of their series of magical beacons, pointing them onto, and then over, the ridge. As they careened downwards through the pine woods, they began to see lights bobbing and darting in the distance. Harry extinguished his light and they raced along, almost by feel, heedless of any roots or branches that might (but somehow failed to) trip or snag them.

Hastily disillusioning themselves, they stumbled out of the woods and stared down into the hollow. What they saw seemed very nearly apocalyptic.

A wild horde of savage Britons has streamed into the valley, waving a bizarre assortment of swords, knives, makeshift spears and axes. The bait — a single Roman cohort that had led them headlong into the trap, was dispersing in and around a solid wall of waiting infantry, standing steadfast, protected by rows of long lances.

Unwilling, or unable, to halt their mad rush, the leading vanguard of Celts charged maniacally onwards, falling to the spears and a blistering hail of arrows showering down from Roman archers occupying the high ground.

Agape, Ginny stared aimlessly for a moment, then her gaze narrowed. "Where in all this atrocious mess is the queen?"

Harry frowned; his eyes frantically searched the crowd. Only the nearest portion of the battle was sufficiently illuminated by Roman torches to discern faces, and the queen's tall form and long flaming-red hair were definitely absent. "I don't know, Gin' — she's not in sight. I wonder if some of the Britons ran ahead without waiting for her."

Ginny's head drooped; she massaged her temples. "Idiots! No wonder they're going to lose!"

Harry continued his scan, looking diffusely toward the furthest reaches of vision as the earliest glimmers of predawn began to make faint silhouettes of the surrounding hills. He couldn't see very much, but even in the dim distance he could discern the ominous swirling motion of endless humanity. "Blimey — there are so many of them! There are many many more than we saw at the Fens of Gipping. They can almost afford to be stupid."

"No they can't." Ginny raised her head, chewing her lip in anguish. "It doesn't matter how many Britons are here — it's going to be an utter catastrophe. Pure and complete slaughter. Merlin, why did we ever come here!?"

Harry found her hand and squeezed it. "We came to find the queen, Gin'. There's going to be enough barking insanity here this morning to last a lifetime, but we have to prevent her from doing something... well, something especially insane. We have to stop Malfoy from tricking her into cursing her own line and everything we've ever believed in."

"Yes, of course." Ginny nodded absently. Her backbone straightened and emotion left her face. "I don't think we can afford to just wait for her to come to us, Harry. We have to go down there to find her, and then we'll need to... I don't know... Watch her? Maybe shield her."

Harry scrunched his face as he re-examined the chaos. After a long moment he nodded. "Yes, I'm afraid so. Let's get ourselves closer to the action... but until we find her and figure out what we'll need to do, we had best shield ourselves, right? Wouldn't Voldemort just love it if we managed to get ourselves, and Ignotus Peverell's entire line, bumped off by a stray Roman arrow?"

"Right." Ginny's face took on a steely glint as she cast the princess's best shield charm and took her first step downward, toward the fracas. Moments later, the two of them were making their intrepid, if very cautious, way around the edge of the awful carnage.

On one hand, Harry and Ginny both forced themselves to watch the battle, seeking for any signs of the queen and her entourage, while monitoring the chaos for any sudden shifts in dynamic that could imperil their plans. On the other hand, they attempted, as earnestly as possible, not so see the action itself... for even in these early moments of the battle, the hillside was already growing slick with the blood of real human beings. The life force of real people, blessed with real cares and dreams, was being spilled away by the thrust of cold, callous metal.

At a point when both had begun to doubt whether they could tolerate the ghastly search much longer, Harry's grip on Ginny's invisible hand clenched. "There!" He tugged her hand toward the northeast. "A few hundred yards off! I see chariots!"

Ginny glanced in the direction of Harry's gesture. It took a moment for her eyes to dart around the various distractions, but then she too saw it — a host of several dozen chariots riding hard, but in an orderly formation, forcing a gap within the confused masses of undisciplined Britons. At the head of the formation, visible even by the light of faint distant flares, was the unmistakable mane of fiery red hair streaming, meteorically, back behind the Iceni monarch.

Harry and Ginny began to move instinctively in her direction, entering the fringe of the combat itself.

"Where is she going?" Ginny had to shout over the din, but nobody other than Harry so much as glanced or listened. "It's no use running to where she's been — we need to figure out where she's heading and meet her there!"

They paused and looked around, scanning both for the chariots' trajectory as well as the general shape of the battle. These factors seemed to point to a spot just slightly up from the bottom of the valley's trough — a place that seemed central to the crescent shaped front that had formed between the Roman and Briton forces; a location with enough clear ground for the queen and her chariots to occupy without trampling her own soldiers.

Silently, both Harry and Ginny recognized this apparent eye in the middle of the storm and began running toward it, hand-in-hand. Somehow managing to skirt the worst of the violence, they were able to get past the battlefront and into areas occupied mostly by the Briton forces. Numerous arrows bounced harmlessly off their combined shields; a confused legionary who had lost his cohort ran headlong into the magical shield and fell, dazed, to the ground. Nonetheless, Harry and Ginny both made it together to their destination.

Finding a loose boulder that seemed to naturally dissuade traffic, Harry erected a Muggle repelling charm that he knew from the Publican's repertoire, and the pair stood their ground, breathing raggedly, and scanned the tumultuous sea of swarming Britons, waiting for the queen.

On the breaking of a solstice morning — one in which the oppressive gloom would afford no sun — there was only grey sky and the glint of innumerable torches to illuminate the approaching queen's face, but it nonetheless glistened in dew, perspiration and passion. She raised a hand to slow the chariots' advance, and expertly reined her own vehicle to a halt.

Boadicea gave barely a glance about the circle; instead her eyes locked upon the lone boulder, meeting Ginny's invisible, shocked gaze. Obviously staring straight through the disillusionment charm, the queen pointed to Ginny, then wordlessly, imperiously, gestured to a vacant spot beside Heanua on the royal chariot.

Ginny turned to Harry, half-panicked. "I-I... Harry, what do I do?"

Harry grimaced. "Oh Merlin, Gin'! All the historical accounts state that both daughters stood with her for the great speech. You-you... I think, maybe, that you might need to go."

Harry swept her into a fierce embrace; his eyes misted for a moment, then he blinked them clear. He pulled back slightly. "It's your decision, Gin'. If you don't go then that's fine — maybe it doesn't matter, and we can just wait to see what happens. But if you do go, then I'll be right up next to the chariot, and I swear I will cover you with my life!"

Ginny took a deep breath. "Thank you Harry. I'll go." In an instant of raw passion, she seized her boyfriend's face and met his lips with all of the fire of eternal love...

But of course, in mere seconds, it had to end, and they found themselves racing across the meadow toward the lead chariot.

Near the queen's feet, Harry helped Ginny to mount the cart and Ginny canceled her disillusionment charm. Perspiration streaming down his still-invisible face, Harry began pouring every ounce of his strength into a shield to protect the courageous young woman whom he treasured above anyone or anything else.

Her family arrayed about her, the queen's voice rang out — a sonorous tenor that projected cold and clear about the natural amphitheatre.

"Fellow Britons! You have learned by actual experience how different freedom is from slavery. Hence, although some among you may previously, through ignorance of which was better, have been deceived by the alluring promises of the Romans... "

The fighting ground to a halt. Britons and Romans alike stood, arms at their sides, listening intently as one of history's most famous speeches thundered across the hillsides.

Rigid and unmoving, Ginny's eyes swept the scene, looking for any sign of the Legate... or Malfoy, and whatever unknown trap he might be about to spring. Her gaze still met with no clues, but she somehow knew that it could only be a short time now.

Harry glanced back and forth between Ginny and the more distant surroundings. Despite his distraction, he saw things that none of the Britons seemed to notice — the agitated, impatient rustling of Roman Cavalry spears high up on the hillsides, just barely visible against the gradually brightening sky. He also saw, standing dark upon the praetorium tower, the Romans' secret weapon — the ominous, sinister form of Antioch Peverell. And once again, Harry's blood ran cold, wondering what tricks the prodigious young wizard might be concealing.

Through all this, the queen was continuing to regale her rapt audience.

"... However, even at this late day, though we have not done so before, let us, my countrymen and friends and kinsmen — for I consider you all kinsmen, seeing that you inhabit a single island and are called by one common name — let us, I say, do our duty while we still remember what freedom is... "

The speech seemed almost like a strange, annoying background buzz to Ginny — a distraction from her urgent search for the invisible threat. She felt Boadicea place a hard, distinctly non-maternal hand on her shoulder — a gesture that she supposed the queen intended as a gesture of solidarity. Ginny tolerated the cold affection, put it out of her mind, and searched, scanned, mentally excoriated the rapt faces and hypnotically swaying bodies of so many thousands of friends and foes.

