Fires of Time by GHL



Summary:

All space and time is relative. The only constant is the speed of... fire.

Victory in tatters; great deeds undone; the world is unraveling, and Ginny has vanished. Yet somehow, with the shared strengths of a cadre of highly implausible allies, Harry finds the will to persist through a bewildering tangle of centuries and realities, all hurtling toward an explosive, time-bending eruption.

An impossibly charring sequel to the utterly fractious Splinters.


Rating: PG starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Alternate Universe
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2017.10.31
Updated: 2018.01.16


Index

Chapter 1: Chilling Flames
Chapter 2: Eyes and Rainbow
Chapter 3: Today is the Day
Chapter 4: Spirits
Chapter 5: A Friendly Hand
Chapter 6: Voices
Chapter 7: Fire First
Chapter 8: Lurches
Chapter 9: Thimble and Block
Chapter 10: Southern Slopes
Chapter 11: Disruptions
Chapter 12: Crack in the Rock


Chapter 1: Chilling Flames

Author's Notes:

This story is crafted to be much shorter than my other feature-length tales (roughly 45K-words), but it's not exactly fluffy. Forget the flower picking and small talk -- this is all brief, pointed vignettes that push the plot or spark character development.

As of this writing, I've had two helpful people (effusive acknowledgments to come later) preview parts of the story and here's a rather salient comment:

'... this is so different from other fanfiction stories'.

Likely intended as a compliment, but it is also cautionary -- readers who prefer straightforward, linear 'once upon a time... they all lived happily ever after' plots, may find this a bit disorienting. However, if you enjoy stepping off the beaten path; if you like to be kept guessing; if you can trust that a crazy weave of tangential stories actually will thread together; if you have faith that wrenching despair can give way to inner strength, then gradually warm to humour and blossom into blazing triumph, then please give it a shot and let me know what you think.

Either way, cheers all, and happy Halloween!


Chapter 1. Chilling Flames

"Harry, we… we have to go." Tears streaming down her face, Hermione tugs Harry's sleeve.

"She's not dead." Harry lets fall the last of the dust that had been the Lost Diadem of Ravenclaw, and turns back toward the blaze still raging through the Room of Requirement. "I have to find her. She's alive."

"Harry please!" Hermione’s fingers clamp around his wrist. "I can't imagine your pain. I mean, who truly could?? But you’ve got to find a way to…"

Her words falter; her eyes shimmer in the light of a ghastly blaze that has just claimed her own best friend and the love of Harry's life. Hermione bites her lip. She trembles in a moment of doubt, then shakes her head. "No, it’s madness to go back. We’d never come out alive.”

Harry's stare has not yet broken from the fire, but Hermione persists more resolutely. “Think of Ginny. You know in your heart what she’d say, Harry. She’d tell you that you can still do this. She gave everything to help get us this far; she'd want us to move on.”

Harry stares blankly.

Hermione pulls him an inch toward the stairwell. “You have the strength to finish this, and you must — for her, for everyone who risked their lives tonight, and for everyone else who might not live to see morning.”

Harry’s jaw tenses as a conflict of mind and soul trembles across his face.

“Honour her courage, and all the great things she’s done.” Hermione’s voice drops to a hoarse whisper. “Promise me and I will promise you… We’ll do this together. We will not let her life be in vain."

***

It is a Halloween night that the hamlet of Allesley will surely wish to forget, but the last of the Muggleborns have been Portkeyed to safety, and Gemina Wilsey's urgent mission is a success.

Before preparing to disapparate, she makes a rapid final survey of the blaze, and gasps in surprise. There is a man — frail and elderly — slumped on the ground near the buckling doorstep. As she stares, magical flames leap through the air, igniting a shrub dangerously close to his head.

The man’s eyes open; he meets her gaze. Despite the roaring inferno, Gemina can hear his voice, rasping weakly, calling to her.

Bewildered; enraged at herself for not having noticed earlier, she dashes toward him, heedless of the raging combustion, desperately hoping she can reach him.

But Gemina fails to notice the assailant, a dark-cloaked wizard, apparating behind her.

In the din, she never hears the murderous hex... for the only sound to reach her ears is the old man's faint summons.

Gemina…

***

"Gemina?"

"Uh... Uh, yes father?" The 17 year old Annisgwyl pushes away shreds of a fretful, waking dream. She leans back from dying embers of her cauldron fire and grasps the hand of the old man resting behind her. "Pardon my daze — I nearly had nearly drifted off and... and, you so rarely use my Roman name." She examines his face in concern. "Are you in pain, father? The salve is nearly ready."

"Annisgwyl Gemina Peuerellius." The old man attempts a fond smile, but cannot disguise the tremors of a spell-damaged heart. Taking a deep breath, he finds a strength greater than most dying men and squeezes her hand. "Dearest daughter, you have always been so kind to me, but I must ask one final favour."

"Anything, father."

"It is time."

"Time, father?"

"It is time." The old man nods; his jaw bracing against an agony whose long slow march across his body is nearly complete. "Dear daughter, tonight I shall take my final rest. Thus freed from your burden of concern, you must leave here tomorrow to find Ignotus. Britannia needs him — Britannia of today and Britannia of the future. Please go to your brother; please bring him home."

***

Hermione releases Harry’s hand. She looks to his face in askance.

Eyes downcast, he shakes his head.

She watches him a moment longer — his slumped shoulders; the weary resignation in eyes that had, so recently, been aflame with the spark of victory. And peace. And Ginny.

Hermione reaches for his hand one more time, but his fingers don’t respond. He nods slightly — more in dismissal than acknowledgment.

Finally he speaks; his words hollow. “You go along. I’ll wait for you here.”

She takes a long breath. Then she turns, and her feet begin to move toward the dimly lit arch. In a moment, despite sheer exhaustion, she finds herself running, hurtling toward the voices.

Emerging into the rubble-strewn Great Hall, she judders to a halt, staring.

Staring at bodies.

Bodies. And mourners hunched over them.

Firelight has a way of illuminating red hair, so it takes a bare second for her to locate the cluster of Weasleys.

They too are hunched. Over a body.

Hermione's breath catches. Hand upon mouth, she approaches… With sinking heart, she stares at the only limb she has a proper vantage of - a bloodied leg. She squints, trying to match this, in her mind's eye, to Weasleys she has known.

In an instant, her great relief (not Ron!) is replaced by a toxic, torpourous regret. "Fred?"

A torn, grief stricken face rises from the huddle to acknowledge her. Percy weakly gestures her in.

A second face emerges - rigid and ashen; eyes wet and worn. It is Ron; he is quietly trembling; he brightens with a flicker of joy to see her face, but it falters, subsumed by dread… for Ron notices that although Hermione is alive, she is also alone.

Expertly reading Ron's expression, Hermione wraps her arms around him. "Harry is okay," she whispers. "He needed, er, a moment to himself."

Ron's head, somewhere in the vicinity of her shoulder, nods. Then it stops, and he pulls back, wide-eyed. "Where's Ginny?"

Hermione opens her mouth. Her lips quiver. She bites them, trying to hide a tremor of anguish.

Too late. Ron's face begins to stretch in horror. "Where's...?!" He can't bring himself to complete the question. He can't bear to accept an answer that he can see plainly etched in Hermione's brow. He teeters forward, falling clumsily onto her chest... and his hand, clutching hers, begins to spasm.

Oh god oh god oh god... Hermione can't recall ever using a deity's name in vain, but never before has she even remotely imagined such devastation. She has never seen Ron cry, let alone shudder weakly in her arms like a feverish infant.

Oh god oh god oh god... Despair floods Hermione's once-reasoned mind. Mere days ago, the world had seemed so bright and hopeful, but now everything has crumbled into utter madness. For Harry is breaking, Ron has broken, and Ginny is gone. Every corner of this miserable hall is filled with people wailing or whimpering and she, Hermione, has almost no strength left for anyone else, let alone herself, and she finds herself pining for a place — someplace imagined; something half-remembered from a vague, time-faded dream.

She seeks a place of utter emptiness. Pure absolving oblivion.

Perhaps a place that has neither joy nor pain? For Hermione cannot imagine joy, and she cannot bear more pain.

She closes her eyes… and finds herself falling away, into the blinding white.

***

Like a bitter nordic winter, the prickly whiteness has a numbing quality.

For Hettie Gravener, the misty woodland is gone. The princess and her wounded lover have vanished. The coupled cuplae are no more. What remains is utterly featureless.

Within this blank universe, Hettie floats.

"Oh my. Is this really…?" She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. "Is this the end?"

She pauses for a long moment, wishing that, somehow, the bizarre narratives of some strife-ridden Britain, of some war-torn Roman era, would drift toward some jumble of neuronal knots within which strange dreams generally dissolve to vague discontent and fade away. For that was all imaginary, wasn’t it?

Was it?

But this odd sensation of sterile suspension seems to persist an awfully long time. If this is all a mere dream, then shouldn’t she, well… wake up? Eventually?

She frowns to herself, and the standard Gravener analysis commences.

The logical, proper end to the quest with the cuplae was to negate everything I knew — to negate my whole reality, in order to preserve another, better world. So, logically, this could be the 'nothing' that is a negation of 'everything'… though I rather fancied 'nothing' as black rather than white.

Hmmm… And I would not have assumed that my endless analytical meanderings would prattle on as if thought itself was more 'nothing' than 'anything'.

Unpleasantly awkward thought, yes?

Now, surely Isaac Asimov would have had something to say about the…

But of course, Hettie has no book shelf from which to draw on the wisdom of history's great minds. All she is left within in this pseudo-nothingness is her own wandering consciousness, with all its clutter of whims; of hopes, fears, regrets…

Regrets.

Ah yes. She has a few of those.

Hettie regrets having wasted so many years not knowing she had magical powers. It also saddens her greatly that she only met Rob Wilsey so recently; that their time was so short… too short to kindle something that might have been…

And then of course, there is the matter of the many farewells she never had time to conduct.

Farewells.

Oh dear!

Mother, Daddy, Goodbye! I love you. I will miss you so!

Whatever it is that I've done to myself, I dearly hope that you will always think of me as a-

"Little numpty-slut!"

Hettie jolts! She blinks across the study table at a host of giggling schoolgirls, one of whom is burying her sputtering face into an over-sized chemistry text, while the others toss about in puerile hysterics.

"Undress him just a bit more with those randy little eyes, Henrietta!" A smirkily petite brunette beside her digs an elbow into Hettie's ribs. "Though I admit he is a bit hunky, yeah. A.G.S. bloke, by the looks?"

The voluptuous blonde across from Hettie squints over the book shelf, across toward the airy entrance way. "A bit scruffier than the average Auckland Grammar ponce… But, yeh, he could be a Lion, what with the— Shite! He's coming this way!!"

Oblivious to her circle of deeply blush-stained female companions, Hettie raises a bewildered gaze, tracing slowly up the approaching jeans and faded rugby. She confirms the familiar sweep of auburn hair; the stubbly, angular face and... those eyes. Piercing blue eyes.

Rather confused eyes.

Frowning, the bloke blinks twice, then focuses on Hettie. "Hey, hello there. I was wondering if… well, I'm not sure what I, uh… So, I was told I might find Henrietta Gravener here and, if one of you is, uhhh, her, then (cough) by any chance, do you know me?"

"Uh…?" Ignoring her semi-petrified (boggled and scandalised; near the point of twitching) school-mates, Hettie scans the tall young fellow who does not appear to have a proper St. Cuthbert's visitor's badge.

Hettie frowns.

What on Earth is going on here?

She glances at her swotting calendar which is purposefully opened to the date 'December 7, 1997'.

Huh?

What are you doing here 'now'? This isn't how, or when, we’re supposed to meet.

No indeed, Hettie recalls vividly how they met. She was summoned out of class (Analytical Geometry; how she loved that course!) to Visitor Reception on a rainy day in late February, 1998. Today, by contrast, is definitely sunny, she’s definitely in the library, and all the texts stacked up around them are for autumn 1997 classes.

How very 'interesting'.

Despite some understandable bewilderment, a gleam has lit in Hettie's eye. This may be an unquestionably odd new twist in her evermore twisty life, but when life get odd, Hettie gets… curious.

And when Hettie gets curious, Hettie acts!

"Why yes, of course I know you, Rob Wilsey," she says, giving the poor fellow a smile. Collecting her books, she casually offers her arm for him to take. "Oughtn’t we chat outside, perhaps? Librarians can get a bit shirty around exam time. You'd hardly want to get us all tossed, would you?"

***

Racing across the grounds beneath his invisibility cloak, Voldemort’s edict is still ringing in Harry’s ears.

Give me Harry Potter, and you will be rewarded. You have one hour.

Before plunging on to the forbidden forest, Harry pauses for a moment. It is a meaningless ritual indulgence, but Harry is going to bid the castle and his friends a final, silent farewell.

Yet before he can form the words, he is distracted by a faint moan. Glancing around, he spots a seventh year Hufflepuff splayed on the ground, severely wounded and unattended.

Cringing at the urgency of his own personal mission and how little time Voldemort’s ultimatum has left him to prepare, Harry nonetheless kneels to help the girl.

Quickly closing the wound with an Episkey spell, he hears her murmur a word of thanks. Squinting upwards in the darkness to where he (being invisible) cannot be seen, she asks, "Wh-who are you?"

"Errr... I'm..." Harry is about to answer when his head abruptly reels in a nauseating swirl of strange, blurred images. For the barest instant the girl on the ground seems to be Ginny, looking to him; some unspoken question on her lips.

Harry’s head quickly clears, but an aura of oddness persists. When he gazes about, he can tell that the setting is… strange.

Around him, Harry still sees night, but it is a different night. There is still a bustle of agitated voices and flickering flames in the background, yet the voices (and the languages they speak) have changed. There is no castle, no mown grounds, and the girl he is kneeling beside is clad not in Hogwarts robes, but in a rough tunic. She is bruised and muddied; she has a raw scrape as if from a skirmish.

The girl has piercingly beautiful eyes. The eyes remind him, in many ways, of Ginny's, although they are framed by a face of bewilderment.

"I am..." Harry finds he has no control over a strong, confident voice that begins issuing from his throat. "I am Marcus Ulpius Traianius, Legatus legionis of the Imperial Legio XX. And you are?"

The girl, Annisgwyl, finally blinks away her trance and focuses on her rescuer. "My name is G-" She coughs.

Struggling to a sitting position, Annisgwyl absently places her hand on the muscular forearm of her benefactor. Puzzled by the question, or by the fact that she seems to have several competing answers for it, her mouth opens and closes. Finally, she commits. "My name is Gemina Peuerellius; free citizen of Roman Britannia."

Harry freezes for a long moment, perplexed by a name that, in his confused state, seems both familiar and foreign.

Traianius, however, is unfazed, and merely smiles. "Ah? And what brings you here, cives Peuerellius? You are far from Britannia, and these woods may be wilder than your custom, as the ill-advised encounter with those Teutons might suggest. Oh and, begging your foregiveness, may I say that your attire seems somewhat… battered?"

Annisgwyl allows the man to help her to her feet. She brushes the worst of the dirt from her tunic and stands as tall as her diminutive stature permits. "I am on an urgent quest, my lord Legatus. I bear an important summons to my brother, whose presence is required in Britannia."

"I see." Traianius regards her seriously. "And whither then shall you seek your brother? Here in the hinters of Belgica?"

"No, I shall seek him in…" Annisgwyl can barely bring herself to speak of a place that her father has so long reviled as the origin of the dreaded Order of Letum. She nonetheless forces a steadiness into her voice. "I shall seek him in Herculaneum, sir."

"Ah?" Traianius betrays no sign that he apprehends the dark magical reputation of what non-magical Romans would regard as a small and ordinary city. "Well, cives Peuerellius, perhaps fortune shines upon you?"

"How so?" Annisgwyl gives him a curious look.

"As it happens, I am leading this Legion on a brief posting to Pompeii, a scant four leagues past Herculaneum along the road that you would follow." Traianius smiles. "Unless you cherish the perils of traveling alone through the wilds of Gaul and the high hills of Raetia, may I offer my services as imperial escort?"

Back to index


Chapter 2: Eyes and Rainbow

Author's Notes:

Okay, I admit that this chapter may be paraphrased as, 'They went for a walk in the woods'. However:

  1. I think it's an interesting walk in the woods,
  2. there's actually a surprising amount of H&G development subtly underlying this little walk, if you read between the lines, and
  3. later chapters involve more action than just a walk in the woods. In fact, at times they may even break into a rousing little trot ;)

Silliness aside, this provides a bit of backstory, plus a very subtle look-ahead; a bit like pulling back the layers of an onion. Without the crying, that is.


Chapter 2. Eyes and Rainbow

The late spring storms have broken, a brilliant sunset has come and gone, and the legion is enjoying some well-earned mead and merriment, courtesy of the friendly folk of Corobilium.

Traianius, however, leaves the feast early.

Rather than carouse, the Legatus legionis chooses to walk the moonlit fens toward a nearby stream that the Gaullish natives call ‘Puits’. He seeks to fill his flagon from waters that are held to be pure and restorative. He also seeks fresh air and solitude to clear his thoughts which, of late, have grown clouded.

The young man is accustomed to clarity. As life-arrows go, the flight of Traianius has been clean and straight. For the last seven of his young 22 years, he (like his father before him) has been a leader of men. Many of the soldiers who follow Traianius are older and more war-hardened, but they admire his level head, his instinctive fairness, and a temper that never flares in battle or bicker. They obey him without qualms or quavering.

Traianius understands the loyalty with which he is accorded, so it matters little to him if, behind his back, the troops have begun to snigger and speculate about his behaviour in the presence of a certain young maiden from Britannia.

The word used by some is 'larvatus'.

Bewitched.

If his men jest, Traianius does not fault them for it. Lust has never been his priority, and he has shown little patience for Cupid's darts, so there is no surprise if his current conduct has become ‘noteworthy’ to them.

Yet, in truth, even he is somewhat bewildered by his actions.

At times, Traianius can nearly convince himself that he is merely swayed by the girl’s exquisite blend of Gaelic beauty and perfectly cultured Latin etiquette. Perhaps he is beguiled by her innate grasp of both the velvet intricacies of the Roman elite and the leathered ways of the wilderness?

That is all possible, yet Traianius knows in his heart that there is more. She occupies his thoughts so often that he now secretly wonders if she may be what his soldiers whisper.

A witch?

In the few weeks that he has known Annisgwyl Gemina Peuerellius, he has seen unusual things. He has witnessed her curing ailments and wounds among his men, using skills and methods that baffle the Legion’s old Syrian Medicus — a veteran who has learned many surgical marvels during his long service. Furthermore, Traianius has observed a physical strength and endurance rare for such a small person. Did she not, somehow, push that fallen tree off Galenus before tending his wounds? Traianius himself inspected the trunk — it was thicker than a man’s chest!

And beyond such feats, what seems most puzzling is her effect upon Traianius himself. At times his eyes lock upon her and can barely be pried away. Her aura draws him in ways that raw lust would never. Yet there is something slightly unnerving about the attraction; it calls to mind the Papaver somniferum — beautiful flowers whose heady vapours can cure great pain, and whose absence may induce it.

Yet, he wishes to cast no aspersion. He decides that, perhaps, she comforts him of pains whose existence he had simply never before noticed? That seems plausible. After all, the girl acts in so many ways that are innocent and of pure intent. If she does indeed practise witchcraft, perhaps it is good witchcraft.

This thought relieves Traianius, yet it does not allay his other, greater, concern.

Dreams.

Traianius is not a dreamer. He has always lived long, arduous days; ever grateful to slide, undisturbed into deep rejuvenating sleep. Until recently.

Now his nights are laced with fretful quests; dreams cursed to never resolve. The origin is a mystery to him; he does not attribute Annisgwyl's strange powers, since the images do not involve her. Rather, he finds himself longing, in vain, for some other lovely young maiden whose hair is like the deep red fringe at the glimmering crest of a rainbow. And just like the rainbow, this maiden is ever elusive. He pursues her through the wild dreamscapes, ever glimpsing, never reaching.

In the worst dreams, of which there have now been several, Traianius has closed to within barely arms-length of the maiden — reaching out as she beckons to him — only to watch helplessly, tragicaly, as she is struck down by a cold, grizzled hand.

The hand of ‘Letum’.

Of Mors. Death.

Despite the sultry evening; despite alertness that shelters him from fickle dreams, Traianius finds himself shivering. Streamside, he caps his flagon, and turns hurriedly to ascend from the moonlit glade, when-

“Forgive me, my lord.” Annisgwyl reaches out her hand to steady the startled Traianius. “I wished not to alarm you; I only desired to fill my flagon and to watch the waters. As my mother once did.”

Traianius watches her moonlit gaze drift across the shimmering stream, enchanted, listening as Annisgwyl complete her reverence. “Mother would seek the calm of the waters to gather thoughts. Every living day, from the gentle ripples she would find wisdom. When her living days came to an end, perhaps therein she also found rest.”

Traianius finds himself staring at the girl — her face; her eyes; the fringes of her soul…

For the briefest moment, Traianius tries to imagine the girl’s mother, streamside in placid meditation, but immediately freezes. Something deep inside Traianius’s heart is wrenched by the pungent vapours of a dozen anxious nights. A flood of immeasurable sadness washes over him, for something cold in the sultry air seems to be whispering to him…

The quests are over. The Rainbow is no more.


***


Easy, mate!

A pair of small female hands has reached across the moon shadow to grasp Traianius’s arm.

The hands freeze in surprise.

Huh?! Gemina Wilsey stares. Did I do that?