"... Let us, therefore, go against them trusting boldly to good fortune. Let us show them that they are hares and foxes trying to rule over dogs and wolves.

A tremendous, hoarse cry of cheers and shouts arose, deafening Harry as he saw the queen brandish the staff of Scavo high in the air, blasting aloft great bolts of blue flame. Stalwart Roman legions staggered back, aghast at the sudden display of overwhelming supernatural might, but Harry knew it would not go unanswered. He felt a wave of dread pulse through his head like a high pitched klaxon. He saw a plain white flash streak out from the distance, aimed not at the queen or any of her horde of followers, but at levees near the mouth of the hollow.

Harry did not even need to look behind himself to see the low wave of water rush forth, drenching the entire mouth of the hollow, turning it into impassible quagmire, barring the only viable means of escape and snapping shut the Romans' brutal snare. No, Harry did not even glance that way; his every attention remained locked upon the shield he was projecting onto the platform of the chariot — for he was certain that water was not the only weapon Antioch would unleash this morning.

Ginny saw the Britons surge against the Roman lines as a raging chorus of wild hatred erupted everywhere, but she blotted it all out because, just as her instincts had been quietly whispering to her for days, she knew that this was the moment she had been waiting for... or dreading.

Protected from the surrounding lunacy by a glimmering sheen of magical shield, the Legate canceled his disillusionment charm a mere twenty feet away. His lurid grin — and the deadly grey eyes of Lucius Malfoy — seemed crafted solely for Ginny's benefit, even though his wand was pointed at the queen.

A blazing arrow of light sprang forth.

Ginny stared for the briefest moment at Malfoy's hex.

A stunner??

Ginny tried to push her own shield out to encompass the queen... but Boadicea's eyes were already glazing over, and the monarch's powerful legs began to buckle.

At that precise instant, a prodigious pulse of magic shot forth from the tower, and Harry recognized it immediately.

Accio?!

Harry gaped. What was Antioch trying to summon? And why??

Despite his vexation, Harry knew that the answers to those questions didn't matter. What he knew, above all, was he could not let Antioch take the queen. And he absolutely would not let the filthy sod take Ginny! Raging at the appalling thought, Harry's magic merged with the Publican's, and together the distant relatives braced for a horrendous impact of wills.

A pane of golden magical fire licked here inches front of Ginny's face, then subsided. Her shield had managed to push back Malfoy's stunner from herself and from Heanua who was standing at her side. Ginny found herself instinctively ducking down to grab the chariot's reins as they fell from the queen's slackened grip. Ginny's left hand had just closed around the leather strap when everything (the reins, Ginny's hand, her whole body, the entire chariot) lurched! Looking up in bewilderment, Ginny saw everything about her engulfed in a strange white glow; the whole chariot and even the two horses all seemed to be lurching sickeningly forward... upward.

Harry yelled in fury, and a red flame shot from his wand, tangling with the summoning spell that had engulfed the chariot. He watched, terrified yet defiant, for a second as two panicked horses and one wheel lifted slightly off the ground... but from somewhere deep within, Harry's counter-spell pulsed harder. With his last ounce of energy, the Accio spell fell away from the chariot, and the vehicle clattered roughly back to the ground.

His disillusionment spell having fallen by the wayside, Harry met Ginny's eyes as she teetered then regained her footing. Relieved to see that she was unharmed, he flashed her a wide grin in his relief... then froze.

Something was tugging at his own ankles. Harry had the sickening sudden realization that he was six inches off the ground... and rising!

Ginny stared in horror. She dropped her shield spell and tried to assemble a counter-summoning spell. "Accio Harry!!"

Wand leveled, Ginny was just beginning to feel the thrilling surge of magic coursing out to reach him, when her left hand seemed, inexplicably, to burst into scorching pain.

She gasped — it felt almost as if the flesh were being stripped from her fingers!

Still attempting to grapple for her boyfriend, Ginny chanced the briefest glance down at her own left hand. Clutching the reins, trembling slightly, the hand actually looked normal... but the pain kept growing... mounting... to searing agony! And that was when Ginny realized exactly what the problem was.

The brooch!

Many many centuries from now, in a bedroom many miles from here, five sleeping fingers knew that a critical connection was in grave danger. Someone was prying back her desperate grip... trying to steal the brooch!

"Please Professor, not now!"

Trembling; tears streaming from her eyes as she poured all of her fading power into trying to hold Harry, Ginny cried out in frustration and pain. "Professor, I'll explain everything later, but please don't take..."

Ginny's words died in her own ears as she felt herself being torn from the scene.

As if from a great distance, Ginny sensed LanossŽa's presence. Ginny doubted that the princess could do much to stem the disaster of the stolen brooch, but the young Iceni woman still had the presence of mind to act in her own time. The very last impression Ginny had was that of LanossŽa whipping the reins and uttering an urgent command to the horses. Then the final glimmers of Ginny's dream fell away... and all was black and soundless.

Pulled nearly vertical by Antioch's summons, Harry's white fingers clung desperately to a strut above the chariot's wheel... but his last power and strength had drained from him as water from a shattered urn. He tried to look up, one last time, to set eyes upon the one person who meant everything to him.

"Ginny...?"

But Ginny was gone.

Harry's plaintive call faded...

And his dream was no more.

Ron leaped from bed and sprawled onto the floor in a heap of tangled bedclothes. He scrambled madly across the dusty floor and thudded against the other bed.

"Harry??" Ron's shout echoed through the room; through the entire house. "Harry?!!"

Ron stared at his mate's wide sightless eyes. Not knowing what to do, Ron reached back and slapped the rigid face.

Nothing. Harry didn't even blink.

Ron groped for Harry's arm and clasped Harry by the wrist. It was stiff, and clenched as if in great pain... but the wrist was still warm.

Ron clamped his eyes shut and held his breath... trying to focus all his attention on the wrist he was holding. Was it moving? Could be feel anything? Could he feel a...

Yes! He had a pulse!

Ron slumped down beside Harry, and tried to fight a sense of raw panic. His best mate was still alive... but something was very very wrong.

Back to index


Chapter 16: Ex Nihilo

Author's Notes:

I swear to you all that I had no intention of leaving you with another cliff-hanger for this chapter. I did indeed strive to live up to that oath... but I'm only now just recognising a certain amusing irony. You'll see when you reach the end.

Just so nobody hexes me, let me eliminate any suspense and say that the grappling hook holds and the rope is sturdy...


Chapter 16. Ex Nihilo (August 16, 1995)

“Heavens!” Hermione jumped, accidentally spilling Ginny's portfolio full of notes on the Iceni Rebellion, Peverell lineage and cupla mystica. “What on Earth was that noise?!”

Sirius frowned. “The voice sounded like Ron. He seemed, er, upset about something.”

“I think so too.” Hermione met Sirius's eye for one shocked, puzzled moment, before noticing the mess she had made. She hastily scooped up the documents and shoved the jumbled portfolio back into the escritoire. “Did you catch what he yelled? Nary? Merry?”

Sirius shook his head and scrunched his face. “Wary? Airy?”

They both stared at each other and their jaws dropped in perfect synchronisation. “Harry!!”

The burst from the library, dashed down the corridor and skidded around the bannister to the stairs. They were just tearing down the steps onto the second floor landing when Molly and Lupin charged up from the ground floor.

A haggard-looking Ron was just stumbling out of the boys' bedroom when all four people began shouting at the same time.

“What happened?”

“What's the matter, Ron?”

“Are you okay dear?

“Did someone shout, 'Very'?”

Hermione seized the collar of Ron's night shirt with both fists. “Harry! What happened to Harry?!”

Lupin and Molly blinked. “Harry?”

Ron shrugged helplessly. “I don't know. He, uhhh, cried out in his sleep. I went to check on him and found him… well, I don't know…”

Ron stumbled aside as Hermione and Sirius rushed past into the bedroom.

“Be certain to check around his neck, will you dear?” Molly made her way to the threshold, but paused just short of the room. She peered in uncertainly. “Scrofungulus would be raised and blotchy; Mumblewumps would be puffy beneath the jaw.”

“I know, I know.” Hermione hastily bent over Harry, prying around his shoulders. “There's no fever, Mrs. Weasley. No swelling or blotches or other sign of the usual illnesses. It's odd — he seems to be rather tensed up, but he's asleep. A deep sleep.”

Molly pursed her lips, gazing inwards but still not entering the room. “That is rather strange. Do you suppose it's somehow related to that ailment from several mornings ago?”

Hermione shrugged. “I suppose it might be, though on that morning I think we decided that they were both just knackered from a night of poor sleep. Right now, Harry is out so deeply, I don't know if I could rouse him.”

“Right.” Ron stirred uncomfortably. “After he cried out, I, uh, slapped him, you know, to see if he'd wake up? He didn't even blink… and the only thing he's done since then has been to close his eyes.”

“I wonder what that means?” Molly took a step toward the stairs. “I had best go check my home healer books to see what they say about really deep sleepers.”

Lupin frowned quizzically. “Ron, what did Harry say when he cried out? Did you hear?”

With a baffled look on his face, Ron's mouth opened mutely. The answer came instead from the twins, who were on there way up the stairs.

“Harry called for Ginny,” George announced.

Fred nodded. “Yes, we've been gathering some evidence to suggest that little Harrykins might rather fancy our little sister.”

Ron, Molly and Lupin all stared at the twins as they ascended to the landing. Lupin regarded them thoughtfully. “So, Harry was having a bad dream that involved Ginny? How interesting.” Lupin's gazed drifted a bit lower and settled on an odd fleshy thing that was partially protruding from the fluffy pocket on George's bath robe. “So how did you two hear Harry so well, when the rest of us could barely even make out Ron's howling?”

George grinned. “Superlative hearing, of course!”

“Finest ears in Islington, at your service!” Fred made a sweeping theatrical gesture to accentuate George's right ear, distracting everyone's attention from a much more subtle movement by George, who discreetly tucked a certain pink fleshy object away out of sight, deeper into his pocket.

Ignoring the antics, Molly glanced toward the bedroom where Hermione and Sirius were examining Harry. Seeing no appreciable change in Harry's status, she turned to Lupin. “I wonder why Harry would call out Ginny's name?”

Lupin glanced from the twins toward Harry (whose bed was visible through the open bedroom door) and then back to Molly. “It's possible that… I mean, perhaps he…” Lupin frowned. “You don't suppose that there's also something wrong with…?”

Molly bit her lip and gasped. “Ginny!”

Molly and Lupin burst for the stairs, scattering the two incredulous twins.

George looked from Fred and then fixed a somewhat baffled gaze on Ron. “Er, well, good morning to you, Brother Ron.”

Ron stared at his brothers, then slowly shook his head. “Uh no. It's not a, uh, good morning. Something's wro...”

A surprised shriek coursed up the stairwell; all three brothers jumped in response.

“That was Mum.” His eyebrow arched, Fred glanced from Ron to George and scratched his chin. “I wonder wh-ughhh…?”

Fred lurched back from the elbow that Hermione had inadvertently planted in his ribs as she raced past. George and Ron bailed as Sirius bolted out in her wake.

Fred pried his way off the wall and looked at his two toppled brothers as they picked themselves off the floor. His eyes settled on the younger Weasley. “So Ron, what was it you were saying? Something about what a fine morning it was?”

Molly covered her mouth, stifling her startled utterance. “Dear me! Sorry Albus, I just wasn't expected to see you, um, still here?”

Albus Dumbledore blinked; his eyes wide for a moment before he smiled and emitted an awkward chuckle. “Good morning Molly. Please accept my apologies for having alarmed you. I was just… checking on your daughter.”

“Checking on Ginny?” Molly stared, panic evident in her eyes. “That's what we were, uh… Um, is she okay?”

“Is she in some sort of impenetrable sleep?” Lupin wore a deep frown on his face. “Harry seems deeply comatose at the moment.”

“Oh, is he also sleeping?” Dumbledore fidgeted with his collar, taking a half step forward toward the entrance corridor that Molly was unintentionally blocking. He coughed slightly. “Well yes, Ginny appears to be resting very soundly right now. I was just about to rush back to Hogwarts to consult with Poppy in case this is evidence of an undiagnosed malady of some sort.”

Everyone whipped around at the noise of Hermione and Sirius clattering to a stop at the first landing. With eyes nearly as wild as her hair, Hermione stared down at the confused group, her piercing look settling on Dumbledore. “Professor, I hope you're not planning to leave here without a proper understanding of what's happening!”

Her words were not a question.

Dumbledore's gaze flickered over Hermione and Sirius, and dashed quickly back to Molly. “A proper understanding, Miss Granger? Fortunately, I can assure you all that I have made careful observations to convey to Madame Pomfrey; she and I will assess the situation accordingly. Now, unless someone has important new insight in the matter, please excuse me, as it is in everyone's best interests for me to…”

“Careful observations??” Her glare pinning the Headmaster, Hermione gripped the bannister with white knuckles and began to descend the remaining steps. “How can you expect to provide Madame Pomfrey with careful observations on Harry when you've also claimed to not even been aware that he was unwell?” She gritted her teeth for a moment. “Either way, I think it's obvious that you haven't made any effort to examine him.”

“Well Miss Granger, having just examined Ginny, I assumed that Harry…”

Hermione stood at the bottom of the steps, her hands on her hips. “You assumed, sir, that Harry is suffering from the same problem as Ginny?”

“Well yes...” Dumbledore removed his spectacles and began polishing them. “Yes, I suppose that's a reasonable way to put it. And if Ginny and Harry do not rouse from their sleep soon, I promise to…”

“Professor, you know that Ginny and Harry are suffering from the same malady…” Hermione advanced on Dumbledore, glaring at him unwaveringly. “You know it, because you caused it!”

Molly gasped. “Young lady! What a horrible thing to…!”

Hermione whipped her finger to within three inches of Molly's nose. “Mrs. Weasley, I know what I'm talking about. Please don't argue, because we haven't any time to...”

“Hermione Granger!” Molly sputtered incoherently, then brandished her own finger menacingly. “You may not be my daughter, but as long as you are in my house, you will never ever ever use that tone with me or with the Headmaster, do you understand?! Go to your room! Now!!”

“Your house, Molly?” Sirius coughed incredulously. “Er, do you suppose I should just sign over the deed and make this…”

“Sirius, Mum, can you both shut it please?”

Ten shocked eyes swiveled to the landing to identify the source of the latest interruption… and settled their gazes upon a distinctly awkward-looking Ron. He blanched for a moment at the suddenly undivided attention, but then swallowed and found his voice again. “Er, that came out kind of crudely Mum — sorry. But I think we really need to hear what Hermione has to… Hey!”

Ron pointed abruptly over the other Grimmauld Place denizens, and they swung around to see Dumbledore hastening down the corridor. He pulled to a halt a short distance from the front entrance.

Molly looked somewhat confused and utterly mortified. “Albus, please pardon all of this disgraceful behavior but, er…” She shifted uncomfortably. “Would you mind terribly staying a few minutes longer — just to help sort out whatever lamentable misconceptions Hermione and Ron…”

“And Sirius!” Sirius stepped across to stand by Hermione, and regarded Dumbledore somewhat irritably. “I have the lamentable misconception that Albus is trying to walk out of here with the cure sitting in his pocket.”

“The cure…?” Molly looked at Sirius; her expression was not the usual one of disdain for the former Marauder. It was mostly puzzlement, perhaps also containing a grain of hopefulness.

Hermione nodded. “Yes, the cure. Professor Dumbledore is taking away the one object that Ginny and Harry may most need to recover from their inert state.”

“The cure, Miss Granger?” Dumbledore raised a bushy eyebrow. “Ah! Perhaps I am now beginning to grasp the basis of your delusions. The object of which you speak — the brooch — is not the cure, but the cause. It is a dangerous magical object and I am removing it from the premises before it harms anyone else. Now if you will all kindly excuse me…” He turned and took another step toward the door.

Sirius whipped out his wand. “Colloportus! ” The door emitted a dull whirring noise for a moment then fell ominously silent.

Dumbledore stopped; he raised his gaze wearily toward the ceiling for a moment, then turned to face the owner of the house. “Really Sirius? I'm certain you realize that I could break that spell in a matter of seconds?”

Fianto Duri!

Everyone stared in amazement at Hermione's quivering wand, then all eyes drifted toward the door, which was now encased in a rigid whitish luminescence.

Sirius grinned broadly as Dumbledore heaved a pained sigh and fixed Hermione with eyes that were rather devoid of twinkle. “Congratulations, Miss Granger...” Dumbledore clapped twice, slowly and wearily. “My compliments on the successful prosecution of a sophisticated post-N.E.W.T. incantation. I'm sure that Madame Bones will be most interested to hear about this notable exploit during your hearing for unlawful underage sorcery.” He raised one eyebrow high, and paused for emphasis. “Unfortunately I will compelled to testify that your life was in no way threatened at the time of your spell, and that your action was both a nuisance and a hindrance.”

Hermione huffed sharply. “Go ahead and report me, Professor. Go ahead and have a jolly time preparing your testimony, because it simply doesn't matter in the least. Unless you listen to us about the brooch, we'll all be as good as dead anyway.”