The hands, of course, belong to Annisgwyl, but Gemina is pretty certain that her instincts alone prompted the comforting gesture. Intrigued, Gemina concentrates. By way of experiment, she dwells on the tone of Annisgwyl's empathy for the grieving bloke, infuses a measure of her own sentiment, then projects the blend down toward Annisgwyl's hands, willing one of them upward.

The result is halting… but successful. One hand edges up from Traianius’s arm to curve warmly about his shoulder. The man’s tension diffuses, responding to a gesture that is caring, and genuine.

Gentle compassion may seem out of place in a tough nut like Gemina but, in truth, it is an essential part of who she is. She has little use for (and generally denies) her own vulnerabilities, but senses grief in others and understands the need for treating it. In battle, she knows that untreated sorrow is more debilitating than most physical wounds. She has also learned that warfare is more about pain than fear. To win any battle is not merely to overcome those who cause pain, but also to rescue those who suffer it.

Thus, there is no contradiction for a war-hardened Gemina to expend such effort to guide her host's hand, arduously coaxing it in slow soothing circles over the Roman general's taut shoulder.

Nonetheless, she is still amazed (after weeks of futility) that her disembodied will is able to accomplish anything. Still keen on exploring her influence, Gemina wills Annisgwyl to study the man before her, passing thoughtfully over his face (stern but sad), before taking in the thick shock of dark hair catching the sheen of moonlight, and those deep eyes.

Those still very bereaved eyes.

Neither the ephemeral spirit of Gemina Wilsey, nor the corporeal mind of Annisgwyl, understand why Traianius should be overcome by such sorrow. Deep, visceral melancholy seemed to have sprung from mention of Annisgwyl’s prematurely deceased mother, but it is difficult to grasp why a Roman general from lands far to the south should have such feelings for a former Icenian princess whose reclusive life and disappearance was barely marked even by the locals in remote Britannia.

Yet whatever the cause, Gemina can tell that the man’s sorrow is very real. The raw pain of a moment ago is lessened, but feelings remain — deep, pure and selfless. Perhaps this is some sort of cathartic release of long-suppressed strain?

Gemina ceases the motions of Annisgwyl's hand. Resolving that this will be tonight's last attempt to manipulate her host (the mental effort is exhausting), she applies pressure through her palm to gently encourage Traianius to turn back for one long, final gaze across at the moonlit stream.

Somehow, deep within her subconscious, Gemina begins to sense that what she is observing here is more than the odd emoting of a Roman era general and a girl from Britannia. There is surely a deeper meaning; other forces at work; other matters of love and loss; of life and death. Perhaps this strikes to the heart of why she (Gemina) is stuck in this bizarre vision.

Indeed, for the first time in dream-weeks, Gemina truly believes she may be honing in on something, but she doesn't know what. Nor does she have a good sense for how (or where) to look for whatever it is that she thinks she's starting to glimpse.

Frustrating, but whatever.

When faced with an annoying conundrum like this, Gemina generally just shelves it. If it's important, and if she has a remote chance of figuring it out, hopefully her subconscious will turn the trick. But for now, she's surely got a ton of more pressing things to concern her. Right?

Er, right?

Well, oddly no.

At the moment, Gemina hasn't a single task that she'd better dive into before it's too late — not a single mission to plan; not one joint to case; not even a brother she can go badger. Instead of urgency, she has leisure. She has time.

Having time to wait and think and dream seems very strange to a ‘warrior’ who has lived every day of her teen years never fully expecting to see the next sunrise. Being trapped for weeks, passively watching her host navigate a bewilderingly foreign culture and epoch, has given Gemina lots of time to be alternately intrigued and bored; time to be hopeful and encouraged; time to wonder what the hell she’s supposed to be doing with all this bloody time.

She has spent quite a bit of time wondering how she actually ended up in this situation, but to no avail. She still has no clue why she was spirited away from the Allesley fire in the final instant before imminent death. Unless her odd existence actually is death?

A form of reincarnation, perhaps?

Gemina understands a bit of the Eastern tradition of life’s eternal circle. One dark and cheerless winter (years ago, when her not-yet-dead parents were still valiantly trying to shelter her from the war), Gemina spent several ghastly months stuck in the old safe house in Islington. She had attempted to pass the horrendous incarceration with endless magical defence training but most days her body and magic would collapse by late afternoon, and she’d find herself sprawled face-down on a filthy floor with a still-hyperactive mind wondering what the hell to do now.

Often, she would crawl up the dusty old library and read; just pulling random books off the shelf and learning… whatever. In that way, she became acquainted with Buddhism, Hinduism, Confusianism… A bit about Sadism and Masochism too (the old Black family was rather a sordid lot), although perhaps that is beside the point.

Indeed the point is that, despite a spotty education, Gemina understands the concepts of death and reincarnation. And, in assessing her self-directed learnings, it seems pretty unlikely that death and reincarnation would involve bouncing about first century France, going moon-eyed over some Roman general.

A rather dishy fellow, granted, and one that stirred in her… feelings of a sort… but that too is beside the point.

The point after the point is that Gemina is pretty sure that she's still alive. But this fact is of little use to anyone if she dies of bleeding boredom!

Got to do something!!

Gemina is ready for action. She's ready for something BIG. Something exciting, glamourous, courageous and victorious. Gemina has had weeks to grind a few proverbial axes, and now she wants to get back to real ones. She wants to start crushing those grotty, boneheaded, corpse-chewing Voldy-rats. NOW!

But she hasn’t figured out how.

How how how how how how HOW?!

How can she escape this gnat-infested ancient forest? How can she get out of this tatty, louse-ridden tunic and into some sleek, form-fitting, thug-bashing, mean-girl outfit, ready to smack some heads!

The more Gemina thinks about her current state, the more irritated she gets. And her host (this Celtic chick) is not helping. As far as Gemina can tell, Annisgwyl either has no clue that she (Gemina) is stuck here and wants out. Or else the bitchy Briton doesn’t care.

Prat Peuerellius.

However, despite all that frustration, tonight Gemina finally some sustained hope. Never before has she succeeded in influencing her host, yet now she’s gotten real results! For the first time in her blunt, hard-nosed life, she has discovered the magical force of ‘subtlety’. Rather than seeking (and failing) to browbeat her ignorant (or defiant) host, Gemina has learned to sense Annisgwyl’s mood, to echo it and, ever-so-slightly, bend it to action.

Gemina also now understands something that ought to have been obvious — that her influence is strongest at night.

While Annisgwyl is a child of the sunlight and wary of the night, Gemina’s many years on the run has led her to love the moon — the keeper of secrets. Within its low silvery light, Gemina often sees many things that others do not.

As she does right now.

Something in Gemina's subconscious has prompted her to remember that she has a man at her side. Suddenly she finds herself once again perusing a face framed beneath the dark wavy hair of the young Roman general holding her host’s hand. Something makes Gemina look past that, to instead re-assess the man’s eyes.

The eyes…

In the moonlight, she finds it easy to believe… that they are green.


***


Harry may have urgently wished to rush to the Forbidden Forest to scout his enemy, but he's not gotten very far, seeing as how he is still dreaming.

In his mind, it seems like ages have passed since he blanked out while tending the injured student on the castle grounds. At the very least, there has been plenty of time to dissipate his original tsunami of adrenaline (Ai! Less than an hour left. Must stop Voldemort!) and allow him to settle into the dream experience.

Harry has had comparable episodes in the past and, in general, such dreams prove at least benign, and are frequently beneficial. He is fairly confident that his entranced body is still out on the dark Hogwarts grounds; still crouched over a wounded student; still poised to rise up and complete his urgent waking mission. And when it does, he is at least modestly hopeful that he will still have adequate time for his efforts. With any luck, the dream may even arm him with additional insight, skill or strength to help him on his way.

But in the meantime, he assumes that there is some dream-mission to be fulfilled. These details of life trapped in an imperial Roman Legatus legionis marching across an ancient vernal European countryside could hardly be random neuronal firings.

Unfortunately, the episode has kind of dragged.

Unlike those wonderfully fulfilling (if at times utterly terrifying) series of time-bending visions he experienced several years earlier, his new dream is often dull and frustrating. Vicarious adventures in the life of the Publican Paternas Peuerellius (an ancestor; a kindred spirit; aware and sympathetic of Harry’s plight) were reliably exciting and fulfilling, but now the host is a complete stranger (Traianius) whose eyes and ears provide only narrow windows to a very foreign world, and whose mind carefully shrouds most thoughts, emotions and insight.

To adapt, Harry has learned to scan like an eagle, and listen like a hawk. In this way, he is at least learning about his environment, for leaders such as the Legatus legionis communicate extensively (with troops, subordinate officers, imperial envoys and couriers) and the dialogues are frequently very substantial.

So, in terms of information gathering, Harry cannot be too aggrieved.

But information gathering is not the same as information processing. And herein lies frustration, for not only does Harry lack the contextual insight of a Roman mind such as the Publican’s, he also sorely misses the one real-world person whose intelligence, intuition, wit and empathy could always guide and inspire him in ways that nobody else can.

Harry misses his perfect collaborator.

Ginny.

A loner no more, Harry has spent the past thirty one months nearly inseparable from Ginny. Together they became infamous; a force of nature. They turned confounding debacles into entertaining challenges; frightful perils into mere adventure.

But now, without her at his side, the world is cold, colourless and… bewildering. Every clammy, grey confusion reminds him how much he lacks.

And the worst clammy grey confusion he feels is in wondering how he could possibly have lost her?!

Lost?

Lost.

She may be lost, but she's not dead.

Isn’t she?

Harry has denied (and denied, and denied) the possibility that Ginny truly perished in the Fiend Fyre. After all, he never saw her fall. She had been right beside him. He had turned for the barest instant… and she was gone.

Gone.

Not dead.

Or is she…?

He has clung to one critically sustaining conviction for every moment of this endless dream, but how much longer can he hold on?

In this dream night by the moonlit stream, the starkest possibility has been laid bare. Struck, brutally, by the mournful note in Annisgwyl’s moonlit eyes, Harry finds himself beginning to admit that Ginny might truly be lost forever.

In Annisgwyl’s words and her expression, Harry is confronted with the understanding that the one person in all of history who was so very nearly identical to ‘Ginny’ in almost every perfect quality — the Princess LanossŽa of the Iceni — is presumed dead. Harry knows, logically, that one death need not imply another. LanossŽa lived to bear Harry's and Ginny's ancestors to an age of self-sufficiency, so her demise is unlikely to disrupt history. In fact, it may even be history — a normal (if sadly brief) cycle of life and death that was the norm through so many generations of human history.

However, the image of LanossŽa meditating streamside, juxtaposed with the thought of never seeing her again and the fear of losing Ginny forever, composed a symbol too powerful for Harry's fragile psyche. Thus, while Traianius’s body still has the strength to walk hand-in-hand through the dark woods with the now-orphaned daughter of LanossŽa, Harry sustains no will for anything other than to collapse to his knees and drop slowing down onto the earthy forest floor, and lie there, until-

No.

Harry pushes back the despair.

The clammy grey subsides.

What ray of hope did he feel just now? What shone down to break the chain of torment? What hidden aura has renewed his strength to stand; to gaze curiously through his host’s window on the world?

After a moment of grappling, scanning for some vague ephemera, Harry realises that his search is not alone. Another (or others) also seek him.

In particular, he feels eyes upon him. For this first time in the endless dream sequence, it is not an incidental sense of the various people who speak with Traianius, but rather the power of eyes that seek past the Roman and reach across every inch or light year, all the way to Harry's heart. And he rushes to reciprocate.

The eyes emanate from Annisgwyl, but Harry knows that they are not hers. The Brythonic girl's concern is for Traianius alone; she does not yet see Harry, nor would Harry wish her to.

As Harry begins to entwine with the distant gaze, he is buoyed by the sense of tender connection that he has only ever known from one person. Harry knows not how this person has found him, nor from where, but he is certain that her gaze is every bit as real as anything that is magic.

The eyes are as real as a rainbow.

The rainbow is real; it is waiting for him. And someday, again, he will reach it.

Back to index


Chapter 3: Today is the Day

Author's Notes:

So, a decent crew of you have stuck by through the harrowing first chapter, and the highly contemplative second. Now things begin to get a bit more lively, with another glimpse of back-story, plus some spicy interactions among our alternate-AU gang, and the next steps on the Battle of Hogwarts front. For those of you awaiting an infusion of real 'Ginny', that will begin to gather steam in chapter 4.


Chapter 3. Today is the Day

Ahhh… Hettie is settling into the reassuring feel of a warm hand on her arm, when-

"Huh?!" She jolts; her eyes flashing wide. Glancing around, she is surprised to see, not a dark moonlit woodland, but rather the russet evening glow through the trees of Puriri Drive.

The fog of her odd daydream takes a moment to lift; as it does, she realises she must have just nodded off.

“You all right, Hettie?” Withdrawing his hand, Rob is at her side, eyeing her curiously.

“Am I all right?” A flurry of half-processed emotions flicker past.

In truth, part of Hettie feels far better than 'all right'. Any chance at life seems glorious to someone who, so very recently, was facing dissolution of her entire past, present and future into eternal white nothingness. However, another part of her is worried that acting too happy could seem a bit selfish, given how Rob's whole life has been defined by a slow-spreading loss of everyone and everything he loved. Yet a third part of her notices that he is, nonetheless, offering her a shy smile. So she opts for the same. Accompanied by the hint of a blush.

“Sorry Rob.” Hettie sighs. “I'm okay, but what a piker you must think me for drifting off on you. What were you saying?”

“Nothing useful. I was just wondering if it could be amnesia?” Rob’s forehead creases. “In nearly six weeks on the boat, I never managed to figure out what I'm doing, or why I'm doing it. I’ve had this piece of paper with directions for how to find you, and that worked out okay, but now that I'm here, I've no clue what I’m supposed to do or say.”

It is Hettie’s turn to frown.

Rob is changed.

He is changed. The circumstances are changed. The day is shifted by months. Why is everything so 'different' from what I…

Remember?

Of course, ‘remember’ is not the right word. Hettie has checked her watch twice now (surreptitiously, as she would not wish to make Rob think he bores her) to verify that today is Sunday, December 7th, 1997. It is very nearly two months before that notable day when she first met Rob… in February, 1998.

First met? † She rolls her eyes at the follies of using linear concepts to describe semi-circular time.

Let’s try this again.

Hettie carefully reviews her odd biography — how sometime early next school term, she will be summoned from class, will get swept away on the wildest adventure of her life, only to be deposited (two months earlier) into a rather dull swotting session, back home at the Frances Compton library…

Home? Library?

Well, admittedly yes, the library is practically her home. Hettie smirks at how dull her life would seem to anyone (i.e., basically everyone) who isn’t aware that she periodically pops back to the past, ahead to the future, and off into alternate universes to save the world from frightful devastation.

She almost giggles… then her eyes widen.

Past… future… Oh oh oh?!! I know all the questions and answers to Wednesday’s Maths exam!!

But wouldn't that be, errr, cheating??

She shakes her head. The exam is irrelevant. What matters is that, armed with exquisitely detailed memories, she is back home just in time. For today is the day she begins a new adventure!

New? † She nods to herself. Presumably yes. This caper can hardly be expected to unfold much like the last one, given circumstances that bear so little semblance to the way things started before (or after, or whatever).

For starters, Rob is not quite so mysterious and masterful.

No, Rob is mostly just confused.

Of course, it doesn't help much that she's surely giving the poor lad a complex — snoozing off in mid-conversation, dithering in dopey interminable pauses every time he makes a pained, heartfelt admission…

Sweet murphy, will you FOCUS, Henrietta?!

She reaches across and grabs his hand, eliciting a blink. She suppresses the urge to smile, and instead forces a solemn look onto her face and thinks back to what he was actually trying to tell her.

“Amnesia.” She nods seriously. This would also explain some confusion. “Okay, let’s get a handle on that, shall we? Can you tell me the last thing you recall before leaving the safe house?”

“You know about the safe house?” Rob stares at her in surprise. “I didn’t think anyone knew, other than… Oh, I suppose Dunbar would have told you? Errr…”

Hettie bobs her head ambiguously, restraining that itchy little smirk that keeps trying to dance onto her face. It is the same smirk that sometimes gets her into trouble in class when she keeps correcting her professor’s grammar.

Meanwhile Rob has pushed aside his own query and is concentrating on hers.

Concentrating diligently.

Such a charmer, he is!

Suddenly Rob’s eyes flash wide; a wave of anguish sweeps over his face. “She’s dead!”

Hettie’s proto-smirk vanishes. She's dead? † She thinks back and recalls… a quirky yet touching obituary… and Hettie knows instantly that Rob's attempt at recovering his memory has stumbled upon a most painful juncture.

"Gemina?" Hettie finds Rob’s other hand, dropping her voice. “Oh, I know, Rob. I’m so very very sorry.”

Rob’s face is pale and for a moment he trembles in emotion… then he settles.

“Can you still talk us through it?” Hettie squeezes his hands. “I'll understand if it's too painful, Rob. But telling me what you remember may help us both understand why you’re here.”

Rob tenses for a moment, pausing to steel his emotions in case of other harrowing images. After an awkward cough, his voice issues — deep and slow; almost robotic.

“November 1. Woke up pre-dawn at the safe house. Morning ops reports were just coming in. Neill and I had just heard a-about my sister’s death. Everyone was shaken; Pearce was weeping openly; Dan Thomson was shattered — poor bloke was assigned to go on the Allesley run too, but splinched on the way. Lost two toes, but that was nothing next to the guilt…”

Rob pauses for the better part of a minute, seemingly trying to recall what happened next. Hettie’s thumb patiently rubs the back of his hand.

“Yes, well the last bit involved Dunbar.” Rob's brow wrinkles uncertainly. “Er, you do know who Dunbar is?”

Hettie nods matter-of-factly. In truth, she knows little about the leader of the British magical resistance, other than that he was a school Headmaster, and was responsible for secretly obliviating vulnerable families (including her own) and spiriting them out of England.

“Of course you would.” Rob nods. “So Dunbar whooshed through the Floo, looking… terrible? Scared? Shocked? I-I don’t know, Hettie. I’ve never seen him act so spooked. Anyway, he pressed a manila folder and a freighter voucher into my hand and started talking really really fast; telling me all about, uh, stuff.”

Hettie arches her brow. “Stuff?”

“Sorry.” Rob hangs his head. “Here's where I still don’t remember a bloody thing. I can see his mouth moving, but there’s no words. Whatever he said, though, it must have made an awful impression, because I left the house straight away with barely more than the clothes on my back, travel vouchers, and some written directions.” Rob fishes in a pocket and hands her a small scroll.

Hettie scans the details (ship passage from Tilbury; bus connections up from the harbor), then sees at Dunbar’s attempt at a physical description:

‘Henrietta Gravener. Age 18. Medium height; brown hair. Would be quite comely, but for buck teeth and bushy hair…’

What?!! † † Hettie may have been willing to cut Dunbar some slack for exiling her, for taking away her memories, for denying her a chance at a magical life before it even began, but… buck teeth?!

“Uh?” Rob looks at her with concern. “You okay, Hett?”

Shallow ignorant troglodyte patronising lookist poof!

“Hettie? You, uh, seem a bit pale?”

Sod your absess-befouled Victorian era dental squalour! You think the daughter of Auckland’s two best orthodontists goes around gnawing trees like some rabid limey pom BEAVER?!

“Hettie??”

"Aghh!" Hettie pulls back her hands and, to ease her agitation, ends up subconsciously winding a finger through her prettily straightened tresses (glossy; with appropriately medium-body) as she taps her lips (equally pretty; not straining to cover any oral deformities). She forces a smile. “I’m fine.”

She is indeed fine. She is concentrating. Not distractible. Not losing sight of Rob’s dilemma. She turns to him with a deep breath. “So… you spent six weeks on a ship, without ever knowing why?”

“Well, not exactly.” Rob shakes his head earnestly. “I was on the ship so I could find you. That’s reason enough, right?”

Hettie’s jaw drops. In the back of her mind, it occurs to her that it’s a damned good thing she’s completed all of those skilled orthodontics corrections, as she’s certainly putting it all on display.

Yet more immediate in her mind is an impulse to utterly RAVISH the fellow — right there in full view of the Rugby Club car park…

But most immediate still is the mature, responsible voice issuing from her throat, saying, “Well, I hope I can live up to that.”

She renews her smile. It is full and genuine, but fades to sobriety. “But you’d also mentioned a manila folder? Oughtn’t we have a peek through that?”

It is Rob’s turn to gape. He breathlessly mouths something that Hettie decides is ‘You’re brilliant’, then digs feverishly into his pocket, retrieving a tiny envelope and a stick.

It suddenly occurs to Rob that he is brandishing the stick in plain sight.

“Go ahead — use your wand.” Hettie glances around casually. “We've a fine music program here; people will just fancy you're a conductor.”

Rob looks puzzled for a moment, then shrugs. He resizes the envelope and begins to hand it to her, explaining, “This isn’t an ordinary envelope. The inside is…”

“Really, really big. I know.” Hettie nods. Taking the folder from his hand, she deftly unwraps the string and peers inside, trying to not show that bit of childish awe she feels every time she beholds such paradoxical magical spaces. Pushing aside some clothes, papers, clothes, a few bottles, a clumsy fake-looking bezel-set ring, and other oddments, her eyes flit about seeking one key item…

“Aha! There you are.” She reaches in and pulls out the old Wilsey family photo album.

Curious, Rob watches as she flips knowledgeably to the one page she relies upon for answers.

But page 34 contains only a photo of a moody Highland vista. Nothing more.

Hettie stares. Leadening disappointment is about to sink through her, but then-

Skitter, clatter, BANG!