“Thank you for your endless theatrics and baseless concerns, but in truth I do not have time for such amusing diversions.” Dumbledore turned his attention summarily back to the door, examining the colour and texture of the spell. “Remus and Molly? Would you be so kind as to lend me a hand for a moment? Breaking a ward of this nature is best accomplished with several good wands working in concert.”

Molly made a tentative move toward Dumbledore, but Lupin took the three resolute steps he needed in order to stand with Sirius and Hermione. The former defence professor folded his arms across his chest. “Albus, I believe a bit of perspective is in order here.”

Dumbledore was about to respond, but Lupin continued quickly. “In my recollection, I rather doubt we'll find anyone at Hogwarts over the past four years who, in the face of crisis, has exercised consistently better judgment than Hermione. That assessment includes faculty and staff — yourself and myself included. Personally, I would rather like to hear what she has to say.”

“Me too.” Ron drew his wand and finished descending the stairs.

“Same for us,” Fred declared as the twins made it down to the landing. “I don't recall ever seeing Hermione get anything wrong before.”

George nodded with a deathly serious expression on his face. “Yes, and I'd hate to see something bad come to Ginny and Harry because we didn't listen to the right person.”

With near panic in her eyes, Molly looked to the old wizard, but Dumbledore merely sighed resignedly and turned to face the others. “Very well. If the young lady may state her beliefs as succinctly as possible?” He nodded deferentially to Hermione. “With any luck she and I should be able to tidy up any confusion and clear the air in the process.”

For a moment, Hermione's brow raised itself suspiciously, but she quickly stifled the emotion, clasping her hands behind her back and taking a step forward. “Professor, what you took from Ginny appears to be no more and no less than a cupla mystica — a magical tether made more than nineteen hundred years ago by one of Harry's ancestors and given to…”

“A cupla mystica? ” Dumbledore's eyebrows bristled. “Surely not, Miss Granger. The magical signature of that object is prodigious — completely out of the range of any cuplae mystica I have ever examined.”

Hermione sniffed in irritation. “Well then, Professor, it would appear that you've never before had an opportunity to examine an ancient cupla created by the Peverell family.”

“Peverell??” Lupin's eyes went wide. “Are you referring to the three brothers??

Hermione shook her head. “No sir, I'm referring to the father of the three brothers. If our Headmaster would ever deign to pull the brooch out of his pocket, then we could see for ourselves. There should be a clear inscription on it, bearing the name P. Peuerellius.”

Everyone stared at Dumbledore, who made no effort to produce the brooch. Rather, he shrugged. “Yes, I can confirm that the object does bear that name, but I also see no proof that it is anything so innocent as a simple magical love token.”

“Simple?” Hermione took another step toward Dumbledore. “Sir, do you regard love as 'simple'?”

“Er, well not as such…”

Hermione took another step forward. “Are you prepared to accept that love may be complex and powerful?”

Dumbledore stroked his beard thoughtfully. “I, well, yes. I have done some research in the matter, actually.”

Hermione nodded fervently. “Do you accept that the Peverell family was renowned for performing extraordinary magic, sir?”

“Well, according to the legend, yes.”

“Well then…” Hermione began pacing. “Are you prepared to consider that an object representing the powerful love of a powerful ancient wizard could be strong enough to bind not only that wizard and his soul mate, but in fact also reach out, over space and time, to two very distant descendants?”

Dumbledore continued to stroke his beard, making no response.

“I'm certain it will surprise nobody to learn that Harry and Ginny were those two distant descendants, of course. ” Hermione paused her lecture to scan the assembled group. The twins were nodding excitedly, Molly was white and tremulous, and the others embodied various forms of rapt attention as Hermione resumed. “From some detailed notes that Sirius and I just read through, it appears that Harry and Ginny allowed themselves to become immersed in the connections fostered by the cupla, not out of a juvenile whimsy, but because it became clear that the cupla offered them the only mechanism possible to counteract a rogue Death Eater who is attempting to re-write ancient history.”

Dead silence fell over the group. Hermione straightened her back and fixed Dumbledore with firm, steady eyes and resumed. “The nefarious Death Eater plot involves meddling with Harry's ancestors, seeking to prevent Harry from ever becoming the 'Boy Who Lived'; to prevent Voldemort from ever being defeated in 1981; to ensure that a culture of pure-blood atrocity runs rampant over our society, slaughtering nearly every person we've ever known and cared about.”

Hermione bit her lip for a moment and took a sharp breath. “I know this because I've seen it, sir. I've seen what the world looks like if Harry and Ginny are to fail. Please, please please believe me that they are our only hope!”

“I errr…” Dumbledore gazed distractedly at Hermione for a moment. “Well, personally, I find that those assertions stretch all manner of credulity.”

Hermione glared at him. “Are you prepared to face the consequences of your intransigence?” She gritted her teeth. “Well, I can tell you that I'm not prepared to let you be a stubborn old goat, sir! I believe that in stealing the brooch from Ginny, you tore both her and Harry away from both the present and the past. As far as I know, you may have stranded their souls in some sort of limbo without a proper space or time. Don't you think you should explain to us, Professor, how you were planning to reverse…”

“G-Ginny? Harry? Stranded?!” Molly's face collapsed into her trembling hands.

“We'll work this out, Mrs. Weasley, I promise.” Hermione instinctively placed a comforting hand on the Weasley matron's arm, then turned back to Dumbledore. “Professor, I think I know how to bring Ginny and Harry back safely. Do you?”

Dumbledore glanced at Molly with a tinge of regret around his eyes, but said nothing.

Hermione stepped closer again to the old wizard, her face now less than three feet from his. “You hold the key in your pocket, sir. You have a decision to make, and if you make the wrong one, you may instantly eradicate everyone in this room and doom our entire society forever. If you choose correctly, then hopefully it's not too late to permit two incredibly brave students to resume their efforts to save us all.”

“Balderdash!” The elderly professor's reticence vanished in a plume of outrage. “Even if this far-fetched scenario of yours was possible, I'm sure that the adults in this room would agree that such activities are hardly appropriate for mere…”

“For mere children, sir?” Hermione's eyebrows shot into her fringe. “Would anybody here like to hear about some of the grave and deadly serious tasks from the past four years that you've overlooked, condoned and sometimes even directly pawned off onto students?! Did you ever consider assigning some of those perilous adventures to adults, sir? Well, here's the irony — even if you wanted to handle this quest yourself, you couldn't. Every adult in this room can touch, coddle and beg the brooch for all their worth and never get an inch or a second closer to the world that Harry and Ginny have to navigate. The brooch chose them for this work! The brooch didn't choose Albus Dumbledore or Remus Lupin, Molly Weasley, Sirius Black, nor anybody within the most illustrious Order of the Phoenix. The brooch called to Harry and Ginny, and they accepted. They're off trying to save all of our lives because they know that they're the only ones who can!”

Dumbledore's shoulders slumped. All eyes in the room fell upon a tired, defeated-looking old man as he sighed deeply. “Well, perhaps what you claim is possible. If it is, then I only wish that they had come to me sooner so that we could have addressed this together in a manner that would be safer for all.”

Hermione's jaw dropped. “What…? Professor Dumbledore, you can't possibly have said what I thought you said?!”

Dumbledore looked at her quizzically. “I, er, said that…”

“Arrghh!” Hermione slammed her open hand down into the bannister post with a resounding smack.

“Eeeiighhhh!” The blood curdling voice of Walburga Black, having somehow slumbered through the prior proceedings, tore through the hallway. “Mudbloods!! Thieves! Blood traitors! May hell rain down upon ye…”

Silencio, you ignorant cow!” Within a split second of zapping the offensive portrait, Hermione rounded on Dumbledore, her chin jutting to within inches of his. “How dare you impugn my friends for not speaking to you, you addled hypocrite! You've spent weeks completely ignoring Harry and turning tail whenever he approaches. Then you attemptLegilimency on Ginny when she tries to tell you that she'll only talk about it with Harry present. I-I-I'm so angry that… that… ARRGGHHHH!!”

Moments later, when everyone's shocked ears had stopped ringing, they discovered that the headmaster had begun speaking. Softly, humbly.

“Ah indeed.” Dumbledore hung his head. “I feel a need to apologise, Miss Granger. I did have reasons for my actions, but, well, maybe now is not the time for faint hearted hand-waving.” He sighed slowly. “Perhaps it is instead time to vest some authourity in the capable hands of someone who has demonstrably earned it.”

“Huh?!” Hermione gaped at Dumbledore, struggling to process his sudden capitulation. She was so surprised, in fact, that she didn't notice the old wizard reaching resignedly into a deep pocket of his robe, to deposit a silver object into her hand.

Sensing the cold metal on her fingers, Hermione blinked and stared down at what she was now holding. “Oh my! I didn't mean for you to…”

The room swirled sickeningly. Hermione swayed; she felt an arm reaching from behind her — somehow strong; yet still a bit awkward — to catch her as both knees gave way…

“Are you all right, Hettie?” Rob's voice was filled with concern as his arm locked around her waist, stabilising her.

Hettie glanced about in disorientation. She felt her friend's strong body propping her up from behind. She saw the dimly lit quarters — small, sparsely furnished; no windows; a faintly musty smell as if the flat was located somewhere deep underground.

Hettie looked across to the door to another (even duskier) room, at the threshold of which stood a craggy old man in a white robe. His face bore deep, solicitous lines as he gazed at her with a pair of oddly clouded blue eyes.

He coughed slightly — an old man's cough. “I'm dreadfully sorry dear — I would understand if you found the implications rather foreboding…” Leaning heavily on a gnarled old walking stick, he gazed down at his feet.

Her head still swimming, Hettie struggled with the scene before her. It conferred a strange hint of deja vu, and a pressing realisation that she had missed some critical elements of recent conversation. “I apologise sir, but could you repeat, er, whatever it was that you'd just told me? At least, uh, the last bit?”

The man's face raised abruptly; his eyes bored deeply, disconcertingly, into hers for a moment, then he nodded slightly. “Yes certainly. In a moment I will be pleased to clarify. But first, might I ask you dear — do you have a visitor?

“Sorry sir?” Hettie stared at him, as his bizarre question failed to resonate. “What do you mean by, 'do I have a-a… visitor?'”

The old man began to approach her, moving haltingly as if in pain, yet with eyes never wavered as he regarded her. He nodded slightly. “Well, perhaps you would call it a voice? A presence? The feeling as though your mind houses not yourself, but also someone else who may seem both similar and yet somehow distinct.”

Hettie gazed, unseeing, into the darkness of the adjoining room. She chewed her lip, turned her thoughts inwards and suddenly found herself recalling half-imagined memories that did not seem to be her own; impressions that might have been based on someone else's experiences. She thought back over the past several months, remembering sudden sensations of disorientation when her perspectives suddenly shifted from normal to… something just a bit different…

Hettie turned her eyes back to the old man. “Yes sir, I believe I may actually have a visitor.”

“Indeed.” The man (whose name Hettie now remembered as Achaius Duff) nodded gravely; he glanced at Rob and Neill. “And so it would appear that the time has come, my friends.”

Rob decoupled himself from Hettie, who was now standing well on her own. He held her hand reassuringly, but his attention was on Duff. “So then, should we show her the, uh, object?”

Duff shook his head. “No, not quite yet Robert. The young lady is a bit discomfited. We have a little time, and ought not rush her into this until she is ready.” He smiled sympathetically at Hettie. “So Henrietta, you are aware that your intervention may change the course of history? You understand that you may be our last chance to recover a common decency that disappeared in our society some very hard years ago.”

“Also a chance to save lots of lives,” Rob added.

“Yes, I had gathered that.” Hettie nodded but a small frown crept over her face. “So what must I do?”

Duff shrugged. “You will know, my dear. When the time comes, you will understand many details that even I do not. The voice in your mind, I believe, is coming to you now because she is prepared to take you when you must go and guide your hand toward its appointed task.”

“Okay...” Hettie felt the ominous weight of Duff's gentle words, and felt the intensity of his piercing eyes. She shifted uncomfortably. “And what happens if I fail? What are the risks?”

Duff's eerie gaze did not falter. “The risks? Yes, of course.” He took several more difficult steps toward her, and grasped her free hand. “Failure is not a risk, Henrietta.”

Hettie looked at him quizzically.

Struggling with his walking stick, Duff pulled himself a bit straighter and repeated himself. “Failure is not a risk. If you succeed, then all shall be well. If for any reason the gambit fails, then we shall all die, comforted in the knowledge that at least we gave it our best attempt. Many variables in your quest may be beyond your control; there is no way to succeed unless you try, but even the best, most valiant attempt can never completely guarantee success.”

Hettie felt the blood begin to rush from her head, but the sensation of Rob's warm hand squeezing hers gave her strength. Glancing at him, however, Hettie suddenly noticed that the subtle but deep sorrow had returned to his eyes.

Rob met her gaze for a moment, then he looked away. “You do realize though, Hettie, that if you do succeed, everything will change.”

Hettie's lips parted as she tried to read the lines etched about the young man's face. “Change?”

“Yes, change.” Duff's voice dropped to a whisper. “If all goes well, the lives that each of us has lived will no longer be. Will never have been. Our terrible, failed world will cease to exist.”

Hettie stared, uncomprehending.

“There will be another world, Hettie.” The voice was Neill's; he was slowly approaching; his face plain and inscrutable. “The other world will be far better than this has ever been. Another Hettie Gravener in some other space and time will live and breathe, free of despair, ready for victory and peace.”

Duff's face, still grim and solemn, seemed pleased with the candid, heart-felt words of his acolyte. “Yes Henrietta. You would be sacrificing the world that you know. This is an easy choice for many of us — certainly for Rob, Neill, and any other witches or wizards who have already lost everything. For you, so sheltered all these long years, hidden from the lost society of the damned, never knowing the hidden perils you might have faced if Voldemort's foul demons had ever tracked you down… Never sensing that danger has been slowly, inexorably closing in upon you… For you, perhaps the decision is not so easy.”

Hettie glanced frantically around at the faces surrounding her. “My life has been in danger?”

“Yes, I am certain it has.” Duff sighed. “Rob and I have argued about this many times since January. At first, he was immensely resistant to my plan. He wished to leave you in peace, to live out your quiet life in New Zealand, but I eventually persuaded him that even the expatriate families would eventually be hunted down — lest they ever return to Britain to fuel any rebellion against Voldemort's regime.”

Duff's eyes landed sadly on Hettie's once more. “You would have been especially vulnerable, my dear. In all of the more virtuous and hopeful versions of this world, you always play an integral role in this struggle of good against evil. I am convinced that were this world of ours not so perverted and wrong, you would have spent many years as cherished familiar to people such Robert and Gemina Wilsey, and likely even to the last Peverell.

“Last Peverell?” Hettie stared. Deep inside, a part of her seemed to instinctively sense what the phrase might refer to, but it had never been explicitly explained to her.

Rob shifted at her side. “The green-eyed, dark-haired boy that Gemina used to dream of. Duff said that… in a better world, he would have been real.”

Neill moved closer. “He would have saved us — long before all of these horrors came to pass.”

“Nobody here has ever met him, save in legends and dreams.” Duff's eyes went distant for a moment. “Good and kind soul. He would definitely have been your dear friend, Henrietta.”

Hettie stared; her mind raced with strange, half-imagined images of some hark-haired, green-eyed teen... as if somewhere in her dreams she truly did know this 'last Peverell'.

Duff coughed slightly. “Unless we act now, I fear that such associations known deeply within your soul would eventually doom you. I cannot imagine a scenario wherein our evil overlord would not someday seek you out and… do that which he is best known for doing.”

Hettie took a deep breath. Such strange, half-connected details, as bewildering as they seemed, blew past her like autumn leaves. Somewhere deep within herself, a sisterly voice seemed to be gently exhorting faith and calm. Finally Hettie nodded resolutely. “If my family is in danger, then I too have nothing to lose. Please show me what to do.”

Rob released Hettie's hand. “Hettie, before you go in that room, please know how eternally grateful we'll always be to you. If things somehow fail, then…” He pulled an envelope out of his pocket and pressed it into her palm. “If things go wrong, then you might still be able to make a break for it. This contains detailed escape instructions, Muggle money and Muggle transport tickets — everything by the dullest but safest routes possible. I don't know if you'll ever see us again, but please, uh, remember us?”

Her muscles tensing in a swirl of strong sentiments, Hettie forced herself to look up, to see the kind earnest face of the young man who had progressed from being enigma, to dear friend, to…

No. Hettie knew that a very powerful emotion was there, ready to blossom... but not now. Not at this perilous moment. She must deny herself; she could not possibly admit such feelings right now — not when she knew with all her heart that she might lose everything… everyone…?

Hettie fell into Rob's chest. She hauled him in, pulling herself tight, clenching and trembling, against his heart. Her tears leaked uncontrollably down his shirt.

Rob reached up awkwardly… warmly. With the back of his fingers he stroked her hair atop her temple. “Hettie, I, uh… no matter what happens, I'll always be up here, you know?”