“Oi!” Red hair wild about her face, Gemina Wilsey teeters into view. Steadying herself on the frame, she stares straight over Hettie’s shoulder. “Rob Rob Rob — it’s you! I could kiss your manky, scruffy…”

Gemina’s eyes narrow as they register Hettie's presence. A flicker of recognition is almost perceptible on Gemina’s face, but also puzzlement. “Eh, Rob? Who’s the perky little birdie?”


***


Hermione jolts.

For a moment, she thought she was speaking to Ginny. Or someone very like Ginny.

But that was obviously an exhausted mind playing tricks. In reality, Hermione is still in the torch-lit Great Hall; still holding Ron.

Through the haze of the last few minutes, she vaguely recalls Voldemort’s voice having boomed ominously, magically, through the chamber — some sort of decree requiring Harry to march down to the Forbidden Forest and turn himself in. Her pulse spikes, remembering that she left Harry in a corridor off the Entrance Hall.

Ooh! I hope he’s not gone. He promised to wait!

Of course, Hermione has no idea how long she’s been dozing. A part of her is cursing her weakness for being too loggy to rouse herself when the decree first issued but, well… even now it’s very difficult to budge any muscles. She has to admit that 30 or 40 straight hours of nonstop action takes a toll.

A part of her is trying to argue that she may have imagined Voldemort's edict. After all, there’s little evidence of frenzy or panic. The hall is still filled with mourners, still mourning. The various Weasleys are still weeping over Fred…

The only Weasley whose demeanour has changed noticeably is Ron, and that change is for the better. He has stopped shivering; his eyes have closed.

Hermione strokes his face gently. He does not startle. A breath issues; a precursor to a snore. Hermione smiles sadly.

Poor dear — he’s utterly exhausted too. No surprise, given everything terrible that has…

Hermione stiffens.

For a precious little while, the horrors had faded. Her little slumber had woven a soft veil of forgetfulness, but now the ghastly, inexplicable debacle begins to stream back without mercy.

In an instant, Hermione is reminded how they had all woken on a sparklingly beautiful Monday morning less than two weeks earlier. It had been the first school morning after Easter break. Despite post-holiday grogginess, they had been jesting and grousing amiably on their way down to breakfast… only to be confronted with a Daily Prophet spelling out a bracing shock.


MINISTRY FALLS!

WHITEHALL — Last night, shortly before midnight, hundreds of militant supporters of Lord Voldemort seized control of the entire Ministry of Magic complex. The Dark Lord himself, previously assumed to be in exile in the Channel Islands, summoned the press to announce that he was assuming the title of Minister of Magic, in place of the Rt. Hon. Rufus Scrimgeour, now deceased. All Ministry staff and current or former cabinet members have been ordered to appear for an all-hands meeting, to take place at…


In subsequent days, the situation has only worsened. Rapidly.

Hermione knows she’s heard only a fraction of the atrocities, but at a certainly point the incessant beat of bad news became intolerable.

Then, as if to prove that the ‘worst’ can get even worse, they have learned that Dumbledore, unexpectedly, is dead.

No, it was not a sudden assassination like Scrimgeour's; the tale is far stranger than that. For Hermione, this dystopic collapse of all sanity began in earnest two mornings ago as she and Ginny followed Harry into the Headmaster's office.

‘Professor McGonagall?? We're, uhh, here for our meeting with Professor Dumbledore?’

Harry's words could hardly have sounded more awkward, but who can blame him? None of them had expected to see McGonagall (rather than Dumbledore) labouring haggardly behind the Headmaster’s desk.

Merlin, what an awful look (Bewildered? Pitying?) McGonagall had given them. After a halting, stilted and baffling exchange, she had finally managed to convey that, according to basically everyone (i.e., hundreds of witnesses), the Headmaster was dead. He had perished atop the Astronomy Tower. In June of 1997. Nearly a year ago.

Wh…?!

Hermione recalls several ensuing conversations with random (increasingly skittish) people up and down the grand staircase, all of whom had confirmed McGonagall’s version of history. Even Ron agreed with this bizarre alternate reality. And two days later, Hermione still has no plausible idea why she, Ginny and Harry should be the only ones to have remembered all of the promising, hopeful, happy things that had happened over the past year. Only the three of them knew perfectly well that Dumbledore had been unquestionably alive and well, not only throughout the past year, but even mere days ago!

Does nobody remember his address to the student body, inviting their families to take refuge in the castle?

No.

How he promised amnesty to all children of Death Eaters, if only they would vow to eschew the conflict?

He what?

Does anyone at least recall his silly supper speech before Easter break?

No, apparently not. To discuss any of this is to invite stares of shocked incredulity.

Yet Hermione, Harry and Ginny all shared the same memories of Dumbledore’s last weeks; everything large and small; aggravating and assuring; funny and sad. Most critically, Hermione, Harry and Ginny all vividly recalled that evening in early April; that last evening before the first hints of madness began to drop; the last meeting when all of their plans were still converging perfectly.

Ron and McGonagall were there, but it's difficult to convince them of this.

Dumbledore was there but he, apparently, is long dead.

Yet Hermione, Harry and Ginny all remembered.

Seriously, how could anyone forget?!

“We have him trapped,” Dumbledore had said. “Four weeks from today, we shall make Riddle an offer he cannot refuse. Four weeks from today, the threat will be forever ended and victory will be ours.”

Four weeks from April 4th. Without looking at a calendar, Hermione knows that four weeks from that day lands on today, May 2nd, 1998.

Today is the day it all shall end. But although it is still so very early, and the predawn sky is still utterly dark, she cannot muster much hope for a celebration.

How could we be such FOOLS!!!

She begins to quake, enraged how they were so daft to believe it would all be so easy. How could it be, in such a scrambled, confused world? And even now that they have all been taught life’s bitterest lessons, they are no better than stupid children, because they still have no clue how everything got so scrambled, and how they’ve become so confused!

Now all is doomed. All hell has broken loose, the world is broken and there’s no putting it back together unless she can start learning something (anything) about what went wrong; unless Harry can find his feet again; unless they can somehow find Ginny and…

Ginny.

It is incredibly difficult for Hermione to grasp that she is gone.

Drifting across Hermione’s tear-stained field of vision are memories of her best friend laughing, playing Quidditch, hugging Harry. So many memories.

Ginny. Awesome, fearless, irrepressible. Ginny flying. Ginny scoring. Ginny helping a discouraged first-year. Ginny shrugging off another Snape detention. Ginny dueling. Ginny blasting down doors at Malfoy Manor…

The swirling montage of ‘all that is Ginny’ is overlaid upon a backdrop of spreading, clutching, rapacious, murderous…

Flames…

Hermione’s spine goes bolt-stiff. The vision is gone.

Flames?

Something in the deep recesses of Hermione’s mind had sparked at the superposition of ‘Ginny’ and ‘flames’. It was the faintest flicker of an image, real or imagined, of Ginny rushing toward a horrific blaze.

Hermione is almost certain that she never personally witnessed a scene like that, but…?

Hermione shifts Ron's comatose form, carefully setting him to rest upon the tatters of an old tapestry. She touches his face one last time, then pulls back. She loves the boy, but right now she is suffocating in this den of blood and anguish, and she absolutely must escape; must find somewhere she can think. Alone.

Or with Harry?

Hermione nods. Alone, or with Harry.

She stands.

Nobody notices.

She begins walking away.

Nobody gives her a second glance.

She breaks into a run, desperately scanning the corridor where Harry would (of course) have long since given up waiting.

Harry, Harry, Harry! Where have you gone?!

Hermione turns heel, sprinting back through the Entrance Hall.

Harry, I-I… I may finally be onto something!

With all of the ‘real’ memories that never happened, and so many ‘surreal’ ones that did, Hermione is suddenly wondering if someone has meddled with time? Could it be a fiendishly devious plan to spring Voldemort from their 'perfect' trap? Hermione's mind races past the earlier (failed) plot to corrupt history and eliminate Harry’s existence. Perhaps now someone has found the means for something simpler and subtler? To degrade his life into devastating torment and futility…?

And the capstone of such a plan would logically be to target…?

Hermione stops. Standing on the castle’s front steps, frozen in the darkness, glimmers of a distant bonfire flicker in her eyes. She gasps.

Bloody hell! Voldemort!!

She bursts into a mad sprint across the grounds, crying out, “Harry! Harry, please tell me you didn’t listen to him?!”

No answer.

“Harry?!”

No answer. Blindly, Hermione runs off in a random direction, with only instinct to steer her.

Harry, Harry, Harry — please hear me.

Don’t go to the forest; don't give yourself up!

“Harry, are you out here?”

Harry, we'll think of a better way — I'm sure of it…

We’ve got to find GINNY!


***


One moment, Harry had been walking mournfully in the moonlit woods of Roman Gaul. The next, he finds himself back on the Hogwarts grounds, reeling over the wounded student that he had recently (Weeks ago? Seconds?) helped to stabilize.

Bracing himself to stop the spinning, Harry takes a breath.

He gazes down at the girl, seeing that she has slipped back into unconsciousness. Noting the peaceful look on her face; the lack of apparent pain, he reaches tentatively for her wrist and exhales in relief.

Not dead. She has a pulse; reasonably strong.

He considers levitating her to the castle, but is feeling too pressed for time. Still shrouded beneath his invisibility cape, he shouts for help, hoping that people will come for the girl; hoping they won’t recognise his voice.

He seems to be rewarded on both counts; his hoarse rasp is practically unrecognisable, but still loud enough to summon rapid footfalls.

Satisfied; he adjusts his cape, and hastens back on his way down through the main gate.

He has gone no more than a hundred yards, when he hears a voice calling.

“Harry?!”

It is a voice he knows very well.

“Harry, are you out here?”

Harry slows for a moment, torn between loyalty and urgency. He dabs away a bit of moisture from his cheek, then sighs. His voice is a mere whisper, audible to no one.

“Hermione, I'm sorry. I have to go.”

And with that, he slips away into the night.

Back to index


Chapter 4: Spirits

Author's Notes:

Well, I am now completely jazzed. A few of nights ago, I finally ironed out (in sketch form) the last major plot tangles required to bring this crazy tale to a self-consistent conclusion!

As it stands, I believe there is virtually no twist in the ending that I haven't laid at least a bare hint for, either here in the first four chapters, or in the various review responses. On the flip side, though, I am 98% positive I will still keep you all guessing until the grande finale :)

Back when I was writing Splinters, I began with what I believed was a nifty premise but worried that I might end up losing the inspiration and have to settle for a humdrum ending. Well, if I had been concerned about that with this story, I now lay my worries to rest. It shall be wacky and (I think) rather satisfying.

So, chapter 4: if I could choose someone to score it, I would ask Ludovico Einaudi. The text still kind of transitional; still a bit angsty and cerebral; a shade more back-story... and finally (to a lone throbbing cello) we get a little bit of Ginger.


Chapter 4. Spirits

Annisgwyl lies awake for a long time after her slow, silent walk back from the stream with Traianius. Her head is spinning from the many strange, foreign images that have crossed her mind recently. Her thoughts race, trying to understand what it means to glimpse the thoughts, memories and emotions of others.

She is aware of charms that enable wordless exchange of thoughts between friends or family, but it is more difficult to explain these voices of people she has never seen nor met; people not of this place or time.

It has been happening for a while. The voices began when she laid her father to rest in the Dumnonian Hills, around one moon ago. They have continued fairly consistently since, following her throughout the entire subsequent journey across the wild northwestern provinces the empire.

As far as the cause, Annisgwyl's silent deliberations have produced a possible explanation — spirits. Annisgwyl knows a fair bit of spirit lore from her parents. She recalls a key lesson from her mother's Druidic teachings — that most spirits avoided people, but that a wise witch should still be watchful, since some might seek out humans, for good or for ill.

Her mother had told her that spirits may grow lonely, and some might occasionally seek friendship with magically-endowed humans. Many such friendships prove trivial, but some may become tremendously beneficial to both parties, since spirits have powers that humans do not, and vice versa.

The Hidden Ones, as her mother often called them, are known to occasionally use humans, or perhaps even harm them. Travellers, for example, should always be wary whenever they sense magical residue within a fixed object or place (e.g., a tree; a waterfall; a large stone). The residue may indicate a charm or curse but, in the woods away from human activity, the most common cause is a trapped spirit, whose only means of escape is to latch onto unsuspecting humans. Annisgwyl's mother believed that these spirits may sense how far the human plans to journey, and will favour those who aim the furthest afield.

Lying here now, Annisgwyl can imagine how her great quest may have made her particularly susceptible to such visitors. Perhaps this is how she acquired them?

But, if so, what should she do? Should she try to expel them?

She believes she has the strength to do so (her parents, after all, taught her very well), but she has not decided if she truly wants to, since she has no reason to hate the spirits. When Annisgwyl concentrates closely, she can hear not only their distant voices, but also catch the subtle fragrance of their emotions; the edges of their will. Thus, she knows in her heart that these spirits are not evil. At times they are sad; other times they seem to evoke sensations like wistful hope or frustration, but they never truly bear her any ill.

Yes, these spirits she will tolerate. She remains uncertain if she wishes to ‘encourage’ them, but she will let them be.

However, these spirits are not the only strange magic that has puzzled Annisgwyl in recent weeks. At least twice, she has encountered bursts of strange power that her mind keeps pondering.

The first unexplained flash occurred that fateful night in Belgica where, in the course of repelling an ambush of Teutons (a half-dozen non-magical brigands; no match for her superior powers and martial skills) she had found herself suddenly beset by something much stronger — a very ominous magical presence.

As confirmation, from across the darkened glade, she had then glimpsed a wizard — tall and spindly; shrouded in mist. The Teutons obviously knew him; they gave him a wide berth, as if wary of his wrath. Their caution seemed warranted, since the wizard projected a keen aura that Annisgwyl found both strange and vaguely familiar. It was hostile, yet not completely perilous; foreboding yet almost… tentative?

She feels instinctively that the wizard may have feared her, just as she feared him. His choice of magic (some sort of disorienting dissuasion spell) implied the desire to avoid conflict. It saturated her with a compulsion to turn tail and run away. For a moment, Annisgwyl had nearly succumbed. If not for her deep magical training, she might have raced back to the coast, found the first vessel back to Britannia, and forsaken her sworn quest.

Fortunately, she held fast. She managed to shake off the false sense of despair, and break the powerful compulsion. The effort to resist was exhausting, however. As soon as the shrouded wizard disappeared, she collapsed, weary almost to the point of losing consciousness. And it was within that weakened stupour that she experienced a second, equally odd, but very different power.

Traianius.

Or not Traianius?

That night, sprawled among twigs and old leaves, Annisgwyl's eyes gradually assembled the swirling darkness into the visage of the Legate legionis, standing over her; his expression burdened with concern.

From her state of unfocus, gazing up at a blurry face that would resolve into Traianius, Annisgwyl recalls two distinct impressions — that she was beholding a man of prodigious non-magical power and, rather separately, that she was encountering a magical power distinct from that man.

Contradictory. And strange.

Indeed, she has since come to understand that Traianius is, like many people, a man of contradictions. He is dominant yet accommodating; kind but reserved; first steely then (tonight) surprisingly vulnerable. None of that is unusual, but this evening, by the soft glow of the river’s moon, she glimpsed a thread of insight into how he (a non-magical person) could have such a profound effect on her. The glimpse seems to verify a suspicion she began to form that very first moment she met him back in Belgica.

Traianius, too, harbours a magical spirit.

She believes that she very nearly ‘saw’ his resident spirit tonight. Furthermore, she is quite convinced that one of her own visitors sought, with great strength and dedication, to signal across the silvery light to Traianius’s ephemeral counterpart.

Annisgwyl believes that this attempt might have been at least partially successful. This does not surprise her. Many years ago, she asked her parents if the hidden ones could borrow human faculties to converse with one another and, without elaboration, her parents had both agreed quietly, emphatically, bearing expressions of almost wistful reminiscence.

The recollection calms Annisgwyl somewhat, and great progress has been made toward resolving her many questions. But, tossing restlessly beneath the faint glimmers of predawn violet, she is still left to wonder why?

What should have brought these spirits together in her and in Traianius? And why now?

It finally occurs that this is all likely the work of Amaethon, that wily god of fate. If, years ago, his spirits called her brother Ffodion away, perhaps they now also call to her? And fate have also have willed Traianius onto her own path, to fulfill some joint destiny?

Could it be that some great reckoning draws them all to magical Herculaneum — a place of great powers and perils?

Do the gods and ancient heroes call? Shall we all stand together before the high and mighty forge of Hercules?

It is an odd thought. Nothing in the stars has ever suggested to her that the fates would summon her to the powerful mountain near Herculaneum, yet it is famed among the gods, and thus seems a destiny worthy of calling a Roman general into some fated convergence with her quest.

Yes, surely this is all fate. Some foolish young maidens might strain their ears, listening for the romantic harp of Aengus to tell why a dashing young man would volunteer his honourable service, but Annisgwyl knows that a great leader such as Traianius could surely not be swayed by anything less than the cold fateful winds of Amaethon. She is certain.

In certitude there is security, thus Annisgwyl’s mind and limbs finally begin to relax. She is comforted in knowing that it bodes well to walk the paths favoured by Amaethon. It helps her to believe that the great god of fate (and god of the guiding stars and the river’s fork) has interest in her success. Perhaps she truly will find her brother.

Of course, it only seems fair to Annisgwyl that fate should lead her back to her twin, considering the anguish and discontent that fate placed before them to lead Ffodion away in the first place.

On the blurry fringe of sleep, Annisgwyl cannot suppress one final frown as she recalls Ffodion's frayed claims that their mother was abducted by the Order of Letum. To lose one's mother is pain. To see one's brother so aggrieved is worse. To know that her brother is tortured by bitter delusion is worst.

Annisgwyl knows that the Order of Letum did not abduct her mother. She knows this because her father, a wizard of great wisdom, told them so. Speaking with quiet sorrow, he spoke of the love of his life being taken away by fate, to serve as fate required. No more could he say. No more did Annisgwyl ask. Yet Ffodion did not believe.

And that, too, is part of fate's plan. Those are the cold winds of Amaethon.

Annisgwyl can still picture, sadly, that morning two years ago when Ffodion bid adieu. Clad no longer as a woodland boy, but rather as a stern soldier who would go forth under his Roman name of Ignotus, he pledged himself to a quest of truth and vengeance.

Or death.

And thence, by fate or by spirits, he strode into the morning mist. And vanished.

Dear brother, to whither has fate brought you? What has he shown you?

She has asked herself that many times over the past two years but, as the twilight dew of a new morning begins to settle in Annisgwyl’s hair, she finally finds a measure of faith that someday, truly, she will once again look upon her beloved twin. With that comfort, she closes her eyes. To the fates, or the spirits, or to herself, she vows in silent solemnity,

Wherever your courage has taken you, brother Ffodion, I will find you.

If I find you upon fate's mountain, I shall bring you home.


***


“… so straight from the fire, and onto this barking quest, doddering half way across Europe listening to some Celtic chickadee’s whimsy warblings about spirits, fate and finding her brother on some bleeding mountain! Can you make heads or tails?”

“Errr…” Rob is staring blankly at the picture of his sister. It’s quite clear from his face that he hasn’t heard a single word of her lively, four minute monologue. He scratches his chin. “So, you’re not dead?”

Gemina raises a sharp eyebrow. She has run out of creative rephasings for, ‘Rob, I do not know’.

Normally, Gemina would be pelting Rob with frustrated epithets by now but, under the circumstances, she actually remains… thrilled… to see him. After all, he's family; he acknowledges her existence; he hasn't been dead for hundreds of years… Unfortunately, his conversational skills seem rather muddled, so the girl in the picture breathes deeply (in fact, quite patiently) and turns to wave at the pensively brooding Hettie.

“You there. Gravener, is it? Why do I feel that I know you?”

Hettie bites her lip. “Er, good question…”

The evening is a bit early yet for headlights, but Hettie feels rather like a deer caught in them. She has plenty of conjectures to offer, but… ugh! How does one tell a friend that they will first meet each other several months from now, after said friend has been dead a while?

Finally Hettie decides to work with hypotheticals. “Uh, do you believe in alternate realities?”

“Ermmm...” Gemina scratches her head. “Like in the Dhamma? Thirty one planes of existence?”

“Exactly!” Hettie grins in relief, feeling a strong (if impracticable) urge to reach into the photo album to hug the girl. “I think that on other planes of existence, we really do know each other.”

Gemina gives Hettie a long, long, look as if measuring her for kookiness. Finally, she frowns and nods in apparent acceptance. “Well, a’right then. So what’s your take on my prattle? Why am I stuck in ancient Europe mucking about with a Roman Legion? And why the hell is Rob dithering over in Kiwi-country with all the brain function of a thrice-whacked shuttlecock?”

“Uhhh, I’m not sure…” Hettie dislikes speculating about things that baffle her, but the question is earnest, and she suspects she might have something legitimate to offer. Chancing direct eye contact with the girl, she confides, “Would it help you to know that something, um, similar happened to me?”

“Similar to what?” Gemina eyes her curiously. “Numpty in Noozy-land, or gormless in Gaul?”

“Gormless in Gaul.” Hettie surrenders to the giggle she’d held back earlier. “Or, more to the point, ‘batty in Britannia’.”

Hettie would have you know that she’s aces at word games.

“You? Britannia?” Gemina is impressed. “As in ‘ancient Britain’?”

“Well, Roman Britain, yes.” Hettie opts not to dwell on scholarly debates over whether the Roman era should really be termed ‘ancient’. “I was there for a big battle in A.D. 61. So, what year is it, uh, for you?”

“Year?” Gemina chews her lip. “Oi. I haven’t the bleariest.”

"No problem." Hettie is not to be deterred. “Might you know who the emperor is, then?”

“Aha!” Gemina lights up at an answerable query. “Titus — he was just crowned a few weeks back. We heard the news yesterday; a courier rode to camp to inform Tidy Trai.”

“Oh? Then that would make it early summer of A.D. 79.” Hettie taps her (perfectly straight) teeth thoughtfully. “Eighteen years after the Battle of Watling Street. So, tell me…” Hettie pauses for a moment as she stares at the face that looks so unnervingly like someone she remembers well from her last time-dream. “Did you ever meet, or hear of, Princess LanossŽa of the Iceni?”

Gemina pauses, then shakes her head, scowling. It chagrins her just how few names her host has shared.

“That’s okay.” Hettie nods, hiding her disappointment. “How about the Publican Peuerellius?”

“Publ…?” Gemina frowns, then begins to slowly brighten. “P… Peuer… Peuerellius? Yes. No. Maybe!! ” She nearly bonks her head on the frame. “Briton chicklet said her name was Gemina Peuerellius! Barely registered at the time, me being gobsmacked over the ‘Gemina’ bit — I mean, who could figure a coincidence like that! So, 'no' on 'Publican', but definitely 'yes' for 'Peuerellius'.”

“Really??” Hettie’s eyes flash wide with delight. “So you’re there eighteen years later, which would imply… Cagey crakes! He had a daughter?”

“Uhh…?” Gemina shrugs.

“The Publican’s daughter.” Hettie nods vigourously, brooking no uncertainty. “His daughter is looking for her brother. Looking for the Publican’s son. So, the Publican did end up having a son. And wasn’t that precisely what people were trying to prev…?”

Gemina and Rob are both staring at her, dumbfounded.

“And we’re talking A.D. 79, searching for a mountain, which could mean… Crunchy cricket crisps!!”

Neurons firing fast and furious, Hettie drifts a few steps across the breezy green, framed within the spreading sunset. Gazing into the lush canopy of a coral tree, her eyes sparkle in the coppery radiance of a million spirit-lamps. Ever so slowly, she extends her hand toward the horizon, to caress the leaf-filtered blaze of evening brilliance. Standing like Athena of Villa dei Papyri, she breathes one final word.

“Fire.”

"Oi, what'd you say?" Gemina waves anxiously. “Gravener, could you repeat that for the rest of us?”

Hettie doesn't hear. She stands in rapt silence as the last ray fickers and dies in the west. Finally, haunted with awe or epiphany, she turns to the girl in the album. “Gemina?”

Gemina nods eagerly.

“Gemina, where…?” Hettie’s hand subconsciously finds Rob’s arm, as if to steady herself. “Where, exactly, is your legion headed?”


***


Harry hastens toward the fringes of the Forbidden Forest. He can make out the slight glimmer of a bonfire illuminating the upper fronds of the highest trees.

The enemy awaits. Nonetheless, Harry stops.

The enemy may be waiting, but the enemy can wait a bit longer… for Harry knows that he has enough time to resolve one final, and potentially crucial, curiosity.

Pausing on the banks of a trickling brook, haze sweeps clear of the moon to bathe Harry in enough silvery light to illuminate the object he is holding. It is a golden Snitch and Harry can just barely read its fine inscription.

I Open At The Close.

He stares at the Snitch for a long moment and, within his mind, he reviews a list.

Five. Still only five.

Harry knows that, despite many later obfuscations, Dumbledore clearly told them once that Riddle had laid deliberate plans to spall off ‘six’ fragments of his soul. This means that, by all apparent records, one fragment is still unaccounted for. However, at their last meeting, Dumbledore’s confidence seemed to hint otherwise. And, in the time Harry has had to ponder the meeting, he has conjectured that the Headmaster's odd behaviour (including the strangely frivolous sentiment of giving away this old Snitch) may have been an artfully coded message.

As a veteran Seeker, Harry knows that the sympathetic magic of a Snitch is keyed to the first human contact it experiences. This Snitch, which he caught in his mouth to win his first ever match, might therefore be attuned to his saliva.

Harry closes his eyes, wets his lips, and brings a hand to his mouth to moisten two fingers. His lips burn at the char and destruction that taint his every surface, but Harry ignores the bitter taste and lowers the two moistened fingers to touch the Snitch.

His breath catches in surprise, as the pain in his lips is immediately extinguished, replaced by… ??!

Can it truly be??

The spark of surprise is replaced by a cherished soft touch; a ray of hope in a cold world; a sensation he had recently feared to be lost forever!

He can practically feel her breath against his cheek.

He is almost paralyzed, fearing it is an illusion that a single motion might shatter.

But Harry must know if she’s truly there. He opens his eyes.

Ginny!

She is truly there; lips pressed to his!

Yet, her presence seems slightly surreal in the wavering moonlight.

Pulling back slightly, Ginny’s eyes flutter open. She stares at him, bewildered for a moment, then her gaze drifts down to his hand.

She blinks, then frowns. “Harry, isn’t that the… the stone that Cadmus stole?”

Harry does not immediately answer. There is no slight intended; no disrespect for her question. Rather, the last thing in his heart he wishes to do right now is take his eyes off the beautiful young woman whom he has missed so dreadfully.

Nonetheless, after a long moment his gaze follows hers, down to his hand, to the now-opened Snitch. Within the bisected orb is a gaudy ring, sporting a smoky translucent stone. Etched somewhere in its hazy depths is the mark of the Order of Letum.

Harry’s eyes widen for a moment, but somehow he is not completely astonished to learn that Dumbledore had found the Resurrection Stone. What eludes him most is why the Headmaster might have given it to him? And why go to the trouble of hiding it in a Snitch?

Harry holds it up so that they can both see it clearly. The stone has a fine rippling crack running through it and, in proximity to their faces, Harry can make out the faint scent of putrid decay that he recalls from past Horcrux disposal.

Ginny smells it too; her nose wrinkles.

Harry processes the implications.

Horcrux number six. Riddle’s sordid list is complete!

Or is it?

Harry frowns. For some reason, intuitions tells him that this stone is less than the last Horcrux, yet somehow also something more.

As one of the three Hallows, the stone clearly has some cachet. Perhaps that explains Dumbledore’s furtive and mysterious bequeathal, but it doesn't address Harry's most basic question.

Why me?

A Hallow is not to be dismissed, but Harry isn't exactly thrilled to suddenly find another. He is grateful for the Cape of Invisibility, which still serves him so faithfully. And he truly wishes that Riddle had not managed to take the Elder Wand from Dumbledore during their (supposed) duel on the Astronomy Tower. However, Harry has never thought much about the Resurrection Stone, let alone wanted it. So, once again…

Why me? Why now? Why like this?

Harry shakes his head, and pushes the aggravation from his mind. He should be focusing on what is far more important — the wonderful person in his arms!

But that too raises a question; one that is just now threatening to pierce his heart.

Did I accidentally, resurrect Ginny?

He regards her face — beautiful, yet pale; slightly luminous, yet not quite vibrant in the way that Harry has always known her. He is puzzled, because he swears he truly now can feel her gentle breath on his face, but something is still incomplete.

“Ginny…?” Fearing the answer, he closes his eyes and braces himself. “Ginny, are you alive?”

There is no response.

Harry slowly opens his eyes.

Ginny is still there, chewing her lip. Her hand is upon his; her touch is neither warm nor cold.

“Harry, I…” Without conscious thought, she pulls closer; her face rests on his chest. “Harry, I’m really not sure…”

Back to index


Chapter 5: A Friendly Hand

Author's Notes:

First of all, my humble appreciation to readers who nominated this story for the Trinkets! That is rather flattering, since the story was intended foremost as a writing exercise, and secondly as a gift to several dedicated Splinters readers who sought... well, satisfaction is perhaps the best word. Anyway, while I take a lot of personal satisfaction in FoT, it hardly follows a recipe for mass-appeal.

If I really wanted to make one last try for a mass-appeal fic before retiring, I'd probably opt for my 'Harry Potter has a Punk/Pop basement band off Regent's Park and, guess what? That red-headed Emo chick waiting late for him outside the back of The Camden Underground isn't exactly there for his autograph...' plot. But I digress.

Anyway: chapter 5. I think I promised one or more readers that the scattered plotlines would slow begin to thread together, and that the story would transition from character drama toward a bit more of an action fic. Some early steps in those directions here.


Chapter 5. A Friendly Hand

Racing through the darkness, Hermione catches her shoe on a root and lands hard. Gulping air back into her lungs, she picks herself up, teeters a moment on her shaky legs, and forges on into the darkness.

On high, a breeze picks up for just long enough to bare the moon, finally giving her enough light to see where she’s going. Glancing about, she finds that she has made it into the fringes of the forest. She is standing about twenty feet from a small brook that sparkles in the moonlight. Squinting intently, she scans the area, desperately seeking any sign of…

Oh pox — the blasted cape! † If he's wearing it, I'll never find him.

She is about to groan in exasperation when something makes her stop. She goes completely quiet — listening, sensing.

Is someone near? The air seems so taut, that a heart beat could thrum like a harp, and Hermione could swear that she heard-

Ginny, are you alive?

Hermione jumps! The words were so soft that she isn't sure she heard them right, and for all she knows it could be a trick of the babbling brook but, noise or no noise, she feels something… something sad… almost eerie…

Scouring the surroundings, Hermione can still see neither friend nor foe, so she decides to risk speaking aloud. “Harry, are you there?”

There is a tense moment during which even the brook seems to go silent.

Then — no mistaking it — she hears a sigh! She glances to the right and there, in the moonlight, she sees Harry’s head! It is quickly followed by Harry’s torso, then the rest of him, as his cape slides to the ground.

He is alone.


***


“Harry are you there?”

Harry jumps. The words cut through him like ice, and whatever magic spell Cadmus’s stone had woven about him is broken. Ginny is gone.

Breath leaks from Harry, like a gutted tyre. His head throbs with the pain of losing her again; with the wretched ache of empathy and worry as he wonders whether Ginny's misery is even worse than his?

Lost, bereft and guilt-ridden, he lets his hands fall limp to his side. The invisibility cape slides away to the side, and he wearily places the Snitch and stone back into his pocket. Then he takes a deep breath, shunts aside any corrosive self-pity, anger, and even pique, and turns to face his friend.

His friend.

His good friend.

Years ago, Harry's reaction might have been a lot less charitable, but he appreciates Hermione Granger’s persistence. Even when timing is less than ideal, Harry knows that dogged determination is the measure of her incredible loyalty… and he could really use a friendly hand right now.

He could also use her smarts. When it comes to untangling this most incredibly baffling mess, Harry can only think of one other person better suited to helping him work through it and that other person, unfortunately, is-

“Ginny!” Hermione rushes up to him, out of breath. “ You're right, Harry, we need to find her! I’m so sorry I doubted you earlier, but I… well, it’s still a bit of a mash, but I think I may be glimpsing a pattern, and I think she’s a crucial part of it.”

“Pattern?” His voice a hoarse whisper, Harry casts a quick privacy spell and looks around, very much hoping that no Death Eaters were in earshot. “A pattern of what?”

“Well, you recall a couple years ago how I dreamed of another reality where you never existed, and Ginny — well, I mean Gemina Wilsey — disappeared at the scene of a fire?”

Harry nods seriously.

“Well…” Hermione pauses; still fighting for breath. “You see, now our Ginny has vanished at the scene of a fire, which is an interesting coincidence, but then right of nowhere I start thinking of historically notable blazes and it occurs to me that Vesuvius erupted less than 20 years after the Iceni Rebellion from last Cupla dream. Furthermore, that eruption destroyed Herculaneum, which was the spiritual home of the most powerful dark cult of that time, which-”

“Whoa!” Harry waves her off. “Herculaneum?”

“Errr…” Hermione blinks. “Herculaneum. It was a city in the Roman empire, located really close to the volcano. It, uhhh… ”

Harry is staring at her.

“I, uh, sorry.” Hermione wilts under Harry's silent but intense scrutiny. “I honestly don’t know where all that came from. It just sort of popped into head, and… well…” She shifts awkwardly. “Oh Harry, I know you’ve been through so much, and this may not be anything more than wild speculation, but…”

“No, no Hermione. It makes sense!” Harry’s eyes blaze as he begins pacing. “Herculaneum. Order of Letum. Fire. Bloody hell — it all fits! But how?? How's this possible without the brooch? The Cupla was completely drained of magic years ago, right? Dumbledore swore it was, and Ginny and I both checked. You remember that too, don’t you ‘Mione? And besides, none of us have come anywhere near it in years anyway, right?”

“Near it?” Hermione stares. “Near the Cupla?

Nodding eagerly, Harry stops pacing.

“No. No, of course not.” Now Hermione begins to pace. “Besides, this doesn’t really feel like what I experienced with the brooch that summer. It's much more vague — my sight goes blurry for a moment, I daydream a little, and these images and ideas pop into my head, seemingly out of nowhere. Of course, we’ve slept so little recently, it could be delusion or hallucination.”

“No, too many coincidences to be hallucination. Roman times, Herculaneum, Ginny — all things I've been fretting about.” Harry shakes his head. “Besides, mine are full-on dreams.”

“Like those with the Publican?”

“No, not exactly.” Harry strokes his chin. “In a sense, they’re every bit as deep and detailed — endless minutiae about stomping through the forests of Gaul at the head of a Roman legion, but it’s… cobblers. I have no control; no role; it’s like I’m glued to my seat in a theatre, watching a dull film. The only saving grace is that I kind of feel, distantly, like Ginny’s somewhere there in the same theatre, watching the same movie.”

“How odd.” Hermione forehead wrinkled in thought.

She is just about to open her mouth to ask what he meant about Ginny, when Harry jolts, cutting her off with an abrupt expletive. “Shite! How much time before Riddle goes mental?”

Hermione blanches. She looks at her watch. “Er, 38 minutes.”

Harry curses under his breath. He turns to hasten toward the bonfire he had glimpsed within the deep part of the forest where their enemy waits.

“Wait!” Hermione waves frantically, pleading, “We need to find Ginny first!”

Harry freezes.

“Please listen.” Hermione closes the final few feet to clasp Harry’s hand. “There’s something in the way she disappeared; something in the strange knowledge bursts I’m getting — something is telling me that Riddle needed her out of the picture for a reason. I realise I have nothing solid to back this up, but I’m somehow convinced that we're nowhere unless we get her back in† the picture. We’ve got to figure out what happened to her, so maybe we should try going back to the castle, to see if she left any clues before disappearing.”

“Of course we’ve got to get her back, and of course we’ve got to figure out what happened, but I assumed that…”

Harry chews his lip. He had been about to tell Hermione that he felt, somehow, that by heading down toward the gathering of Death Eaters, he actually would† find her. But that seems even less plausible than Hermione’s wild intuitions.

Why would storming off in the direction of Voldemort lead him to Ginny?

Harry very nearly draws a blank on his own question. All he has is the blind faith that every time he’s ever needed her, she’s somehow always found a way to find him. It happened in the Camboricum dungeon; it happened in the darkest void of despair; it happened in Malfoy Manor…

However, those were different. In all of those cases, Ginny was the rescuer, but this time the roles are reversed. Now, he needs to think back to how he once rescued her — that foul ordeal down in the Chamber of Secrets. And that episode, he knows, was preceded by sleuthing — lots of agonised head scratching to figure out where to look. And that, of course, is what Hermione is now proposing. The only problem is how very little time they have.

Dammit! † Harry scowls at himself. I had her right here in my arms. Just moments ago! Why didn’t I ask something practical? Like, oh, do you need rescuing? Where should I look?

“Harry?” Hermione’s tone grows more anxious “Can we go? Let’s take a look through the Room or Requirement… maybe check with Neville or Luna. If we haven’t found anything up there in fifteen minutes, we’ll race back here in time to, er, improvise?

Harry bites his lip, wondering whether to try the Resurrection Stone again? But the cautionary tale is still fresh in his mind — the harrowing despair of Cadmus and his dead lover, all wrought by the stone’s false promise.

But Ginny is NOT dead, so the story is irrelevant!

Or is it?

Harry has to admit, he has no clue. But he has to make a choice.

“Fifteen minutes, eh?” He takes a deep breath, exchanging his qualms and questions for blind urgency. “You up for a little more running, ‘Mione?.”


***


Both Rob and Hettie are puzzled when Gemina suddenly withdraws from the conversation and closes her eyes. After a moment, however, Rob is prepared to shrug it off. “A lot of portraits do that. Just like Kneazles — sleep twenty hours a day if you let them.”

Kneazles?

Hettie’s eyebrows twitch slightly at the strange word, but she decides that it’s likely some animal that, er, sleeps a lot? And learning about sleepy animals is not high on her priority list right now because she’s dreadfully anxious to evaluate her theory.

“Rob?” She reaches her hand out. “Might I look in your folder again?”

“Sure.” Rob expands it again and hands it to her.

Hettie fishes around among the diverse array of oddments that Rob has apparently not explored. Finally she grabs a promising looking envelope. A moment later, a broad grin spreads across her face. “Spot on!”

Rob looks curiously over her shoulder. “Vouchers? For passage to… Naples? On an aero… plene?”

“Airplane,’ Hettie corrects. “A jet plane, to be precise.”

“Those things…?” Rob suddenly looks rather queasy. “They fly on the air using, er, Muggle power?”

Hettie blinks at him. This is a young man who has faced death much of his life, and witnessed horrors far worse than she could imagine, but yet… he has a fear of flying?? She can’t help but smirk at the irony, but it is gentle mirth and she softens the blow by pulling her arm around him. “Don’t worry, Rob — we’ll face it together. And think of the jolly adventure!”

“Er, what adv—?”

“Oh dash!” Hettie frowns at the travel documents. “The flight is tomorrow afternoon! I must rush back to the dorm to pack, and inform the house manager. And my parents! They let me get away with so much, but… oh dear!”

“What?” Deep concern spreads across Rob’s face. “What is it, Hett?”

“It’s just that I-I…” Hettie is biting a finger.

“Yes?” Rob stiffens. “Just that, what?”

“I’ll miss my maths exam and I…”

Rob blinks, quite uncertain of what he can possibly do or say to-

“I was going to absolutely blitz that beast!” Hettie bursts out laughing and gives the tall boy an impulsive hug. “Forget bloody maths! We’re going to Italy, Rob! And trust me — even if I don’t solve a geometry proof while we’re out there, you’re going to be glad you brought along someone with top scores in history and geology!”

“Geology?” Rob frowns. “Oh! As in, that volcano you mentioned?”

“Precisely! Ahh — you and I shall make such a charming pair of turisti.” She grins, then slides into her best BBC accent. “While there, be sure to visit the remarkably preserved Roman ruins in Herculaneum, then spend a day of natural enchantment, exploring the Parco Nationale del Vesuvio!”

“Errr…?” Not surprisingly, Rob is rendered speechless.


***


The lofty mountain passes from Raetia to Placentia offer striking vistas. Traianius has climbed this road many times in his career, and is always uplifted by the bracing air and sparkling skies. After a half day’s march past the high outpost at Insummo Pennino, he orders his troops to break camp early, and takes the perfect July afternoon (crystalline blue, if a bit chilly) to lead Annisgwyl up one of the rugged slopes lining the road. The route is taxing, but the girl clambers along without difficulty.

As the shrubs give way to an open tableau featuring snow-clad crags and a distant lake, Traianius takes Annisgwyl’s hand. “Have you ever seen such mountains?” he asks.

“No.” Annisgwyl sweeps her wide eyes across the open southwestern horizon. “I have traveled in the lands of the Ordovices. Their high stones reach longingly for the sky, but they do not pierce it.”

She pauses for a moment, then a shadow crosses her face. She turns to look south, even though there is nothing yet to be seen that way other than shaded boulders. Her forehead creases “There is a mountain near Herculaneum, is there not? What do you know of it?”

For a moment, Traianius is distracted by Annisgwyl’s look of unease (a look he has seen several times in recent weeks), but then he focuses on her question. “Vesaevus? I have heard of it, but never have I seen. It is surely smaller than these we view now. You would likely not find it a difficult climb, although perhaps I would not advise it. Old sages say the mountain is a place of unrest — spirits powerful, but unhappy.”

Annisgwyl nods. From tales told by her father, she has heard that there is tremendous Earth-magic at Hercules’ forge. Legends say that the magic has greatly enriched some sorcerers who have learned how to capture such power and channel it into prodigious talismans. But stealing the Earth’s magic comes with tremendous risks, for the Earth is slave to no sorcerer.

Yet her thoughts skip quickly past those details and reflect back upon Traianius, and his casual use of the term ‘spirits’. Seeing that he is gazing thoughtfully off into the distance, she surreptitiously watches him; looking within, wondering whether she can still detect the spirit presence she sensed there once before.

Today, her magical senses detect no hidden one, however her non-magical perception is rewarded, for she happens to notice the man running fingers through his thick, dark hair, as he gazes off toward the road ahead.

How very like Father!

This similarity is accentuated by Traianius's eyes, of the same incredible depth as Annisgwyl's father's. To gaze into them is to risk becoming lost; enchanted. At times, she has even believed that Traianius possessed the same extraordinary shade of emerald…

But not today. Today, the general's eyes are definitely grey.

Not green. How odd…

Unaware of Annisgwyl's quiet study, Traianius stirs from his thoughts and resumes leading them up the trail. Soon they crest the ridge, and pause again atop a flat stony slab that does finally open up a view to the south. He reaches out and traces a path with his finger. “Thus runs the road that we follow, rolling downward to the hills of Placentia and onwards through the homelands of the Romans.”

“Of the Romans?” Annisgwyl gazes thoughtfully. “You say the name as though you are not one yourself?”