Hettie nodded. She felt several wracking sobs course through her body but she let them pass. She spent a final treasured moment simply listening to the beating of a heart… then she straightened up. As she decoupled herself from Rob, she turned her eyes onto a bland part of the dimly lit wall, studiously avoiding any of the other faces in the room, lest she see their expressions. She took another deep breath. “So what do you need me to do?”

“Please accompany me, Henrietta.” Duff's walking stick rattled its way toward the other room. His voice seemed distant but solemn. “There is an artifact over there in my study. When you see it, perhaps a part of you may recognise the object, as if from a dream… All we shall ask from you is to touch it.”

The room was less than twenty feet away but the walk felt to Hettie as if it were down a long, unlit tunnel. Finally, she found herself in a small room that contained nothing other than a single chair, an old oak table and a winged brooch of unusual craftsmanship. Hettie regarded the silver object. It seemed small and harmless, lying all alone on the table. She look up with a quizzical expression. “Why must it be me?”

Rob followed her into the room, standing beside her as Duff crossed around to the far end of the table. The old man met her eyes. “The reason is very difficult to explain, my dear, yet I am confident that you will prove to be the right person.”

Hettie's expression did not change. “What would happen if I was not the right person?”

“Well…” Duff scratched his chin reflectively for a moment. “If you were not the right person, I very much doubt that anything would happen. The vast majority of people who might pick it up would feel nothing, and would be quite pressed to detect any magic in it at all. From my limited research, I believe that if I created a cupla from the magic used by Peuerellius, the charm would be a reflection of my soul. The magic of such a cupla would be detectable and meaningful only to those rare people who somehow bring exceptional meaning to my soul.”

“I…?” Hettie stared at him. “I would be considered meaningful to a man who lived aeons ago?”

Duff nodded in a matter-of-fact manner.

Hettie raised an eyebrow. “How do you know? How do you know any of this? If you've managed to figure out so much about the magic of this charm, then shouldn't you be able to do this yourself?”

“Ah my dear…” Duff looked away. He had a distant, vaguely sad look in his eyes. “There may be others who can use the cupla… but I know of nobody else who should do so.” He paused; worry lines creased his face, and his gaze fell towards the floor. “We do not have much time left in this brief window of chance, Henrietta. Could I beg you to take a leap of faith, and place such an extraordinary trust in a somewhat untrustworthy old man?”

Hettie turned, not to the hazy eyes that remained fixed obliquely away, focusing on a place or time far removed from the present. Hettie instead looked up into Rob's earnest face. Rob nodded slowly and raised a hand to gently touch her cheek. “I trust him, Hettie.”

She nodded. Not prepared to again face the raw emotions of several minutes ago, she looked quickly away from the tall young man at her side. She moved forward to the table with a sense of purpose — a clear resolution to proceed with one of the most selfless acts imaginable; to complete the action before any further question might arise to weaken her resolve.

Hettie lifted the brooch from its resting place. The polished wings felt cool upon her fingers…

Hermione spiraled dizzily away from the dim subterranean site of Hettie Gravener's grim resolve.

Struggling for her balance, Hermione found herself confronted with a grey, drizzling sky that jostled and lurched in front of her eyes. Metallic clangs beset her ears, competing with the horrid din of shouts, cries and outright shrieks. Flailing bodies of men streamed past her — some were armored, some half-naked and painted in lurid colours, and all bore primitive weapons that slashed and hacked in homocidal fury. Wooden planks shuddered, groaned and tossed beneath her feet and below her white-knuckled grip.

“Atal!” At the sound of a young woman's raw shout, the two horses reared and whinnied. The groaning platform beneath Hermione's feet — what she now recognized as an ancient chariot — halted sharply, just short of a low line of shrubs.

Hermione strained, thudded against the side of a railing, staggered drunkenly… then stood. She glanced rapidly around herself; at a stand of tall pine trees less than twenty feet away, at the rough ground below… and then at the red-haired chariot driver.

Hermione gasped. “Ginny??”

Tying the reins down, the driver looked up in surprise. In spite of the perspiration, the hair wildly bedraggled from the mist and crazed ride up the hillside, Hermione had appraised the young woman instantly. This person was definitely someone who could easily have been mistaken for Ginny Weasley… but was not.

Shaking her head, the chariot driver immediately confirmed this in no uncertain terms. “I am not your Ginny.” The striking young woman studied Hermione for a moment then nodded. “Yes, I am not your Ginny, and you are not my Heanua.”

Hermione's eyes widened as she processed the second name, inferring that this must be… “LanossŽa! You are LanossŽa, princess of the Iceni?!”

The princess shrugged. “You make that sound far more important than it is. All I know is that 'LanossŽa, princess of the Iceni' is a dead woman unless you and I escape up through the woods.” She swung down from the chariot, and pointed toward Hermione's shift. “You have a wand on your belt. Can you use it?”

Hermione stared down at the primitive woven garment she was wearing. The shift was belted about her waist, and she found that she was armed with a jeweled dagger, as well as the wand that the princess had pointed to. Hermione pulled it free and weighed it in her palm. “Uh, yes I think so.”

“Good” The princess drew her own wand and gestured toward a tall, powerful woman slumped unconscious on the floor of the chariot, still clutching an ornate wooden staff. “Together we must levitate my mother through the woods.”

Hermione grinned and pointed her wand, immensely relieved to begin this wild adventure with a task she could handle. “Wingardium Leviosa!

Hermione felt the wand respond naturally, sensed the invigourating flow of magic through her arm… then grunted in surprise, as if encountering a heavy resistance.

The unconscious woman's arms and legs lifted slightly, but the rest of her body remained stubbornly anchored… until LanossŽa's spell merged with Hermione's.

Immediately, Hermione felt almost as if a large weight had been lifted from her own body. The woman on the chariot began to rise up, free of the platform.

The princess nodded approvingly. “Let us hasten to carry her uphill one hundred feet or more. Once out of sight, we will stop and disillusion ourselves. Then we may make the remainder of the journey at a more moderate pace.”

Hermione signaled her understanding. With LanossŽa in the lead, they walked together, carefully maneuvering the queen past shrubs and below the rough pine branches. After a couple of minutes they had progressed far enough into the brush that visibility down to the battlefield was minimal. The princess signaled that they should lay their burden down onto the soft, needle-strewn ground.

Somewhat winded from the magical exertion, Hermione saw LanossŽa find a spot to lean against a chest-high fallen tree. A momentary pang of regret crept across the princess's face; she reached into a fold in her tunic and withdrew a brooch — identical to the one Hermione had seen at Grimmauld place. The princess gazed at it for a moment, put it away, then turned to face Hermione with somewhat suppressed sadness in her eyes. “Might I ask one more favour of you?”

Hermione nodded, taking the opportunity to once again study this strong, assertive young woman who looked so much like the Weasley daughter.

LanossŽa glanced away self consciously for a moment, then raised her eyes again. “I know not who you are or why you choose to occupy my sister's body, but if you are versed with the name 'Ginny', then I assume you would also have heard of the one called… Harry?”

“Yes.” Hermione nodded. “Ginny and Harry are both my friends.”

The princess looked at Hermione sharply — a deep, penetrating stare as if she was trying to see beneath her skin. Then she turned away again. “Your friend Harry is kin to a man very dear to me.”

Hermione recalled the detailed notes she had glimpsed in the Grimmauld Place library; how Ginny's neat script had cataloged many details of an Inceni princess and her unlikely affair with the Roman Publican named… “Peuerellius. Peverell. Quite correct — he's Harry's ancestor.”

The princess smiled slightly in acknowledgement, then lapsed back into solemnity. “Yes. Well, if you happen to see this 'Harry'… or if at some point you are able to contact him… could you please remind him that we agreed to meet at our refuge?”

Hermione stared; her heart ached in empathy to hear such a simple, sorrowful request. She cleared her throat softly. “I, uhh… yes, I'll try.” She instinctively reached her hand toward the princess's arm, but the young Iceni woman was already pulling away, looking distantly through the high pine branches toward a mist-shrouded tower.

Hermione followed her gaze distractedly and… she couldn't help wondering…

Where was Harry? Where was Ginny? Were they okay?

And when, indeed, would she ever see them again?

Deep down inside herself, Ginny had steeled herself for this. Without consciously intending to, she and Harry had practised for precisely this scenario. In past dreams, they had suffered through dark, dreadful simulations of what it might feel like if she was to somehow lose the brooch.

Those sensations of isolation and despair, although very useful, had seemed patently awful at the time. Even so, such an exercise had not fully prepared Ginny for just how utterly wretched it would feel to experience the real thing.

Having been torn abruptly from a first century A.D. battlefield, and lacking the bearings or beacons to make her way safely back to her own bed at Grimmauld Place, Ginny found herself somewhere far less welcoming than either of those places. She was in a void, immersed in a suffocation of icy despair, divorced from all space, time, warmth and hope, afforded not even the cathartic release of a scream.