Traianius shrugs. “My mother was Roman but I, like my father before me, am considered Iberian.”

Annisgwyl laughs. “My father was a Roman but I, like my mother before me, am considered a Briton. A fine pair of half-breeds we are!”

Traianius chuckles, but shakes his head. “No, cives Peuerellius. We are the future of Rome, you and I. For ours is an empire that learns to respect all denizens, regardless of tongue, or shade of hair or skin.”

It is Annisgwyl’s turn to shake her head. Her gesture is very slight, and Traianius does not really notice, but she believes he is only correct so far as he can see. The empire will never truly respect all of its people; it will never truly honour her.

Annisgwyl is buoyed in knowing that Traianius is of a generation that accepts the northern provincials, with their light skins and chaotic languages, but she is convinced that the Roman world will always fear and loathe the magic of her people. And it is from this fear that she glimpses a future Traianius has not imagined.

In her mind, she sees a world of heroes and villains set against each other, not by colour or heritage, but by murderous distrust between those few who bear wands, and the many who do not.

But fortunately this battle will not be waged by the man before her. As her eyes scan across his face and peruse his curious smile, she understands that, although Traianius will never cast his own delicate charm nor strike down a foe in a blast of magical fury, he will neither hate nor fear her witchcraft.

He is truly a good man, open-minded and tolerant.

Grasping this gives Annisgwyl the assurance that, if needed, she can use magic to protect him, or protect both of them, without fear of consequences. And from this, she finally finds the confidence to seek what time has led her to covet.

Annisgwyl takes Traianius by the hand, draws him close. Beneath a high dazzling arch of sunlit summer blue, she raises to the fullness of her height, and acquaints his lips.


***


With rapt attention, Gemina Wilsey had been hanging on Gravener’s every wild conjecture about alternate realities, and how time fracturing might have bound her pending demise at Allesley with some other fiery near death experience, perhaps involving a volcanic eruption in Roman era Italy.

Wicked!

Unfortunately, her bucket of questions is now swinging in the breeze because, just at the perfectly wrong moment, Gemina is swept away. She tries to fight the pull, but ultimately gives in, curious to find out exactly what, after weeks of tedium, is so bloody important that it can’t wait another five minutes??

The answer, apparently, is nondescript darkness.

Crap.

Gemina squints, and primes her ears.

Nothing.

“Hello? Anyone around?” Her voice feels completely flattened in the void; she can’t even be certain she really even made a sound.

Then again, she can’t really even tell whether there is a place around her into which she can make a sound. She can see nothing, feel nothing, hear nothing…

Ummm… Not true, yeah?

It was so faint, she nearly missed it earlier, but if she freezes all motion, stops breathing, and shunts all her useless senses, she perceives a sound.

It is the slightest hint of breath. It is the ragged breath of a suppressed sob.

Without limbs to move, or space to cover, Gemina instinctively wills herself toward the noise. As she listens for it, her senses hone in and begin to build some context.

The voice is female. Sad or frustrated. Or lonely. Not quite weeping.

The voice is coming from a young woman, about Gemina’s age. About Gemina’s height. And figure, and hair colour, and… Gemina’s breath catches!

The downcast face is her own!

Or not? Not quite her own?

In truth, the face is prettier. It is perhaps what Gemina might aspire to in a life with more love and less pain; more laughter, fewer tears.

Gemina is puzzled… but now seems not the time for puzzles. She hastens closer and gives a tentative wave.

“Beg pardon, luv? You need a hand?”

Back to index


Chapter 6: Voices

Author's Notes:

Sincere thanks, loyal friends, for the votes and awards! As I mentioned last week, it's a bit surprising. But I'll happily take it, as long as everyone is also reading the other stories in those categories. I'd hate to be taking attention away from the other deserving Trinket contenders.

So, another chapter has arrived with a lot more edits than I first would have guessed. In partial contradiction to one of my earlier A/N entries, this is getting to be less of a bare bones story. Whenever I edit, I tend to amplify the character development, and have gotten into the habit of detailed introspections -- a useful literary vehicle when characters spend a lot of time alone.

In any case, the piece has really turned into more of a character drama than I'd anticipated. We've now had deep, personal glimpses into the psyches of Harry, Annisgwyl, Hermione, Hettie and Gemina. Ginny, too, will share in this way in later chapters. Expect a short Traianius capsule in chapter 7 or 8, and Ron may also get his deep moment near the end.

The story as a whole, though, does transition to a lot more action (rather than introspection) during the latter half. Which is very near.

Apologies to Auntie Muriel who will find that the Potter lad is still a few steps away from finding everyone's favourite niece, however a tiny hint is dropped herein as to why Ginny is so fiendishly difficult to find...


Chapter 6. Voices

A bit more shy and tentative than usual, Gemina touches the girl’s shoulder. “Hey there, sweets. You okay?”

“Huh??” Caught by surprise, the girl jolts at the feel of a warm hand. She stares wide-eyed. “Who are…?”

“Gemina Wilsey, luv! But you can call me, ‘Hey you’! † That’s what the blokes in the Order call me. Charming lot, eh?”

“Gemina Wilsey?!” The pretty eyes are even wider now. “But… that’s impossible!”

Gemina blinks. She's not sure what to make of the incredulity, but she laughs it off. “Impossible? Nah nah, try ‘Bloody Impossible’. That’s what they call me when they’re tired of ‘Hey you’.”

Ginny stares at the brash, courageous, near-copy of herself. Her mind races, attempting to rationalise this unexpected development.

Shouldn’t this only happen with a Cupla? But the coupled Cuplae collapsed years ago, didn't they? How did the alternate reality come back?

By every version of events Ginny knows, the faltering, doomed, Potter-less world of Wilseys, Graveners and Dunbar should no longer really exist. Or at least it should have been permanently divorced from the one she and Harry had helped to restore.

Then again, things DID go rather haywire for us, yeah? Is time and reality all muddled, then?

This is rather a lot to take in, especially for someone who’s been thrown for a bit of a loop. Being thrust back into a lover’s embrace, then torn away just as suddenly, is quite disorienting. Yet, for all bewildering shocks and turmoils that Ginny has faced in the past while, one thing is clear.

The dense, cold void around her is warming. The world in front of Ginny's eyes is brightening… and there is a pair of arms opening up before her, offering comfort.

In a way, Ginny Weasley is still ‘all by herself’. But she is no longer alone, and she stumbles into the awaiting arms, offering a lame smile. “It’s good to see you, yeah? So, you’ve come to help, then?”

“Er, sure.” Smiling, Gemina shrugs. “What’s the plan, cap’n? Knock a few coconuts? Rescue some knight in shining armor?”

Ginny can't help but smirk. “The latter, I'd reckon. Or at least find him.”

“Brill.” Gemina returns the smirk. “Your errant knight got a name?”

“He does.” Ginny exhales. “We need to find Harry Potter.”


***


Gasping from their sprint back to the castle, Harry and Hermione still find a burst of energy to race extra quickly past the Entrance Hall, lest anyone try to flag them down.

It feels awkward to consciously bypass friends and mourners, but time now seems beyond precious. From Harry's and Hermione's perspective, every moment not spent trying to unravel Voldemort's inscrutable scheme is one moment closer to a disaster that could imperil everyone and everything they cherish.

Knowing that Voldemort is prepared to launch another brutal assault in barely half an hour, they have yet to plan how to derail his odious manifesto. The choice he offers is untenable — sacrifice Harry, and thus extinguish the last hope of The Light, or doom the entire castle to flaming death and devastation far beyond anything ever written in 'Hogwarts: A History'.

This why they must find a third way, and both Harry and Hermione have concluded, independently, that this third way begins with finding Ginny.

They have also both concluded that the path to finding Ginny probably does not lead through the stark cloying misery of the Great Hall, so they race madly off in the opposite direction, up the Grand Staircase, desperately hoping that Seventh Floor will yield something helpful — even a bare shred of good news to break the ghastly toll of endless misfortune.

As they climb, Hermione half-hears someone call. For a moment she considers stopping to respond, but Harry is already nearly a flight ahead of her, so she forges on. A minute later, they clear the top landing, and clatter their way through the debris-strewn upper corridor.

Harry lights a Lumos charm, and Hermione summons a breeze to clear the lingering acrid haze. They stare.

“Wow.” Hermione gestures blankly at lumps of blackened brass that had once formed the hinges and knocker to the Room of Requirement’s magical door.

The room’s magic appears to have been completely obliterated, along with the vast portion of its exotic content. A few cracked, scorched statues remain, but everything else is blackened slag or foul soot.

The pair walk dazedly through the ruin.

Harry would take no joy right now in pointing out that Hermione was wrong. There is nothing here. No Ginny. No clues. No memories. Nothing.

Hermione does not need to be told. She is the first to turn her back on the calamity and head back toward the stairs.

Harry joins her, and they walk together in brisk silence.

“Sorry.” Hermione reaches for his hand, and gently pulls him to a stop on the landing. “That didn't go quite as planned.”

“True.” Harry's shoulders sag; he has no energy for wit or sarcasm. “Back to square one, then. Damn.”

Hermione stares into the darkness. “I do still believe she’s alive.”

Harry nods.

“And we may still have enough time to find her… if we're smart.” Hermione frowns. “Think, think think. Where do we look next, and wh-”

“Harry! 'Mione! Hey!”

Harry and Hermione jump at the familiar yet unexpected voice.

Ron is racing up to meet them. His tone is still a bit shaken, but vastly improved. “Saw you two bolt up the stairs. Figured you might need a hand?”

Harry angles his Lumos forward so that his friend won’t stumble on the shattered masonry.

Hermione bites her lip, struggling to anticipate how Ron might respond to vague (and potentially over-optimistic) speculation that his sister may be still alive.

"Sure." Harry lacks the time and patience for tact. “We could use your chess brain, Ron. We need help finding Ginny.“

Harry knows Ron's failings and his strengths; he knows his mate often rises to the occasion when the stakes are highest. He levels a steely gaze at the red head and is rewarded by two wide (and ever-so-slightly hopeful) eyes.

“We last saw her about an hour ago.” Harry turns his gaze toward a high arched window above. “Ginny vanished up here in the Fiend Fyre that the idiot Goyle started. 'Mione and I couldn't have been more than twenty feet away; neither of us saw her disappear, but we’re both convinced she’s still alive. Magically abducted, maybe? If so, we need to figure out where she went, and get her back. Fast! †”

Ron blinks in momentary confusion, but he quickly forces an analytical frown. “Abducted? From up here?”

Harry nods; Hermione equivocates.

"Uhhh…" Rob massages his head as though thinking is painful. “Uh, not abducted by ordinary magic, right? For starters, the castle is warded up tighter than Snape's potions cabinet, and secondly, Fiend Fyre scrambles magic — it would mess with apparition or Portkeys, even within the castle.”

Harry and Hermione both deflate. To Hermione, this is unhappy evidence that her brain is worn and weary; otherwise she ought to have deduced that herself. To Harry, he remains flummoxed as to why he's been unable to get a read on where Ginny is, and every added uncertainty makes her seem further and further away. Or does it? † He tilts his head, gazing through the window at the tiny flecks of light sprinkling the night sky.

Ron, clearly, does not deflate. Nothing will bring back his lost brother, but learning there's may be a sister left to find has lit a spark. “Yeah, well she's alive, right? Then we'll figure it out! Where do we look next?”

“That’s the problem.” Hermione wrings her hands. “We’d hoped to find some clues up here, but the whole level is obliterated, and now we really have no…” She trails off; her eyes seek out Harry, desperate for the strength of his convictions.

Harry, however, has left the conversation. He is staring up through the ancient panes, seemingly captivated by an astonishingly clear view of the Milky Way.

Hermione and Ron fall dead silent, watching as their friend slowly angles his ear upward.

For all the world, Harry looks as though he is enchanted by Ptolemy's mystical music of the spheres. But it is no celestial harmony that has captivated Harry. Rather, it is the half-imagined sound of his own name; as if, somehow, the stars above are whispering to him; whispering… ‘find Harry Potter.’


***


The cabin lights have dimmed, but there is the usual background din of engines, of turbulence rattling tray tables, not to mention diffuse fragments of conversations, coughing and fidgeting of fellow passengers.

Hettie knows that she should be trying to sleep so that she can wake up in Naples, ready to pretend that whatever time of day she lands into will seem normal. Unfortunately, there is a big difference between ‘trying to sleep’ and ‘really sleeping’, so Hettie gives up and lets her mind wander.

Disengaging her hand from Rob’s loose grasp, she basks in a glowing moment as she listens to the sound of his restful breathing. It is not the most beautiful sound in the world, but it sings to her, proclaiming how her very presence comforts him; relaxes him so much that he’s overcome his deep fear of flying.

Helped along by a few pints, perhaps.

Yes, they had whiled away the first few hours of the flight quaffing a few of Qantas’s complementary beverages, and meandering through a long, lighthearted chat about lots of pleasantly irrelevant things.

The banter had fun at the time, but unfortunately it now reminds Hettie of her many serious (potentially crucial) issues that they have not broached; questions that she realises are beyond Rob's current ability to answer.

Hettie would love to be parsing every tiny quirk of Dunbar’s explanation of the Allesley implications, and Rob’s subsequent assignment. But forget parsing little quirks when Rob doesn’t even remember the middling-sized quirks, or the big ones, or key points, or a general summary, or… anything.

Hettie wonders if Gemina might know of a spell that might bring his memories back.

Probably, but knowing a spell is not the same as casting one. Hettie doubts whether Rob could magically restore his own memory, and she knows that Gemina, stuck behind the pages of a photo album, is not in a position to do much. Hettie, herself, would be more than happy to try, but…

Argh!

Well, that’s a rather sore spot.

Hettie wishes she could help Rob. She would love to be doing magic. It is her blessed right to be doing magic, but that blessed right was… stolen!!

Stolen by that presumptuous arse, Dunbar!

Hettie takes a deep breath and wills a cool zephyr of calmness up through her chest, then out to her limbs and mind.

Dunbar made a decision that he thought was wise. And maybe it saved my life. Perhaps.

At the very least, Dunbar gave her a chance to grow up in a beautiful city, in a pleasant home, with wonderful parents, attending fine schools in which she excelled. Many would be grateful for all that. Is it ‘petty’ to complain?

Yet to have spent all these years so sheltered — living a life where her gravest fears revolved around maths exams; her greatest heroism was taking centre stage as Cordelia in King Lear… her feistiest moments were fending off over-eager St. Peter’s boys down by the green. Such a life — now that seems the very definition of ‘petty’.

Hettie does not like 'petty'.

Hettie does not like the fact that she and her family were spirited away (kidnapped?) seven years ago; depriving her of a world in which she would have stood beside Rob and Gemina; would have fought for justice and decency; might have seen good people murdered on the way, but could also have saved some of those good people!

Yes, Hettie is confident she would have made a difference. Maybe things would have turned out better for the Wilseys and Lawnbartons and other fine wizards and witches who lost so much? Hettie tries not to delude herself with arrogance, but she's aware that she's succeeded in everything she’s ever set her mind to.

Well, except perhaps for that bit about trying to sing like Olivia Newton John.

Yes, that was arguably a poor choice (especially in her first year at a new school), however, a) she (being only twelve at the time) didn't know any better, b) nobody (not even Olivia Newton John) has ever saved the world by trying to sing like Olivia Newton John, whereas c) she, Henrietta Jane Gravener…

…has saved a world.

Now, admittedly, the world she saved was not her own. This world she inhabits is still pretty fouled up. And that, more than anything, is why Hettie feels an almost panicky compulsion to realise her heritage. Her magical heritage.

My heritage, as a witch.

A witch. Witch = me. Witchy. 'H.J. Gravener, Witch First Class'.

Hettie has begun repeating phrases like that in her mind; trying them on for size and, well, they fit like a glove. A sleek black satin glove — exciting, sexy, wicked, dangerous, tantalising…

And oh so frustrating!

It stings to know that Rob and Gemina, and others their age, have been using magic all the while — practising, perfecting, increasingly challenging skills. Even if Hettie was to make a go of witchcraft right now, she would be sooo far behind!

But maybe it’s not too late to start catching up?

Now that she’s aware of her magic, she truly does feel the power coursing through her veins, but she hasn’t a clue how to use it. In her other magical adventure, Rob did pledge to begin teaching her some spells… but in the current timeline, that adventure hasn’t actually happened yet, and it’s increasingly unlikely it ever will happen, given how differently everything is turning out now.

It also doesn’t help that this rather confused version of Rob is much less perceptive than the one she befriended in the other timeline. She has no way of knowing if he’ll clue in to her needs and make the same offer.

Could always ask him…

True. Unfortunately her mother always tried to teach her to be a ‘good girl’… which, seemingly, was a euphemism for ‘not pushy’.

Blah!

But… maybe there is no 'good girl'? Maybe, instead, there's an utterly wicked little witch sitting in seat 28A, peeking over at her sleeping boyfriend, realising that she could probably slide her hand carefully into his pocket, borrow his wand, and…

Dodo — we’re at 31,000 feet. You’re liable to blow a hole in the plane!

… Pathetic little priss.

The wicked little witch in seat 28A scrunches her nose in one last whinge, then wilts, replaced by a not-so-wicked little witch who takes another one of her deep, calming breaths, and turns her mind back to less frustrating pursuits. Such as pondering how much more of this caper she might be able to crack by herself. Without help from Dunbar's lost instructions.

It does intrigue Hettie how far her intuition has already progressed, and how accurately. This bit about how Gemina Wilsey may have gotten trapped in a strange first century limbo by some peculiar coupling between magical fires — how on Earth did she come by that wild notion? And what else can she guess by equally obscure means?

If Gemina’s death (or near death?) in a modern magical fire does somehow relate to the deadly Vesuvius eruption of A.D. 79 (a supposition Hettie believes was confirmed by Dunbar having procured their flight to Italy), then how would they go about breaking that connection? Or do they break the connection at all? Maybe they use the connection; perhaps there's important merit to Gemina's ability to observe some first century Celtic girl wandering down into Italy for a date with A.D. 79 cataclysm?

Those, of course, are tricky questions, and they're hardly the only conundrums. For that matter, Hettie doesn’t even know why any of this involves her? Dunbar clearly didn’t want her around before, so why should he enlist her now??

Over the past 24 hours, she has devoted quite a bit of thought to this, trying to guess whether any of the lessons learned from their last temporal adventure might still apply. She hasn’t found much to go on. She's tried asking both Gemina and Rob about all kinds of potentially useful things. Did Dunbar ever talk about her (Hettie)? Did he ever mention anything about a Roman brooch?

Unfortunately, neither of the Wilseys had the foggiest clue. Neither had ever heard the name ‘Achaius Duff’. No mention from Dunbar about more general aspects of Cupla magic, or any plots to meddle with time. Nothing.

So, just like last time, Hettie is left in the unsettling predicament of watching a caper spread like some sort of strange fog, offering the occasional faint whisper, but otherwise remaining every bit as impenetrable as the cottony blanket of troposphere she occasionally glimpses outside the window.

Yet, for all Hettie feels utterly clueless about this strange mess, she suspects that she may know more than everyone else.

Everyone, except for some unknown bad guy.

And that seems just a little bit scary!


***


All roads lead to Rome.

Of course, Annisgwyl and the Legio XX will traverse well beyond Rome (nearly one hundred leagues further down the Italian coast) but that can wait. For here in the Imperial capital, a day of paid furlough has been scheduled.

This leisure is a perk for the loyal soldiers who have marched back and forth across the empire many times, but it is also an opportunity for Traianius to visit the Forum, where he will invest a day discussing matters of state with his mentor, Senator Nerva.

Prior to leaving camp, Traianius had given Annisgwyl brotherly counsel, telling her that the city is glorious, vibrant, but also has many risks for the uninitiated. He has not forbidden her from wandering (a wise choice, since she would likely just defy him), but he has recommended precautions. Thus, around mid-morning, Annisgwyl dons her ‘disguise’ (a simple tunic, adorned with conservative white palla over head and shoulders) and makes her way from the encampment.

Apparently, the disguise is not the only precaution. A short distance from the barracks, Annisgwyl’s hunter instincts detect a shadow. Her keen peripheral vision discovers, not surprisingly, that Traianius has assigned a scout to discreetly follow her.

She laughs to herself; she will decide later whether to tolerate the ‘escort’ or discard him like the pit of a plum.

For the time being, however, Annisgwyl hastens to a quick pace. Although she has never seen a city so magnificent as Rome, today she will not stand and gape at the tall edifices and monuments. Rather, she has a goal; a vague notion to honour her father and family.

Sort of.

What sets Annisgwyl out today are some recollected words from her dying father.

should you venture to Palatine Hill, you may be noted by your half-brothers. Seek them out. They are not friends, but I believe they will help you. For they should be aware, more than anyone, of Ffodion’s whereabouts.

The advice has resonated with Annisgwyl.

She understands her father’s ambivalence; she knows that her older half brothers were acolytes in the Order of Letum, and once tried to kill her father. Yet she is also aware that Antioch, although dangerous and dark, now owes her father a life debt. Furthermore, her father always believed that the younger one, Cadmus, possessed a genuine heart somewhere beneath his damaged exterior.

By mid-morning, with lingering trepidations, she is ascending the narrow, shaded alleys leading up to the wealthy dwellings ringing the crown of the hill. Every so often, she raises her bronze mirror, not so much to check cosmetics, but rather to spy on Traianius’s scout.

She has not lost him. That is just as well. She has decided that having a witness may be useful — someone who can report back to Traianius if she encounters… difficulties.

Still curious as to how her brothers might find her, Annisgwyl stops at a fountain to fill her cup, when…

“EhhkKH!”

She startles at the harsh sound, splashing her water. Looking about, she spies the beady eyes of a magpie, perched close by, eyeing her with interest.

Blessed with her mother’s instincts, Annisgwyl can feel a familiar throb of magic in the air. She smiles at the bird. “Well met, master magpie. How do you do?”

Perplexed, the bird shifts his feet. He studies Annisgwyl for another long moment, then takes flight, alighting on a window across the courtyard, and disappearing within.

Annisgwyl pauses, deliberating.

To enter a strange villa in an unknown neighbourhood is very likely one of those impetuous behaviours that would wither Traianius’s hair, but it is nonetheless precisely what she plans to do.

There is only the matter of the scout. Will he tolerate such foolishness?

Annisgwyl, fortunately, has a compromise. She reaches into a fold of her stola where she has hidden her wand. An instant later, and she has magically modified the scout’s attitude. Now he should accept her questionable action with no more than a lazy shrug… yet will still keep an eye on the villa. Just in case.

Thus covered, she strides purposefully across the flagstones, up a series of polished steps and into the shady interior…

And lurches to the side — a man’s strong hand clamped forcibly over her mouth; wiry arm pinning her to his chest.

Breathless, she stands there, uncertain whether to be amused or afraid.

Like lightning, the hands shift, whirling her around to reveal… a face incredibly similar to her father’s.

Except for the eyes and voice.

Those are cold. Dark and cold.

“By the black banners of Hekate…” Antioch Peuerellius glares at her. “Mus told me he’d seen the old wretch’s daughter wandering in the provinces, but I would never have believed! What madness brings you here??”

Back to index


Chapter 7: Fire First

Author's Notes:

So the quirky writing exercise continues!

Last chapter, I was (with some justification) pegged as a writer who leaves not only cliffhangers, but even multiple cliffies per chapter. That comment raised in my mind the question -- what exactly am I doing?

The simple answer is that each cliffie arises because each chapter contains (mostly) just one scene of each plot-line. Each scene is set in a single venue, and the way to prod the characters out of that venue and on to the next is a spark of some sort. That's how we get these multiple mini-cliffs per chapter.

Having diagnosed things that far I further realised that, without intending, I seem to be mimicking the Shakepearian play formula -- a rapid fire series of short scenes; each scene fixed to a given location and fixated on a single issue, ever seeking an impetus to inspire the next.

How odd. I can assure you that Shakespeare was the last think I had on my mind when I began to craft this story... but it may not be a wild stretch to say there's a little bit of 'The Tempest' in this.

Learn something new every day, I guess.


Chapter 7. Fire First

“So all you desire, truly, is to repatriate Ignotus to Britannia?”

Annisgwyl nods nervously and turn away. She finds it very difficult to give her half-brother anything more than a passing glance. Whenever she looks upon Antioch Peuerellius, she finds herself drawn into making unsettling comparisons to her father. The physical resemblance between the two is astonishing, but it is overlaid with equally remarkable differences in mood and demeanour. For as kind and patient as Annisgwyl’s father was, Antioch is equally cold and brusque.

However, in that very moment, with her gaze directed out the window toward a hazy summer garden, she chances to miss a smile; a rare expression of fleeting satisfaction crossing Antioch’s brow. “Very well then, daughter of the old goat, I will help you.”

Annisgwyl blinks and turns in surprise. “Really? You will?”

“Certainly.” Antioch has already risen from his lectus and is reaching for his traveling cape. “Why should I not? To aid you now will serve your needs and mine. It will extract you from my atrium, where your company is not particularly desired, and may hopefully also remove your meddlesome brother from Herculaneum where he has proven exceptionally unwelcome.”

“But… right now??” Annisgwyl is not particularly bothered by Antioch’s insolence, but she is unnerved by the sudden haste. “Sir, need you not prepare for the journey? Herculaneum is a journey of nearly one hundred leagues from here, and-”

“One hundred leagues…?” Antioch frowns for a long moment, then bursts into laughter. “Ah, sweet little barbarian — I forgot that you crawled here on foot from the dankest corner of the empire. I shall have the pleasure of showing my father’s illegitimate whelp a merry flash of fine Roman magic!”

Annisgwyl regards the man’s joviality with deepening trepidation, but Antioch doesn't notice. “Take my hand, girl, and I will, this very minute, deposit you upon the decumanus, right at the edge of the Herculaneum forum.”

Annisgwyl glances first at the hand that is reaching out to her, then more pointedly toward the dark, intricate stick in Antioch’s other hand. “Aii!” She leaps back. “That is the Coritani wand!”

“Coritani?” Antioch lowers his extended hand, and raises the wand absently. “Yes, I suppose it is. I have forgotten the exact story but your reaction brings to mind some story about your… mother? She supposedly had a bit of a history with this same wand?”

Annisgwyl stares, saying nothing.

“Well, indeed it is the same stick.” Antioch shrugs. “An old druid gave it to me. In tribute, I suppose? As his offering of peace to the Romans? I have used it well now for nearly seventeen years.”

“He gave the wand to you in peace??†” Annisgwyl’s hand rises to cover her mouth as she gauges the distance to the door. “Brother, to use it is folly! The Coritani druid was an agent of chaos. He loathed the Romans and distrusted any who dealt with them. His passion is so strong that he would willingly have suffered anything, even his own death, in order to drive the Romans from his lands. He is powerful and cunning and, by my mother’s account, he… he nearly set fire to time itself!”

Antioch raises a sharp eyebrow. Then he shakes his head. “Ridiculous superstition of weak primitive minds. The wand has served me without fail, and it shall serve you too, in delivering you to your brother.”

“No!” A suffocating panic seizes Annisgwyl. Leaping for the door, she slams straight into her half-brother, who has crossed the room with impossible instantaneity to block her escape.

Antioch wrenches her into a painful embrace, and a brilliant flash rips from his his menacing wand.

Around Annisgwyl, all of space lurches into a sickening blaze of distorted colour, lashed by a dark gale, whose teeth are like ice.


***


“Ercolani Scavi!” Hettie proclaims, standing and gesturing at the rail map painted on the car’s interior.

Rob knows the signal. Bracing himself against herky-jerky motions that remind him of the Knight Bus, he stands and prepares to follow a young woman who has masterfully (and indeed a bit mysteriously) taken charge of his life, ostensibly leading him through this wild adventure that Dunbar had assigned to him.

Exiting the train, Rob’s feet grind to a halt. His tense expression alerts Hettie that he may be worried the doors will attack him. Laughing lightly, she jams a foot into the impatient door, then takes Rob by the hand to coax him through. He accepts without question and follows her out into a brisk but sunny Italian morning.

In a moment they are on the street, and Hettie finds herself alternately squinting at a map and at the sky, trying to orient herself in a locale that seems to have no end of visual stimulation (fluttering laundry, technicolour trash, graffiti…), but very little street signage. Finally, she determines the direction that must (by dint of their shadows) be southwest. “That way,” she announces.

“Er, Hett?” Rob’s eyes are darting nervously; his free hand clenched within the pocket of his anorak.

Hettie looks around and identifies the source of Rob’s anxiety — a pack of street urchins that, she supposes, would be perfectly happy to set a pair of naive tourists in the right direction. And liberate their wallets.

Hettie pulls Rob close, whispering, “Stand tall, grin, and talk loudly.”

“Talk?” Rob frowns. “Huh?”

“The weather. Sports. Any old silly thing.” Hettie smiles broadly.

“Silly…?” Rob thinks for a moment, then his eyes light up. “Hey, yeah! Have you ever heard about the sport called ‘Quadpot’? The name itself sounds pretty daft, but the game? Oi, it’s beyond barmy! After our Quidditch League disbanded in 1994, I needed a distraction, so I started staying up late — really late — on Friday and Tuesday nights to listen to the a-MUHHR-icans broadcast matches on the wireless, and let me tell you… “

Hand in hand, laughing gaily at all of Rob’s exaggeratedly ridiculous quips, Hettie navigates the pair down Via Panoramica and thence to the Golden Mile, in search of their hotel.

The street urchins quickly lose interest and, when it comes to this annoying yet seemingly harmless pair of tourists, none of the other locals pay much heed.

None of the locals do. However, the heavy-set man in a dark cloak is not a local.


***


“Harry Potter…” Gemina sighs. “You know, I did sometimes try to guess his name.”

Ginny nods, as she shifts into a very relaxing position. She is sitting with her back against a smooth, weather-worn stump rather like one she recalls from her childhood. All murk of the Stygian void has now transformed entirely for the better, giving them a breezy summer evening atop a knoll overlooking an imaginary Burrow.

“I’ll bet he’s positively peng, yeah?” Gemina Wilsey is seated atop the stump, lazily braiding Ginny’s long, gleaming tresses. “He sounds like the sweetest lamb.”

Gemina’s enthusiasm is genuine, although for a moment there is a shred of strain to it; a measure of some internal conflict that she finds herself having to push into the shadows.

Unaware of any tension, Ginny twists part-way around, aiming to beam some appreciation back to her companion, but Gemina edges away just enough to subtly evade.

It isn’t that Gemina is embarrassed by the gratitude. Rather, she, er, seems to have something in her eye… perhaps even in both eyes… and they’ve somehow gotten the tiniest bit watery. Nobody in Germina’s life (or afterlife or whatever she’s in now) gets to see her with moist eyes. Not even her alter ego.

Unfazed, Ginny returns her gaze back toward the warm glow in the southwest. It is her turn to sigh. “Well yes. He is kind and thoughtful. And shy. Yet determined. And he’s amazingly powerful. So many qualities, but he never admits them — not even to himself. For the life of me, I can’t imagine what my life would be like without…”

Ginny tails off. Her teeth capture her lip, growing uncomfortably aware that her endless prattle might seem a bit insensitive to someone whose life has been so hard and barren.

The attempted discretion earns a laugh. Gemina, herself, is almost never circumspect, but she can spot chariness in others right off. She squeezes Ginny’s shoulder. “Don’t fret luv — I’m happy for you. Beyond happy! Besides, you’ve always been good about sharing, you know?”

Ginny frowns slightly, not grasping what Gemina means.

“Years ago, I somehow found this green-eyed boy…” Gemina closes her eyes, and tilts her head back to let the reddening sunlight pour over it. “He’s been with me ever since, watching out for me; if I need a friend, I just close my eyes for a sec and he's there, ready to step up and take my side. Whenever I've felt lost or abandoned; if I’m down in the dirt, bruised and battered, I’ll always find his hand in mine, pulling me back to my feet. I mean, sure it’s in my head, but it’s not as if I’m some silly little sprog with an imaginary friend.”

Intrigued, Ginny turns with a question on her lips… but freezes at a glimpse of two tiny tracks glistening down Gemina’s cheeks. Eyes averted, Ginny’s half-formed query is lost to the summer breeze.

Gemina straightens up, dries her eyes, and restores her brash, defiant look. “Yeah, well obviously my life does kind of suck at times, but I’ve always come along okay. And I finally know who to thank.”

“Who?” This time Ginny does engage her alt-equal, eye to eye.

“You.” Gemina finds her smile again. “I owe it all to you.”

“Huh?” Ginny blinks. “Why?”

“The bounce in my step; the spark that keeps me buzzin’.” Gemina grins. “My Green-Eyed Boy.”

Ginny stares, uncomprehending.

“We’re the same person, yeah?” Gemina continues. “Different universes, but you’re still me, and I’m still you. Sitting here, somewhere out of space and time, chatting like old gal-pals, I finally realised today that it’s you I’ve been borrowing from all the while. Your happiness; your confidence — everything about you practically glows, luv. It’s like your aura is all spritzed with the one perfect essence.”

“The one perfect essence?” Ginny quirks her neck. “Love? Hope?”

“Either. Take your pick.” Gemina grins. “Ever since you got your Green-Eyed Boy, you’ve always had plenty enough love and hope to keep us both charging, cap’. So that’s what I owe you for.”

Ginny stares, speechless.

“And now…” Gemina’s grin fades, but her eyes lose none of their spark. “Now it’s time for me to pay you back.”

“Pay me back? How?”

“We’re in a rough spot, yeah?” Gemina’s face has gone very serious. “Whatever the hell happened to us, we’re both in one nasty little pinch — cut off from our lives; we could be half-dead, for all I know. It’s the pits, and I’ll wager most blighters would just ditch. But not us. Together — me; you — we’ve got the pluck and punch to bust out and hit the ground where we’re needed. And you, Ginger, are needed back with your boy, so it's about time we get you back there.”

“You bet. We can do it, yeah?” Ginny is infected by her companion’s vim. But after a moment, perspective sinks in and Ginny cradles her chin thoughtfully. “The big question is ‘how’? Whatever happened to us is really odd, Gem’. I’ve been separated from Harry before, but never like this. In the past few years, any other time something bad happened, I always knew if I set put my mind to it, I could reconnect but…”

“But not now, huh?” Gemina scrunches her nose. “No idea what’s getting in the way?”

“No.” Ginny shakes her head. “But, I’d wager Harry and Hermione are wracking their brains on this too, and they might know more than we do. If Harry tries Cadmus’s Stone again, we could ask him what he thinks… but… well, I doubt he’ll use it a second time. When he pulled me back earlier, I think it was an accident. It was pretty clear he hadn’t recognised the stone until I pointed it out. But now he knows exactly what it is, and he’s aware of the risks.”

“Okay. But you told me there are still things that we can try, right?”

“Yes.” Ginny nods. “Working together gives us more options. For starters, we could return to, uh, you know…”

“Return?” Gemina frowns. “Back to the brink? The flames?”

“Yes.” Ginny’s tone doesn’t exactly vibrate with zeal. “If we’re there to prop each other up and bail each other out if need be, then I think we can risk reverting to the last frozen moment of our, uh, life. Maybe if we re-examined the scene we might notice something that might help us to identify the barrier and overcome it.”

Gemina frowns. “You’re sure those fires are still burning? I realise that time’s likely gone a bit queer, but it seems like it’s been quite a while…”

Ginny quirks her neck for a moment, then nods. “Pretty sure mine is still there.”

“Okay, good enough.” Gemina shrugs. “But, we’ve got a backup plan, just in case?”

“Ah. Yes.” Ginny brightens a bit. “Well, obviously, what worked best for us that other time was to descend back into the darkness and try calling together to him across the void.“

“Us? Other time? Together across the void?”

Looking into her alter-ego’s eyes, Ginny sees genuine puzzlement. Sorting through the various timelines in her head, Ginny groans, realising… “Crumb — of course. You’re not dead yet, yeah?”

Gemina raises a very sharp eyebrow, sustains it for a long moment, then bursts out laughing. “I kinda don’t know how to take that, Ginger.”

Ginny thinks for a moment. She ponders the apparent paradox, wondering how she might go about explaining to her alt-equal that, years ago, she (Ginny) met her when she (Gemina) was a bit older (and deader) than the Gemina she’s now talking to. This, of course is why only Ginny (and not Gemina) can recall having met once before within a frigid, desolate darkness. Only Ginny can recall their shared struggle; the thrill of together finding the strength of voice to successfully call out to Harry.

Of course, Ginny could explain that, and she will. But that can wait. Right now, Gemina is still chuckling, and smiling, and it seems far more immediately important to Ginny to join her in a good laugh. And hug.

So, after their silly interlude, Gemina pulls back from the embrace. Having processed the options, her expression slides back to sobriety. “All right, which should we try? Fire or ice?”

“Good question.” Ginny restores her own solemnity, and thinks for a moment. “We ought to have more information in hand for the next time we talk to Harry. So, fire first.”

“Scorchin’!” Gemina squeezes her hand, then releases it. “Now that we’ve got a plan… I really ought to check in with my peeps. Take a minute to enjoy the sunset, and I’ll hurry back.”


***


For a while (regrettably, an all too little while), Harry believes he is hearing Ginny’s voice. Or ‘voices’ even? It almost seems, with the undulations and oscillations, that the sounds are mimicking the flow of conversation? Regardless, there is a soft musicality in the tones, like the natural poetry of whims and reminiscence.

Harry’s concentration is waxing; he is almost on the verge of catching actual words and phrases, when his hyper-sensitised ears are jolted by:

“She is gone?”

Traianius’s interjection, both unexpected and painfully close, cuts across Harry's conscious like lightning. This shock, however, is immediately subsumed by very different anxiety — a torrent that includes both Harry’s own pain from losing the tenuous connection to Ginny, and a powerful surge of alarm emanating from his Roman host.

With a silent groan, Harry opens his eyes, not to the Hogwarts stairwell where Hermione and Ron wait anxiously, but rather to a lamp-lit summer evening on Palatine Hill, in imperial Rome.

“So, you confirm that she was here, but also that she has departed?” Traianius’s voice, despite the internal strain, is now the practiced calm of someone who has dealt with human sorrow and loss many times before on battlefields of the empire. Yet, deep within, Harry can detect a tremor of grief, greater and more personal than any he has before sensed from the general.

“Yes.” The tall, thin patrician standing in the marble doorway nods impassively. “The young woman requested news of her brother, whom I know. Consequently, I arranged for her safe and expeditious passage directly to Herculaneum to locate the young man.”

“Safe?” Traianius scrutinises the coal-dark eyes. “You vouch for her safety?”

“I vouch for her safe passage.” Antioch casually removes his traveling cape. “I pledge she will attain her destination without incident. Beyond that, I guarantee nothing. Herculaneum may seem quiet next to Rome, but it too harbours risks.”

Traianius spends a long moment studying the face before him. He cares little for this patrician, but the story seems plausible, and years of instincts honed in tense diplomacy do not suggest falsehood.

“I will accept your word.” Traianius nods. “And I thank you for attending to her wishes.”

Antioch nods in deference to the Legatus legionis, and retreats to the deepening shadows within his villa.

His heart full of suppressed misgivings, Traianius straightens his spine and descends the steps. He lays a consoling hand upon the slumped shoulders of his dismayed scout. “Fear not, Hectorus. You did well to summon me here without delay. Now I would bid you to commission a horse, and ride in haste to the Praefectus castrorum. Alert him that we shall break camp early. Before daybreak tomorrow.”

“Yes sir!” The scout snaps to attention. “With good speed, perhaps we shall overtake your lady upon the road?”

Traianius smiles, but the smile is hollow. He does not wish to deprive his loyal soldier of a hope for redemption, but somehow knows that their legion will not encounter the young woman on the way. Rather, his goal is to hasten to Herculaneum as quickly as possible, before it—

Harry lurches, urgently shearing yet another connection, wildly groping in the darkness for… something he has been waiting for!

Whether by fate or odd instinct, he senses some distant thread of a message — an opportunity greater than the rare luxury of an unguarded Traianius deliberation. In an instant, he is tearing through the void toward a lilting sound that, moments ago, he despaired of losing. The connection has already surged, and is already fading, but his timing is fortunate. He gets close enough to discern one last perfectly crystalline phrase:

So, fire first.”

“Of course!” Harry’s eyes fly open to the Seventh Floor landing, accidentally causing Ron to fall over in surprise.

Harry rushes back to the window. From their high vantage, he is staring straight across to that single distant spear of flame rising from deep within a woodland glade beyond the castle grounds.

“Ha! Like a moth drawn to flame; no wonder it kept pulling me!” Launching himself from the window, he scrambles down the darkened steps, waving wildly back to Hermione and Ron. “C'mon! Got to get to that fire in the forest!”

Back to index


Chapter 8: Lurches

Author's Notes:

Whew! Still managing to keep my usual schedule, though the past week was incredibly disrupted. I rather doubt, given inevitable travel plans, that I will be able to deliver Chapter 9 next Tuesday, but hopefully by Friday.

Anyway, patient friends, you finally get some *action*! :)


Chapter 8 Lurches

“… ‘kay gotta run let you know what we find out give my luv-duv to Gravener take care of yourself Bubbie and get a shave will ya?”

Rob blinks dazedly at the now-vacated picture of the Highland moor as he tries to parse his sister’s unpunctuated staccato. Hearing a knock on the door to his little room, he returns the Wilsey family album to his folder and steps out into the hallway to find Hettie waiting for him.

“Er…” Hettie’s welcoming smile falters somewhat. “Rob, will you be warm enough dressed in short sleeves? It’s winter up here in your hemisphere, you know.”

“I’ll be fine.” Rob shrugs. “Wilsey metabolism.”

Hettie gives him a very meaningful look that attempts to convey that he’d be welcome to wrap a bit of that Wilsey metabolism around her chilled shoulders.

Unfortunately, seeing as how he seems to have not yet grasped the obvious concept that he is (or, at the very least, ought to act like) her boyfriend, he merely blinks, returns a puzzled half-smile, and starts down the steps.

In his defence, Rob has a bit on his mind.

“Finally heard from Gem,” he calls back. “Confusing as hell, but she and some other girl seem to have figured out that they’re both trapped, er, on the brink of death? And… and they need to contact some boy about something important to the fate of the universe or something, but something is blocking them, so they’re going to try something and, um, something. She was chattering really really fast — fast even for her — so I may have it a bit muddled.” He gives a sheepish grin.

“Crickets!” Hettie does not grin. “She didn’t give you names? Was the girl named, ummm, Ginny? And this boy they’re looking for — is he called ‘Harry’?”

Rob stops and stares blankly. Jet lag has not been kind to him, and all of this rapid, detail oriented communication is starting to give him a headache.

“Is Gemina still in the picture?” Hettie is practically vibrating. “Can I ask her myself?”

“Sorry.” Rob rubs his forehead. “She had to run straight off again. Next time I’ll yell at her to slow down long enough for me to come fetch you.”