It was somehow strangely worse than any hell that a religion might have promised.

Fortunately, although her preparation was incomplete, it was proving to be… adequate. After the initial shock of the rupture, Ginny gradually found the presence of mind to focus; to recall what what she had needed to accomplish in those impromptu simulations to get past the desolation; to remember what it took to gradually recover the ability to feel; to acknowledge something better than emptiness; to finally find her voice in the darkness.

With a tremendous effort, she focused on imagining the requisite sounds…

“… hh…”

“… ar… ”

“… harry…?”

From somewhere beyond the deafening silence came that faintest of replies.

“… ginny?

“… see … light?”

Light?

Was there a light somewhere in this accursed nothingness?

Ginny strained her mind, trying to even recall what light looked like.

The light of a summer day… the light of a reading lamp… even dim firelight — she couldn't imagine any of those. Finally she settled on trying to perceive the solitary pin-prick of a single distant star… and she found it!

The first glimmer of light began so feebly that it could have been a trick of the mind's eye, but Ginny refused to let it go. Once or twice it nearly faded into the void, but she concentrated, tensed, held on… and it stayed. The light gradually strengthened and stabilised, forming the first viable dimension within the void. Here was her primordial hope; her objective.

When she had finally convinced herself that the light was real, Ginny began to move toward it. She had no idea how quickly she would reach it — after all, time and velocity had no meaning — but as she struggled along, it became clear that this journey toward that light was going to feel so very, very dishearteningly long.

Finally… finally… it seemed almost within arm's length.

In the dreams of emptiness that Ginny and Harry had shared in the past, they had always found ways to reach for each other — for comfort, communication, and to share in each other's strength. Within a real void, the sensation was impossible to describe. If Ginny later related it to stretching out to touch something just beyond one's fingertips, that was because there was no suitable analogy.

In truth, Ginny and Harry were both stretching magic; there was no other way to pull oneself from the depth of nothingness than to apply and bend magic in ways that were far beyond the bounds of any spell even written in any book.

If Ginny later described their eventual success as being like a drowning person reaching out to grasp a rescuer's hand, that is because nobody else could ever possibly understand what it truly felt like.

Except Harry.

For Harry was Ginny's rescuer, just as Ginny was Harry's.

Only with incredible love can two people ever hope to reach beyond the endless vats of nothingness and icy despair to rescue each other.

They did. They prevailed. And in the end, as language fails again and again to do justice to their feat, we can at least pay silent homage to their triumph.

In the dimness of a place that had only that sole slowly pulsating light, Harry and Ginny reached each other, sensed each other's presence, and strove together to recover senses and sensibilities.

The basic senses returned slowly. The best remedy for the void's unremitting cold, Harry realized, was to feel warmth. With immense concentration, Harry gradually remembered what it felt like to have arms… hands… and to feel them wrapped around someone warm… like Ginny. With great fondness, another recollection returned to him — the sensation of her soft breath against his chest. And, of course, Harry could never forget the feel of her hair running through his fingers…

And so they embraced… and felt warmth. The lingering sensations of pain or panic were fading quickly now, replaced by comfort. And yet within that hard-earned comfort, there was the plaintive call of reality.

“We have work to do, Gin'.” Harry sighed. “But where to begin? I feel like we've been gone so long. We need to remember where we are; what we were doing; what we need to do.”

“Hmmm? Where are we?” Ginny's hand stirred somewhat from where it was pressed against his back. “We're lying in our own separate beds in Grimmauld Place, but we're also on the outskirts of Boadicea's final battle. Soon I should return to the princess, who's climbing up through the pine woods.”

“Wow! How do you remember all that?”

“Girls are always better with details, Harry.”

Harry could feel her face curl up into a slight smile from where it was pressed against him. Yet, he could also feel that smile subside as Ginny reflected further.

“Harry, we have to sort out how to help the Publican…”

Harry felt himself frowning. “The Publican… He's, uhh, in the air…?”

Ginny pursed her lips. “I suppose he may have landed by now. He's going to have to fight Antioch.”

“Right.” Harry sighed unhappily. “Please don't take this the wrong way, Gin', but, well… the Publican and I are going to have to handle Antioch alone.”

“Harry, that's…!”

“No, no, please Gin' — please hear me out. It has to be this way.”

Ginny pulled back slightly so that they could see each other.

And they actually could see each other!

Mercy! Harry nearly choked to see her face again after what had seemed like such an eternity in the void. Even in a state of anxiety, she was so incredibly beautiful!

Ginny's face softened somewhat as she recognized that look in his face. She smiled slightly, but she couldn't quite let him off the hook yet. “So, you were going to explain something, Harry?”

Harry blinked. He grinned for a moment, but fell solemn again as he refocused. “Okay, here's the problem. Malfoy wants to trap the queen. Tell me that the bastard isn't tracking LanossŽa as we speak. The instant you let the princess take her eye off Boadicea to rescue the Publican, Malfoy will pounce on the queen and that will be that. Point, set, match!”

“But…!!” Ginny's face seethed in frustration for a moment, then wilted. “Damn.”

Harry pulled Ginny into a tight embrace again; her form remained tense for several seconds, then she softened and exhaled slowly. He rocked her gently, soothingly. “It'll be okay, Gin'. Between the Publican and me, we'll take care of Antioch. I promise.”

“You will, won't you?” Ginny stroked Harry's jawline pensively.. “Hurry back to the refuge though. If it was purely a matter of strength, the Princess and I could hold off Malfoy indefinitely, but we still don't know what he's planning. I'd feel a lot more confident if we faced him together.”

“I'll get back to you — fast!” Harry paused for a moment to again take in the sight of her face. “It seemed like we were apart so very long; there's no way I'm going to stay away any longer than it takes to get out of the praetorium!

“Good.” Ginny nodded; she gazed distractedly at his mouth, uncertain whether, so close to another departure, she could meet his eyes without misting up. “Please be careful, though.”

“I'll promise that too.” Harry smiled softly and leaned in to kiss her forehead. “I love you, Gin'.”

Ginny grinned weakly and, tears be damned, she lifted her face to gaze into his eyes. “I love you too, Harry!”

They kissed… and any vestiges of the cold void were banished forever. In their last moment before separating, their dream had taken them to the woodland bower where the princess and Publican had shared their months of springtime bliss.

They pulled back from the kiss and gazed around themselves.

Ginny smiled. “It's pretty here.”

“Beautiful!” Harry nodded. “And peaceful too.”

They stepped apart and Ginny walked a few paces away, looking down toward the river, which was glistening in the sun. “That's the Waveney, right? Let's come here for real some day, Harry.”

Following behind her, Harry caught her hand. “Absolutely, Gin'! Someday soon!”

Ginny smiled; her expression sunny and hopeful again for the first time in a long while. “So this is farewell, yeah?”

Harry returned her smile. “For a little while.”

Ginny's smiling eyes traced the contours of his face, trailed down his neck, to his chest and arms, and…

She shook herself and laughed — a gentle sound; jaunty, musical. Eyes sparkling, she grinned at him. “Get out of here while you still can, Harry! Just now, I swear, I was a half-second away from tearing your clothes off!”

Harry's eyes flashed wide… then he chuckled. “You know, there's nothing technically wrong with that, considering this is just in your dream, right?”

“Yes, but it's your dream too, Harry.”

He grinned. “Don't let that stop you.”

Ginny smirked. “Go! We have to save the world from Antioch and Malfoy, okay?”

“Bloody tossers!” Harry growled and rolled his eyes. “If either of those berks get in the way of one more tender moment, they'll be the ones who need saving!”

Ginny winked. Harry gave a quick wave… and they were gone.

Harry had flown through the air before, but never without a broom. He was still pulsing with relief over the fact that he and Ginny had escaped the void, but racing across the sky without any control was hardly the way he wanted to celebrate.

The damp wind streamed past his face, drenching his skin and hair. As the looming stone tower expanded across his field of vision at an alarming rate, an idea popped into his head — the sudden notion that he could try again to fight Antioch's summoning spell… but Merlin only knows what would happen if he did that. Crashing headlong into the side of the tower would hardly be a better outcome than facing Antioch.

Harry forced himself to take a deep breath. He struggled for composure, and tensed his legs, ready to… land… hard… on top of the… praetorium...!!

In a blinding instant, he hurled both arms out to catch the hard stone; his spine jolted as he pivoted nauseatingly, banged one knee, then teetered — his unbalanced legs stumbling to the side as he fought to catch his balance. Harry staggered, straightened himself, and scowled.