“Piff. Well, that’s life I guess.” Hettie tries to force a begrudging smile onto her face, but… she's less than half-way into the artificial one when a real smile breaks through, emerging with sad quirks and regretful crinkles. “Oh, Rob, I don't mean to be so impatient. I’m just deathly curious if this is another one of those Harry-Ginny stories because that would mean we're in for a wild raucous ride! Guess we’ll find out soon enough, right?”

Rob nods eagerly. He actually has no clue what she’s talking about, but is rather relieved to be let off the hook.

Following Hettie out onto the street, he walks in silence as they head onto Corso Resina, then… “Huh.” He has spotted a tourist sign lettered in multiple languages. “So, we’re going to the ruins?”

“I think so, yes.” Hettie nods. “Your materials from Dunbar say nothing about what to look for, or where to look, but seeing as how he reserved our rooms so close to ancient Herculaneum, I figured he must be dropping us a hint.”

“Good thinking. But…” Rob hesitates for a moment. “Do you suppose he might instead have meant for us to catch that bus for the mountain?”

“Oh dear, I didn’t think of that.” Hettie stares at a Vesuvius tour company immediately across the street. “Fiddlesticks. Which do we try first?”

“The ruins, of course.” Rob smiles. “I may be dumb, but I know enough to trust your instincts.”

Hettie’s eyelids flutter in surprise. She half-turns to gaze fondly up at him. Right then and there, she really wishes he would lean in and-

Oi! Mind the-!!”

Rob catches her mid-stride. She gasps. The glossy black of an Italian taxi whips past her as it leaps out of the alley, acting for all the world like it eats pedestrians for lunch.

Hettie scowls at herself. Henrietta you twit! Watch your step, or you'll get us both killed!

Rob is angry too, but his ire is directed at the speeding cab. Fortunately, Hettie catches his hand before he can grab his wand and do anything regrettable.

Concentrating fully now, Hettie needs only a few minutes to safely navigate the intervening streets, and soon they are wandering, in near solitude, among the excavated alleys of the ancient Roman town. She finds herself captivated by the remarkably preserved architecture and artwork, and in her mind’s eye she pictures the vibrant community that once prospered here.

Prospered.

Prospered for centuries… until it was hit with a deadly cascade of boiling mud, toxic fumes, and flame.

Oh.

How depressing.

Hettie has always been blessed (or cursed) with vivid imagination and empathy, and tales of tragic devastation never sit well. Drained of her earlier enthusiasm, she slumps against the base of an old column, scans the ruins now with a more jaundiced eye, and resolves to survey the place. Efficiently.

Be thorough; be quick, and let's get out of here.

“Rob?” Brusquely, she extends her hand. “May I see your folder again?”

Without question, Rob retrieves it and hands it to her in expanded form.

Hettie peers into the folder. For the dozenth time, she wonders if somewhere in the mysterious depths she will find some helpful scroll or parchment that actually explains (or even hints at) what they ought to be accomplishing on this daft little ill-defined vacation.

For the dozenth time, she impatiently tries to bat away the clunky, garish old ring that always gets in the way.

Then she stops herself.

Hmmmm…?

She opens her hand. The ring floats gently into it.

She closes her fingers around it, and raises it up to eye-level.

It is a gawdy piece, and the crude centre stone has a jagged hairline crack, but Hettie finds herself gazing into the icy grey depths. For an odd, disorienting moment she feels almost as though she is drifting, falling, lurching!

“Jolting jellies!” Her eyes seize on something tangible — the crisp lines of an odd carven symbol. A triangle. A circle. A single vertic… She lowers the stone an inch to stare past it. She is looking obliquely down the narrow Roman street toward one of the taller ruins — a stately two story edifice with a sharp pointed gable. Leaving Rob’s side, she steps robotically over to get a closer look at it.

A triangle. A circle. A single vertical line…

“Hey Hett? Did you feel something odd just now?” Rob comes up behind her. “For a moment it was almost like- Hey!” He gazes up in the direction she’s staring. “That circular window up there — it looks a lot like like- SHITE!”

Rob shoves Hettie hard to the ground. Whirling about, his wand deflects a jagged bolt of spell-fire, but he’s a split second late. The stunner catches his shoulder, impacting hard. Staggering back, his eyes glaze; wand slips from his grasp… falling…

Falling…

Yet, heedless of throbbing head and bloodied chin, Hettie is somehow twisting, lunging; fingers close blindly about the falling wand, and-

BANG!!

Rob leaps up. His eyes clear just in time to glimpse the red-grey splatters of what, an instant earlier, had been someone's nasty looking black-cloaked wand arm.

“OI!” Rob dashes around the corner, wand out to apprehend their assailant… but he is met with the telltale swirl of a Portkey discharge.

“Damn.” Rob bends to retrieve the wizard’s discarded (and surprisingly intact) wand, and races back to find Hettie on her knees, listing forward, blood streaming down her face onto the ancient flagstones.

“Oh luv.” Every ounce of adrenaline drains from his voice. “Sorry sorry so so sorry I-I knocked you down I was only trying to protect… Merlin, I never meant to hurt…”

Yet, even as he stammers, he is moving to her, kneeling, gently lifting her chin. Willing some steadiness into his trembling fingers, he raises his wand and, with no further drama, manages to close the cut and vanish the blood.

“Rob…” She is staring into his eyes. “What happened? The attacker? He’s… he’s gone?”

“Well, he…” Rob scans the face before him, flushed cheeks, her quivering petal-like lips, her eyes so deeply concerned, yet so very brave. “He’s gone, we’re safe, ‘cause, you see, uh…” Words catch in his throat.

Rob has been ambushed before. Surviving such close calls is blinding excitement — the sheer thrill of being alive! But now, speaking in soft measured tones over that wild exhilaration, is an oddly sensible voice telling him that the smart, brave, but inherently gentle girl in front of him might not exactly be overjoyed to learn that she just vapourised somebody’s arm… even if it was some murderous, sodding dark wizard’s arm.

Rob takes a breath. “Er, yeah. He’s gone, luv. Managed to Portkey away, but wow — you sure, uh, stopped him!”

“Rob…” Hettie's small hands grasp his shoulders. “Could you repeat that, please?”

“Errmmm?” Confused, Rob tries to scratch his chin, but of course can't, given how Hettie is holding him. “Uh, repeat what? Stopped him? Managed to Portkey?”

“Prat.” Her eyes seem to have acquired a sparkle. A dangerous sparkle. “You called me ‘luv’. Twice.”

“Oh. That.” Rob squirms. “Sorry, Hett. I-I was a bit flustered, anMBDFFBH…”

The world of old stone swirls away, not into the mists of time, but upon the pulses of sweet breath and the touch of warm skin.

It is nearly fifteen minutes before the giggles of invading tourists jolt them back to a flustered sense of reality.

In their own attempts to feign nonchalance, Hettie and Rob fail to notice the old man who glides in behind them, gives them an amused glance through his half-moon spectacles, and discreetly enters the building with the steep gable.


***


Clasping hands, Ginny and Gemina close their eyes and allow themselves to each be taken back to their last frozen instants of corporeal consciousness.

Once again, Gemina finds herself caught, mid-stride, in the act of dashing toward the elderly man lying helpless on the ground.

A large segment of flaming eaves has sagged precariously. It too is frozen in this moment of peril.

Gemina has not visited the scene since the moment she lived it. It’s not yet easy to even want to see it. There are too many wrenching unknowns…

Does she have time to reach the man? (Doubtful, but that would never stop her from trying.) Who actually is the man, anyway? (Too much smoke; she can barely even see his outline.) Who is the thug behind her? (She's frozen and can't turn around… but if she ever does get a look at him, he’s in a world of trouble!)

Working past those stalemates, Gemina forces herself to examine the rest of the scene objectively, but little comes of it. The sensory assault is too disorienting, and the psychological strain is nearly debilitating. She can practically smell defeat and failure. In the heat of the moment, buoyed by boundless adrenaline, the scene seemed no different from the other countless challenges Gemina had faced before but now, to watch with objective dispassion while she and an innocent bystander are about to die, seems so…

Ughh…

Thus distracted, a cursory (stoic) study yields no hint of spells or wards that might interfere with magical communication, so Gemina gives up. Better to instead help Ginny. Perhaps a fresh pair of eyes will spot things that her alt-equal might miss? And maybe a bit of moral support would be appreciated?

Having made her choice, Gemina turns from the Allesley fire, and immediately finds herself witnessing a frozen moment that, if anything, seems even more confusing.

Ginny has been replaying the last bewildering half minute in the Room of Requirement, which is being rapidly incinerated by the sheer stupidity of that pea-brained dolt, Vincent Crabbe.

The segment begins with Harry trying to summon the Ravenclaw Diadem. The spell is taking unusually long to engage, somewhat to the worry of Ginny and Hermione who are flanking him on both sides, attempting to magically shield him from the flames.

As the diadem finally starts lifting and gliding across the room, something completely unexpected catches Ginny’s (and Gemina’s) eye — an old man lying helplessly on the floor, nearly surrounded by conflagration.

Gemina is hit with the astonishing parallel to her own fiery crisis.

Ginny is bewildered by having no memory of this little wrinkle.

Yet there Ginny is, staring straight at the helpless man; most obviously trying to gauge how to rescue him.

Even now, given an opportunity to revisit this scene in slow motion replay, neither Ginny nor Gemina have any idea who it might be. Vision is blurred by the surging flames, and by the Ginny’s own motion as she seeks a better angle for summoning the man.

Oddly enough, despite having no recollection of facing this quandary, the next split second is perfectly familiar. She has committed to breaking formation; she is moving closer to the flames, wondering whether this might be her last moment on Earth.

She knows she can only undertake such a risk under one condition. She looks to Harry; she seeks him out; calls to him... and feels the joy and affirmation of connection.

I love you, Harry.

The diadem still arcing toward his outstretched hand, Harry turns for the briefest, purest of glances.

I love you, Ginny.

The air swells with the eternal radiance of loyalty, devotion… adoration…

Then Ginny must turn away, to her duty; to destiny.

She now recognises that, in her last sliver of consciousness, she has cast an Accio, seeking to summon the imperiled man. She can feel in her veins that her spell is locking on but everything suddenly… lurches!

The flames freeze. Their glare streaks a half degree across her field of vision. Then everything stops.

All is still.

There are flames before Ginny’s eyes, but they do not dance. Gone is the ghastly, drunken stupour of wanton destruction.

There is no old man to summon.

There is no Harry; no diadem; no Hermione…

I was taken away.

Somewhere.

The glare of all of the frozen flames around her makes it exceedingly difficult for Ginny to descry her surroundings, but after a while she realises that the glare is less blinding if she looks directly overhead, where the flames are thinnest.

Staring up, she sees something. A shape. More smooth and regular than the tortured forms of flames. It is a crescent…

The moon?

Placing that in context, she lowers her gaze a bit to study other vague, spindly shadows that seem to spider themselves across the sky. Those could be…

Trees?

Piecing things together, Ginny concludes that she has somehow been whisked away from the Room of Requirement. Her living body is in suspended animation, encased by walls of frozen flames, in a wooded area. And, scanning carefully about herself, down now to levels below her feet, she can now glimpse different forms clustered about. Strange faces. Masks? Masks that look somewhat like…

Death Eaters?!


***


Herculaneum.

Annisgwyl has spent months trying to reach this place, yet finding herself walking the marble decumanus a full week earlier than expected fills her heart with absolutely no joy.

She is shaken by the bizarre, powerful magic that Antioch used to thrust her across so many leagues in the span of one brief (disconcerting; nearly nauseating) instant. She is perplexed that a man with such anger toward her family should have been so eager to offer (or force) his assistance. But, more than anything, she feels wrenching guilt and loneliness.

She is alone.

This is how, back in the hills of Dumnonia, Annisgwyl expected to face this journey — thousands of unknown leagues with no companionship. Yet now it seems almost inconceivable to have completed the final short distance… without Traianius.

Lord of men, gentle friend… lover… please forgive me.

It is perhaps best this way. Annisgwyl knows that polite Roman society fears the magic of her people, and she is certain she would never be accepted as a proper mate for a distinguished nobleman such as the Legate legionis.

In deference to Traianius’s reputation, Annisgwyl has tried to hide her witchcraft, but she can sense that he knows her secret. She is uncertain why he has continued to abide by her ruse, but she now understands that here, in magical Herculaneum, surrounded by so many powerful sorcerers and sorceresses, there is little chance for her to sustain such an illusion.

Annisgwyl is certain that things will happen here. Quite possibly frightening things. And only time will tell whether Amaethon will permit her magic (and Ffodion’s) to overcome the perils that they may face. Whatever dangers they may see, she is now relieved to not be subjecting Traianius to enemies that he need not share.

Yes, Traianius shall be safe.

This thought warms her, and Annisgwl is finally able to raise her eyes to the evening sky and feel comfort. In her heart, she even finds optimism, for she has indeed come all this way, and surely now she can permit herself to believe that Ffodion is somewhere close.

Perhaps, like Antioch, he will sense her arrival, and will find her?

In truth, she rather hopes he might because, regrettably, she has little instinct for how or where to search for her brother.

Herculaneum is not a large town, however Annisgwyl assumes that Ffodion would be fairly meticulous in hiding his identity. However charming this community may appear to the naked eye, it has a reputation for harboring some of the empire’s darkest wizards, and the third son of Paternas Peuerellius would not find himself welcome among such people.

Concidentally, it is with this problematic thought in mind that Annisgwyl is discreetly eyeing the town from her vantage here on the decumanus. Surveying all that she can see, her gaze darts among the spires and roofs lining the horizon. She has nothing in particular to watch for, however the act of committing the geography and sights to her mind seems prudent, espec-

She jolts! The vista goes blurry for a moment, then she finds that she is staring at something that sends shivers up her neck — a tall villa, some distance down to the east, that bears a sign she knows well. It bears the mark of Letum, rendered clearly as a perfectly round window, split by a vertical slat, and framed within a sharp triangular gable.

This is not a coincidence. Not here.

Quietly, she curses in revulsion.

Oddly enough, Annisgwyl half wishes that Antioch had remained with her just a bit longer. Although her half-brother has been a leader of the dark Order, he is family, and he owes a wizard’s debt. Surely he could have stayed to advise on the wiser ways in this dreadful place? Told her where to steer clear? Pointed her toward her brother?

Her real brother, that is.

Shivering slightly despite the warm, heavy air, she notes the lengthening shadows, and decides that she will not remain within the town tonight. There is something here that both draws and repels her, and she will not tempt it after the sun’s red glimmers have gone.

Yes, tonight she shall dwell like the shepherds. A night beneath the stars, in the company of plain sheep, sounds far preferable than clinging to the edges of her blanket in some hostile corner of this den of sinister sorcery.

Stepping quickly, she turns toward the northeast, leaves the forum behind and seeks out the smaller streets leading away from the centre. A paved alley soon reverts to gravel; stone walls give way to wood, and soon then to scrubby lots of grazing goats.

She stops for the barest moment; her curiosity still piqued by the steep-gabled Order house; her heart still longing for Ffofion… but from this angle she can no longer see the place of dark mystery. Setting her jaw, she turns, and pushes it out of her mind.

Twenty minutes later, the torches of Herculaneum have dwindled to tiny distant flickers. More than a league out from (and hundreds of feet above) the seaside town, Annisgwyl judges that this is a place of suitable quiet and solitude. She finds a small depression that will shelter her should winds blow up in the night, and selects a patch of cushioning weeds on which to spread her blanket. In doing so, she happens to face east just in time to catch the first beams of the rising moon.

It is just beginning to crest the mountain.

The mountain!

Hercules’ Forge? The mountain of fire?

The greyish mound shows nothing but senescent calm now, but Annisgwyl cannot help but wonder what malice it might conceal. The sooner she is able to find Ffodion and persuade him to leave this forsaken country, the better.

Fortunately, despite all of these misgivings, the air upon this hillside is clean and cooler. After an exhausting day, the stars are singing sweetly to her.

Annisgwyl casts a complete sequence of privacy and seclusion charms about her little hollow, and settles into her blanket. In seconds, she is asleep.


***


Although Harry pays little attention to whether Hermione and Ron can keep pace, they are nonetheless pulled along by whatever passion and conviction has seized him, and manage to keep him in sight as he tears through the dark forest.

Puzzled by the growth of an eerie glow, Hermione points ahead to the foot of a ridge where Harry has stopped to wait.

Seeing (and hearing) his friends, Harry hastily casts Muffliato and Disillusionment charms to shroud their presence. Before joining them in the charmed circle, he checks his watch. It says 1:53 p.m.; less than seven minutes remain in Voldemort’s deadline.

With no idea yet how to proceed, Harry quietly leads his friends onto the ridge. In silence, all three find themselves observing a heinous, yet bizarre, assembly. The clearing, and the swarm of Voldemort's acolytes therein, is illuminated by a thick column of something that looks like flame, except that it is utterly stationary, hovering in mid-air, not consuming any fuel.

It is frozen. A frozen flame.

At the moment, Harry cares little what it is, but focuses rather on what might be inside it. He retreats deep inside his mind… searching, calling, listening.

Sensing Harry’s deep trance, Ron stares in bafflement at the strange fire. “What the hell is that thing?!”

Hermione stretches up to Ron’s ear. “I doubt any of us knows, but I think Ginny may be inside.”

Ron’s eyes bug out painfully, but Hermione hastens to reassure. “She’s not dead! Harry and I are both quite sure of that.”

“But…” Ron chews his lip. “She’s inside a fire? That’s not a good thing, right?”

Hermione takes a deep breath. “One would think not, but… those fellows don’t seem too pleased with it either.”

Hermione is correct. The gathered Death Eaters are fretful, and it is fairly clear that the presence of the flame is doing nothing to calm their nerves. Bickering and quarreling, various of the scurrilous thugs gesture sporadically at the glowing pillar, shaking their fists and rending their hair.

Off to one side is a tall, brooding figure. Neither Ron nor Hermione has ever encountered the villain before, but there is no mistaking Voldemort.

Black cape billowing behind him as he paces over a stretch of flat ground, the dark leader’s mouth is twisted; his dark, reptilian eyes are glowering. Abruptly, he stops and raises his head. “SILENCE!”

All motion and noise around him instantly ceases, leaving a night so suddenly silent that Harry can hear the hissing breath of his dismayed nemesis.

Voldemort’s long bony finger jabs out at a nearby Death Eater. “Rowle! What time is it?”

“Errr…” The stocky wizard pulls back his sleeve. He stares at his wrist, then angles it toward the flame. “Erm, it’s 8:36, my lord.”

“Eight thir-?” Voldemort stares at the man for a long moment. “Idiot!” He lashes the Death Eater with a vicious (if brief) Cruciatus before turning on the rest of the gathering. “Does anyone have a timepiece that WORKS?!”

A deeply uncomfortable silence descends over the crowd.

Finally Bellatrix Lestrange hurries over. “Does it even matter, Master? Little Potty isn’t coming.”

Managing to ignore the ensuing glare, Lestrange gestures toward the flame; her lips twisting in perplexity. “That thing is annoying, Master. Let me destroy it, and then let’s go bait the itty mice up in the castle?”

Bellatrix beams a toothy, ravenous (if slightly wavering) grin toward her icon.

With ill-disguised loathing, Voldemort raises an eyebrow. “Go ahead, Bella. Destroy the flame. Kill the girl.”

Harry grimaces; every muscle tenses, about to tear headlong into the deadly throng… then he stops. Bolt stiff, his arm whips out to restrain Ron who is nearly fit to burst.

Harry, Hermione and Ron (cringing) watch breathlessly as Lestrange levels a massive Reducto at the towering flame.

The curse impacts the glowing pillar like the torrent of a fire hose… then splits, glancing off obliquely to pummel two large pine trees into thunderous dust.

The flame persists. Silent. Still. Unperturbed; untouched.

Harry exhales.

Ginny is alive. She is intact. Healthy. Ready.

Harry knows that. He feels it more strongly than ever… but nobody — not Lestrange, nor Voldemort, nor Harry himself, nor even Hermione — seems to have any idea what to do with this knowledge.

Indeed for now, there seems to be only one remaining option.

Wait.

Voldemort’s cold gaze passes blankly over his many followers as he turns away toward the distant shadows. Yet even in the act of withdrawing into his own thoughts, the dark wizard’s face cannot hide the fact that he is thwarted.

He is facing an obstacle that not only remains unexplained, but may in fact be inexplicable. Compounding the uncertainty is the apparent (and quite unexpected) matter of Potter opting to ignore his ultimatum?

Clutching the Elder Wand in tremulous fury, Voldemort's mind races through possible contingencies on plans teetering on the verge of colla-

WHOOOSH!

Voldemort whips around at the Portkey discharge. His eyes widen in dismay to behold… a one-armed Fenrir Greyback — blood-drenched; face-down on the ground.

Back to index


Chapter 9: Thimble and Block

Author's Notes:

If you're surprised to see a Christmas Eve chapter from me, then you're not the only one! I had been kind of fretting about the next chapter (which deals a lot with the 'fires'), what with it needing a fair bit of editing and all. However, I had not really considered the possibility that a little 'interlude' segment that I'd originally written as fluffy relief in the first draft would completely metamorphose into a crucial pivot. The segment is short by anyone's chapter standards, but is important, stands alone, and stands apart from the next run of sequences, so I decided to toss it up here.

Shall be back with Harry, Ginny, Gemina, Hermione and Ron in the not-too-distant future.

Once again, happy holidays to all!


Chapter 9. Thimble and Block

Hettie collapses diagonally across Rob’s small bed, groaning in exhaustion.

Rob looks at her a moment, then thoughtfully picks up her discarded rucksack, placing it on a chair.