“Bloody shoddy landing, Antioch!” The testy, defiant words streamed out of Harry's mouth even before he'd set eyes on the Publican's son. “You could at least have had the decency to bring me down feet first.”

Worn from the intense effort of summoning a man such a distance, the young man was nearly gasping, but he nonetheless managed to raise a sardonic eyebrow. “I am sorry for your discomfort… father.”

As Harry turned around, he saw Antioch studying him. The dark wizard betrayed a slight uncertainty, as if he sensed that the person he had just summoned was changed... that somehow the Publican he had just plucked from the battlefield was not exactly the same Publican he'd last imprisoned in Camboricum.

Harry recognized the puzzled hesitation, and put it to instant benefit, whipping out his wand, shouting, “Praemonio!

Harry felt the Publican's powerful shield spell rise up about him but, unlike the conventional Protego spell taught at Hogwarts, this shield also seemed to confer an exhilarating, empowering sensation.

A sudden inspiration hit him — with the Publican sustaining a shield for him, he (Harry) would be free to cast offensive spells! Even before the notion had fully crystallized, the tip of Harry's wand was already extended, etching out a familiar signature. “Accio wand!”

His opponent, although both weary and flustered, was still quick. Antioch's grip clamped down hard on his struggling wand, and the skilled young wizard mustered his own magic quickly enough to block Harry's spell and assemble his own shield.

The flurry of action was not without effect though. Antioch was clearly shaken by the multiple unexpected twists of circumstance. He took a step back and began to circle warily. “Fascinating tactics, father. A few new tricks up your sleeve since the last time we met?”

Harry didn't answer. He stared coldly at Antioch, wanting to get off the tower with as few words and as little drama as possible; wondering how he could break off this unpleasant engagement quickly and cleanly.

Harry's feet began moving, keeping the strong forward-facing part of his shield angled toward Antioch at all times. He aimed a dispassionate gaze at the dark-cloaked adversary and began speaking in a formal tone intended to mimic the Publican as closely as possible. “We both have impenetrable shields in place, Tio. You cannot strike me, nor I you. Let us waste no more time, and go our separate ways. You are keeping me from issues that are not of your concern, and I am distracting you from your duties to the Proconsul.

“Duties?” Antioch's eyes narrowed. “Father, I serve the Proconsul by choice and not by duty. My presence at this battle has been little more than a convenient ruse to locate you.” He sneered. “And then to kill you, of course.”

“You'll fail.” Harry's voice was emotionless; his face radiated a certain cold. It was all an affectation, of course — he truly had no idea whether the Publican was destined to survive this encounter — but the facade was solid and polished, and Harry could see it etching its way into Antioch's faltering confidence.

Antioch's face twitched. “You do not know that, father. I am armed with powerful magic. You may dismissively refer to my powers as 'dark', but they will strip away your shield, strip away your soul and leave your worthless body bare to be picked by the rooks.”

“The instant you lower your shield to attack mine, I'll drop you where you stand, Tio. You have only failure to look forward to — you know it; the Delphic Oracle proclaimed it. Now, stand aside and I shall let you live another day.”

Internally, Harry was astonished to hear his own frigid confidence project such a bald bluff. He knew that the Delphic Oracle was irrelevant to this point. The prophesy applied not to the Publican, but to the Publican's unborn son, who was (hopefully) sheltered in relative safety a half mile from here. But, with the passing of every awkward, stalemated second, it became more and more obvious that Antioch wasn't even close to parsing the distinction; he was almost certainly no longer even considering the possibility that such a son had already been conceived. He still vested his foolish hopes solely in the Publican's death.

Harry smiled at the man's growing discomfort. “It is over, Tio. You may stand aside.”

Antioch's footfalls slowed, and he came to a halt, staring at Harry in consternation. “How can you stand before me, father, like a frozen waterfall on the cusp of spring? Today a great victory blossoms for the might of our superior magic, and a devastating humiliation for the red bitch and her filthy Druids. My cause is right and ascendant; yours is flawed and failing. For that alone you should bow down, unshielded, and permit me to slay you in a gesture of quiet, dignified mercy.”

“No Tio.” Harry shook his head and felt the Publican's wise convictions flow into him. “Today comes only the Roman victory that ensures Rome's defeat. Whatever fine intentions the good men and white magic of Rome may pursue in Britannia, it will never outweigh the atrocities inflicted by dark wretches like yourself and the scurrilous Legate. This island may tolerate Rome for a while, but the Druids, the hunters, the shepherds and farmers will never forget the noble martyr Boadicea. In time, Britannia will discard the Roman way, and so too will every other spot in the world — even the gentle banks of the Tiber, and the marble-clad Palatine Hill. For that alone you should bow down now, unshielded, and permit me to bid you a quiet, dignified farewell.”

Antioch scowled. “You lie!”

The hint of an ironic smirk crossed Harry's face, amused at how Antioch, consistently unnerved and dismayed by deceptions, should now try so bitterly to defy a real truth.

Harry shook his head, and gestured toward his opponent's wand. “This is no lie. You have chosen the wrong side, Tio. Put your wand away, and I will release you to go rethink your ways.”

Antioch stared at him, desperately seeking now to find solid grounds for disbelief.

Harry erased any emotion from his face other than a vague expression of empathy.

Conflicted, Antioch's wand hand wavered for a moment.

Harry waited, deathly still, ready for anything…

Antioch lunged, shield down, wand thrust forward to emit a ghastly white flame. He thrust himself hard against the Publican's shield and a blinding shower of white sparks burst around them like a tremendous Roman candle. Antioch's brute strength, prowess and raw desperation pressed relentlessly inward against the shield… Harry felt a sudden searing heat closing in on his exposed skin… he gripped his wand sweatily, and…

Protego!!

Harry's own shield thundered outwards, past the Publican's, catching Antioch like a hammer's blow to the forehead…

Antioch lurched backwards, his spine wrenching like a rag doll. The young man reeled, stumbling back, back, to the edge of the parapet.

Harry hastily retracted his shield, but Antioch's momentum carried one more half-step backwards; the young man teetered… his bewildered eyes darted madly about… settled on Harry with a look of sheer, astonished incredulity.

Then Antioch's face, and all of the rest of his body, leaned backwards… finding nothing — no support more substantial that the grey misty air of the dark wizard's own devising…

And Harry leaped!

There was no time for any magic; no other possible way that Harry could ever have crossed twelve feet in time to save the man… yet somehow he did. Harry caught Antioch's flailing wrist and pivoted, wrenching the wizard's supine body sideways, pinning it hard against the unforgiving edge of a crenellation. Several nasty crunches sounded; Antioch wheezed, winced, and slid to the floor.

Harry glanced quickly at the wizard's hands. They were empty. Somewhere in the frenzy, Antioch had dropped his wand.

Nodding in grim satisfaction, Harry pointed the Publican's wand and declared check mate with one of the simplest spells. “Petrificus Totalus.

He knelt by his immobilised enemy, ran his hands quickly along Antioch's ribs, ungently realigned two bones that had snapped, then channeled the Publican's healing magic. “Emaculo.

Standing hurriedly, Harry took a step back to gaze at a man who was destined to become such a tragically immortalised figure in wizarding history.

Although Antioch was likely still in significant pain, Harry assured himself that the injuries were already mending and that the man would be fine. Harry's expression softened. “As promised, it's time to say farewell, Tio.”

His larynx frozen, Antioch made no sound, although his eyes glanced about in semi-panic, as if he was still trying to grope for some last hope of achieving his preferred ending.

Harry shook his head. “For what it's worth to you, future histories say that you will walk away from this battle alive. The immobilisation will wear off in a few hours, unless you have another wizard on hand to cancel it for you sooner.”

Harry turned away. He conjured a roped grappling hook, which he fitted securely around the edge of a crenellation, and then wove the rope twice through his belt. Taking a deep breath, he raised one foot onto the rampart… then paused to look back at the young wizard who still reminded Harry so much of the face he saw every morning in the mirror. He sighed regretfully. “There is nothing that I can say that will dissuade you from foolish quests, Tio, but you are destined for an interesting life — one long enough to meet your newest brother Ignotus, when he comes of age. The future records that you will come to know him well, and that the three Peverells — you, Cadmus and Ignotus — will achieve incredible things together.

Harry paused to fix the prostrate Peverell with a hard glare. “I also know that your new brother will outlive you both. You cannot change this fate. Learn your lesson from today, Antioch Peverell — do not even try to kill him.”

Antioch met Harry's glare and, ever so slowly, raised his two eyes a fraction of an inch, then lowered them in assent.

With that, Harry sighed. He was free; he had escaped! He had neutralised a homocidal dark wizard, and still preserved a future that he knew must take place…

The pressing concern that weighed down heavily on Harry's heart, of course, was whether it had taken too much time??