After a moment, Hettie lifts her head high enough to notice him hovering uncomfortably.

How endearingly shy!

She pulls her legs in to make room, and pats the free space invitingly.

Rob sits slowly, carefully. He is scratching his chin. “Er, Hett, what did you make of that, uh, peaked house?”

“The one with the gable shaped like this signet?” She pulls the ring out of her pocket and gazes into the odd stone.

Rob nods.

“Well… It seemed as though…” Hettie goes silent and thoughtful for a moment. “It was a little like deja vu. As long as I was touching the ring, I felt a connection to the place but… well, the longer we explored in and around the ruin, the more I felt, uhh… hmmm…” She pauses. “Rob, have you ever played that parlour game with the singing thimble?”

“Huh?” Rob blinks. “Er, you mean the one where you charm a hidden thimble to sing, and it gets louder as you get closer to-”

“You wizards are impossible!” Hettie pokes him. “Real people playing the real game get a real person to do the singing. That’s half the fun.”

“Er, okay.” Rob grins sheepishly. “You don’t want to hear me sing, though.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.” Hettie smirks. “But your way makes it easier to explain because, as I think back, the ring did almost seem to be singing to me.”

“Really? That’s odd.” Rob reaches over, and Hettie hands him the ring. Frowning, he examines it.

“I’m not sure what it meant.” Hettie rests her chin in her hands. “The longer we explored, the quieter… and cooler… the ‘singing’ seemed to get. It was as though the ring felt like we had come to the right place, but at the wrong time.”

“Ah.” Disappointment is evident in Rob’s face. “Do you reckon we missed something? Got there too late?”

“No idea.” She shrugs and turns enough to peer out the window toward the darkening eastern sky. “Maybe we’ll fare better tomorrow up on the mountain.”

“Yeah, I, er, hope so.” Rob frowns.

Hettie’s eyes narrow. “That hardly sounds enthusiastic, Rob. What’s the matter?”

Rob’s chin lowers into his steepled hands for a moment. “Hett, I’m concerned about the attack this morning. That probably wasn’t a random mugging — petty crooks don’t have an emergency Portkey at the ready. And that might mean-”

“Of course it wasn’t a random mugging.” Hettie rolls her eyes. “We’re targets, Rob. After this morning, my best guess is that your V-Mo fellow is onto us. As far as I can surmise, he may have a far better idea what we’re up to than we do. If so, then the more trouble he sends our way, the better.”

“Errr…??” Rob blinks. “Oh! You mean, the tetchier he gets, the more likely it is that we’re closing on something important?”

“Partly, yes.” Hettie stares out the window again. “I’d also like to think we’re distracting him from worse devilry. If he keeps fussing over us here in Italy, it may take him longer to carry out his plot to sack your safe house in Islington.”

“Grimmauld??” Rob gasps. “He’s going to break in?! You know that from your dream… thing… or whatever it was?”

Hettie nods.

“Damn!” His face has gone deathly white. “When? When does he do it??”

“Well, by the old time line, it would have been Christmas eve, but things may already have shifted a bit.”

“We’ve got to tell someone!” Rob’s fists clench the quilt. “But… but all the owls up there are getting intercepted, and there’s no way I can send a Patronus all the way from Italy, and there’s no Floo connection here, and… and…”

“Take a deep breath, Rob.” Following her own advice, Hettie exhales slowly. “We may not know what we’re doing yet, but things are moving very quickly and we seem to be keeping pace. I think we still have time — weeks perhaps — and maybe we can buy a bit more by keeping him off balance. And, with a little luck, we’ll surely find some way to get a message though to Dunbar.”

“Oi, I hope you’re right!” Rob releases the bedding. “I mean, I know what you’re saying makes sense, and it’s pointless to flap, but it’s hell being stuck so far away, knowing that something terrible could happen back home.”

“We’re better off where we are, Rob.” She takes his hand. “Up there, we’d have no idea what to do. Start a panic, and we could play straight into V-Mo’s hands, right? But down here we know we have some crucial role to play. That gives us hope, and hopefully even a bit of time. Hope and time.”

Hettie’s optimism is momentarily lost on Rob. He stares vacantly.

Since arriving at St. Cuthbert’s College in Auckland several days ago, he has been exposed to strange concepts that baffle and flummox. He’s been meaning to try to come to grips with the most perplexing issues, but he’s not found the right time to ask.

Until now.

“Hett?” He fixes his eyes on the faded checkers of his bed spread. “How did it all end?”

“End? You mean, the other time line?”

He nods.

“Annihilation.” Hettie stares out the window, pondering the darkening sky. “I was given a chance to destroy it. So I did.”

The only part of Rob to move is an eyebrow.

Without looking, Hettie reaches our her hand. Silently, Rob places the old ring onto her palm and she closes her fingers around it.

"It was the right choice." She sighs. “It was a choice you helped me to make.”

He nods.

“In erasing your world — my world — we repaired another one.” Her lips part as she watches the first few winter stars appearing. “Somewhere out there, Rob, is a world where you don’t have to lose your family. Where Gemina… or Ginny, perhaps… can have her green-eyed boy. Everyone out there in that other world — Ginny, Harry, the other you, the other me — everyone has hope. And time.”

“But, so do we. Don't we?”

Hettie blinks, realising that he truly was listening!

She turns to him; her wide eyes caress his face, study his rapt, expectant look. She nods slowly. “Yes Rob. So do we.”

“So, it could all be worth it?” His face remains expressionless. “Destroy one world, but save another? Destroy one future that didn’t work, but make another one better?”

“Rob, it’s like…” Hettie trails off. She opens her hand to look at the odd stone again for a moment, then closes her fingers. “You and I, Rob — we’re like little children playing with blocks. The big tower we tried to prop has collapsed. Now we're fretting that we’ll get called up to bed before we can fix it back to how it should be, but… well, you know what?”

Rob nods, open-mouthed, questioning.

“Nobody has called us to bed.” A smile spreads across her face. “So we keep working. I hand you a block; you hand me a block, and we just keep building, fixing, hoping.”

Rob stares for a long moment; his eyes lock with hers. Time stands still.

For all the ‘old’ Rob (the one from Spring 1998) seemed mysterious, Hettie has always felt that she could read the December 1997 version. Yet in this moment, he is a blank slate. Watching him now, she finds herself every bit the breathless ‘Muggle’ that she once was on that chilly voyage over the grey North Atlantic.

Fascinated, she see Rob’s hand begin moving. It has reached into a pocket, and is withdrawing something.

Something dark. A wand.

It is the wand he confiscated from this morning’s assailant. “For you.” He extends it toward her, handle first.

There, in the space between them, it seems to levitate. It is hope. And it is time.

Struck dumb, Hettie's free hand reaches blindly to accept.

“Knowing you, Hett…” Rob smiles. “You'll fix more with a wand than with a block.”

Back to index


Chapter 10: Southern Slopes

Author's Notes:

Happy new years, to all friends and readers!

So, I was a good lad and managed to keep on top of editing over the holidays, and keep some presentable materials coming your way. I have first drafts for the next two chapters (as well as most of the very final chapter) ready to be edited, but there remains a climactic 2-3 chapter gap that, for more than a month, I've been unable to close, due to the crazy pace of life (very little of which has involved partying, ironically).

In any case, hopefully January will quieten down for long enough to let me focus on crunching out that final climactic sequence. In the meantime, here's another installment, and an additional couple of pre-drafted chapters should emerge roughly on schedule.

In any case, my sincerest cheers to those of you who have read and commented!


Chapter 10. Southern Slopes

Maddening!

For the briefest moment, Ginny knew she could sense Harry’s presence. She knows that, somewhere beyond her nearly-impenetrable wall of frozen flame, he is seeking her; that he is bending his thoughts and will to her; calling for her. She would give anything to respond… but she can’t break through!

Her frustrated thoughts are broken by the sensation of Gemina tugging on her hand; accompanied by a few simple, practical words. “It’s not working, luv.”

Resignedly, the pair of near-identical girls retreat from the frozen fire and find themselves, instead, in a featureless nothing.

“Ugh.” Gemina arches a displeased eyebrow, then shrugs. “Preferred the Burrow, but anything is better than those sodding flames.”

“Blast!” Ginny is barely listening. “Why couldn’t I reach him? Harry and I should be able to…”

“Sodding flames, sweets.” Gemina grabs Ginny’s shoulders and gives them a squeeze. “Sounds snarky, but it's also serious. The flames are messing up any chance to signal to him.”

“The flames…” Ginny stares, then scowls. “Shoot, of course. Fiend Fyre — it’s loaded with magical interference, right?”

“Partly.” Gemina nods, but she’s frowning. “Yeah, Fiend Fyre is potent enough to scramble magic trying to pass through it, but those flames are strange — a lot more powerful than any Fiend Fyre I’ve ever seen. Wonder what they are? And why are they frozen?”

Ginny hums for a moment. “Reckon they’re frozen because we’re frozen?”

Gemina nods.

“But…” Ginny chews her lip. “This all has a good side, too, right? The flames are sort of protecting us?”

“Bob’s your uncle!” Gemina laughs. “A complete wall around us! Those flames must be scrambling any hex that pack of punky plonkers punch at us.”

“Perplexed the poxy pea-brains, yeah?” Ginny snickers. Then she slumps a bit. “Yeah, it’s a consolation to know they're stumped, but I'm still miffed that we can't break through.”

"Sure." Gemina nods. “But it gives us time, Ginger. So let’s make use of it and move on your plan B? Head for the ‘ice’?”

“Right — find him in the void.” Ginny bites her lip. “It’s not going to be easy, though. I have no Cupla to reel Harry in, and the only other way that I know of is through Annisgwyl.”

“Huh? Briton birdie?” Gemina blinks. “What’s she got to do with it?”

“A lot, I think.” Ginny stares off into the grey nothingness. “You recall what I told you that Roman brooch?”

Gemina nods.

“Right. Well, Annisgwyl’s mother carried it all throughout her pregnancy and I suspect that Annisgwyl learned in utero to mimic the Cupla magic. It’s the only explanation we’ve ever been able to come up with for several previous times that Harry and I have communicated across the void without a Cupla.”

“Hey! So, that must be how she pulled Harry into Roman bloke!” Gemina’s eyes go wide as she ponders the notion. “This is effing brill — must tell Gravener!”

“Brill? Perhaps. But how do we make it work for us?” Ginny taps her lip. After a moment, she smiles at the girl’s infectious enthusiasm. “I'm going to sit and think a while. Why don’t you check in with Hettie now, then? See if she has some new ideas.”

“Roger! I’ll be right back.”

“Nah, no rush.” Ginny shakes her head. “It’s been a while since I felt anything from our ‘Briton birdie’. We may be stuck here until she gets fired up again.”


***


Harry barely notices the confused roar of Death Eaters reacting to Greyback’s sudden appearance. Creases of concentration line his forehead as he stares at the strange fire, trying to will his thoughts past its prodigious magical static.

Although the sensation of ‘presence’ is very faint, Harry goes through a brief moment of believing that Ginny might be attempting to respond. The feeling asserts, begins to actually amplify… then disappears.

Harry’s senses come briefly back to the chaos of the moment (Voldemort silencing his minions in order to interrogate the wounded werewolf) but these details are of little interest to him right now. He takes his eyes off the fire just long enough to assure himself that Hermione and Ron are monitoring the situation.

By coincidence, Hermione chances a glance at that precise moment, meeting his eye. Harry shakes his head slightly. A look of concern on her face, Hermione responds with a subtle hand gesture.

The unspoken message is clear. Keep trying.

Harry nods.

Unfortunately, although he is truly committed to trying something, the question is, try what?? †† Continuing to struggle directly against the barrier of flames seems increasingly pointless.

Hand in his pocket, he briefly fingers the Snitch, but no… he won’t resort to risking the Resurrection Stone again quite yet. That leaves only one alternative — the void. He has little hope that descending into the barren desolation will truly lead him to Ginny without a Cupla to guide them to each other, but he must nonetheless try. Thus, he climbs back into his thoughts, pushing deep… deeper… into darkness — thick, impermeable, and utterly black.

The experience is almost that of frigid suffocation. It is a claustrophobia from which escape seems futile; every nerve on Harry’s skin prickles with the spreading panic one when his breath seems to fail. Yet, having done this before, he wills away the impulse to scream, kick and flail his way back to consciousness.

Instead he forces himself to hold back, hold together, hold on… and wait.

After a while, the near hysteria subsides to mere discomfort, and he gradually musters the ability to concentrate. The easiest sense to control is hearing, so he listens intently for any fluctuations from the absolute silence. Soon, his eyes join the search, groping outwards across the darkness. After a while, he succeeds in suppressing even the pin-prick tingles in his skin so that he can try to detect faint ripples that might emanate from other beings, knowing that signs of co-presence might be subtler that a tiny puff of breeze on a still day.

He hears, sees and feels nothing.

Not giving up, and recnognising that it can be simpler to call than to listen, he changes tactics, and attempts to broadcast positive emotions out through the emptiness. Mindful of his intended audience, he summons the details some of his better Patronus memories…

Huge black dog beside the pitch, howling in sheer, primal euphoria.
Ginny’s eyes ablaze; cheeks flushed; both hands off very broom, outstretched.
Her joyous words (“Harry has the Snitch! He’s won it!!”) somehow forgetting the 190 points that *she* scored.

Or:

Wind streaming through her hair as she runs up the hill from the Burrow, waving a scroll. “First in class on the OWLs!”
Her arms extend for a Mollyesque embrace. “Thank you thank you thank you Harry! ” Her eyes sparkle with gratitude.
“Er, that's stupendous, Gin'! But whatever are you thanking 'me' for??”
“Silly!” A wide beaming smile. “All those hours helping me revise? Work as hard on your own studies, and you'll earn straight O's!”

There are other recollections, of course. Not the least of which was early early (early) Christmas morning in Ginny’s bedroom when Harry nervously placed his mother’s pendant around her neck, vowing something more heartfelt than anything ever before in his life.

“What we have, will always be. I'll never lose you; you'll never lose me.”

Unfortunately this little couplet, however sincere and tearful at the time, seems all too clumsy and naive now. It would not make a good Patronus. The sentiment leaves a dull ache in his heart, for he has begun to question its truth. Although he knows that Ginny is barely a hundred feet away, the span feels like all the space in the universe, and he does not know how to cross it.

His call across the glade was blocked; his journey into the void has failed. Everything promised — he, she, they — now seems 'lost'.

Drifting in uncertainty, yet somehow still resolved to avoid despair, Harry dispels his thoughts — both good and ill — and lets his mind go blank. He disengages, and tried to let himself become a mere spectator to…

A mere spectator?

A spectator. Of course!

Apart from his accident using Cadmus’s ring, Harry recalls that the closest he got to Ginny — down in the fens of Puits in ancient Gaul — was, very likely, courtesy of them both being spectators to a person who has demonstrated a unique, unwitting power to act as a Cupla!

Annisgwyl!

Harry now recalls how, years ago in a near-despairing moment of desolate darkness, he discovered the faint sensation of a beating heart — the unborn child of Harry’s (and Ginny’s) very distant ancestral relative, unconsciously imitating the magic of a Cupla.

Could Annisgwyl somehow produce another path?

Inspired, Harry attempts to recreate the memory of the heart beat, and the gradual sensation of it coming closer.

For a long time there is nothing… but then, although he cannot tell if it is real or willful imagination, he wonders if he might not now be re-experiencing the faint undulation? With fierce concentration to not lose the evanescent sensation, Harry hits upon a promising idea. He imagines the wavery moonlight of a sultry night in Gaul; his eyes pass over the glimmering stream and settle upon his companion; he imagines his hand as that of Marcus Ulpius Traianius as it accepts the grasp of his captivating young companion…

“Forgive me, my lord,” the girl is saying. “I meant not to startle you…”

Harry’s recollection is not the perfect recapitulation of that sublime moment from so many centuries earlier but, apparently, it is good enough. For suddenly that heartbeat echoing through his mind strengthens, and quickens.


***


The moon is setting low over woodland stream; water trickles serenely, calling to her in its peaceful, reassuring voice. Somewhere in the distance is the sound of two owls heckling — a noise that makes her laugh to herself.

Through the low light of Annisgwyl’s dream, she spies a familiar silhouette, and hastens toward him. As she reaches out to him, Traianius suddenly twists to face her; his stern, muscular features are trembling.

She gasps. “Forgive me, my lord. I meant not to startle—”

Her words are drowned beneath a deep rumble. Alarmed, Annisgwyl realises that even she, herself, is shaking. Her legs are quivering… or is it the very ground beneath her?

Trees all around begin to sway. Traianius stumbles forward onto his knees. Annisgwyl glances up in time to see a branch above him shatter! Plummeting down, the massive jagged limb is aiming straight for the Roman general. Annisgwyl is grappling desperately for her wand, when-

Her eyes snap open!

It is dawn. The dark forest night blinks away to the dusty rose and blue pastels of a west-facing morning sky.

Her bleary gaze darting about, Annisgwyl’s breathless panic subsides. Traianius is not imperiled because, obviously, he is not here. Even the fleetest non-magical horse would have been hard pressed to bear him all the way from Rome in a single night. Furthermore, she determines that no tree has shattered.

However, it does appear that some disturbance has recently occurred here, which may have triggered her dream. Limbs above her are swaying, and some twigs are scattered over her bedding and nearby. Fortunately, the debris is nothing worse than what a fresh breeze might have loosened.

Yet, oddly, there is no wind.

Puzzled, she surveys the area for intrusion or any other basic signs of danger, but finds nothing. Devoting a longer moment to assaying the surroundings for sensations of magical power, she still detects no signal above a low-level buzz that is likely a form of natural Earth magic.

Having done due diligence, she breathes deeply and reverts to her normal waking routine. She quickly discovers, to her pleasure, that she has a new spring in her limbs. Wonderfully restorative, the night’s rest has infused new hope in her heart.

After picking enough berries, roots and edible greens for a makeshift breakfast, she returns to the mountain path, and determines that the track ascends fairly efficiently toward the summit. Still feeling vaguely apprehensive about returning immediately to Herculaneum, she decides to follow the trail upward and has soon climbed past the point where forest gives way to cobbles and low juniper scrub. Well before noon, she has reached the summit.

Although the day is shaping up to be hot, the late morning is fresh and breezy atop Mount Vesuvius. Clambering onto the highest boulders, she finds it possible to gaze a great distance through the clear air. She does so for a while, but then turns her eyes earthward.

Her shoulders slumped in disappointment, she descends back to the stony plateau. The mountaintop experience might thrill a common man, but Annisgwyl is seeking more than simple aesthetics. Her senses are primed to detect ‘magic’, and there is little to be found. The summit does not feel like a place of great power, and nor does Annisgwyl even sense evidence of magical residue such as she might have felt if a powerful wizard or witch had recently visited the place.

Wandering about the mountaintop, she spies several flat boulders nearby with the remains of burnt offerings. Analytically, she pulls out her wand to scan the evidence, but shakes her head. There is no mystical essence in these old stones that will reply to any prayers of the devout. Whoever comes here to worship (local peasantry, she surmises) is misled. This summit, although high and grand, must not be the famed Hercules’ Forge from which Earth force can be summoned to perform colossal magic. The place is barren. Dead.

Chastened, and wondering whether it is truly time to face her fears and descend into Herculaneum, she makes her way back westward toward the path she climbed earlier. Veering close to the edge of the plateau, she chances a glance downward, and-

Huh?

She blinks. Something — perhaps a fleeting trick of the light — had caught her attention. Trying to pin it down, she strains her eyes southward, down into…

Nothing, really.

Her eyes fall upon plain basaltic boulders and a thickening mass of hardy evergreen shrubs that ring the summit in all directions save the main trail, yet in one brief instant she thought she had descried another path. Trying to catch another glimpse of it, she squints, alters the angle of her gaze, then frowns, puzzled.

On a hunch, Annisgwyl turns from the main path and clambers over several large rocks, as if she is honing in on… something. A sign? The long-sought hint of magical power?

Lowering herself down a short, rough incline, she finds herself in what appears to be a dead end. Hard, weathered boulders bar any further progress on three sides, and a thick mass of junipers and nettles deter any but the most desperate downward progress.

Puzzled as to why she bothered to wander from the beaten path in the first place, Annisgwyl is turning to rejoin the trail when she startles. Out of the corner of her eyes she thought she just saw…?

No.

Turning all the way to her left, she looks back upon nothing more interesting than a solid mass of unforgiving nettles. Frowning, she yet again veers away to-

Amatheon! There it is again!

Indeed, it cannot be mere ruse of mind. Annisgwyl is now certain that she has located a new path but, perhaps through some magical charm too subtle to detect, it is only possible to glimpse it when she is not deliberately trying to see it.

Turning carefully so that only the furthest fringe of her peripheral vision faces due south, she can finally assemble the outlines with some clarity. There is definitely a trail — a well-traversed trail, clear of ridge, thorn and branch — cutting straight downwards.

Guided by peripheral vision and one cautious hand, she steps carefully down toward the hidden path, navigating to the trail head. Passing the point where she had earlier seen only impassable scrub, she encounters no barrier, and descends into the hidden gap. Within less than a minute, that the path becomes perfectly obvious, and she turns her gaze forward, progressing downward quickly, confidently, and with mounting excitement.

After some descent, the trail leads her to an area that, while still fairly steep, has again fallen below the line of scraggly trees, affording a welcome shade from the thickening heat of a noontime sun. Even so, the air beneath this south-facing canopy is dead still. Unshaded patches of stony ground begin to shimmer. Insects drone lazily. Moisture collects from the pores of Annisgwyl’s scalp and begins to seep downwards in itchy rivulets.

Beyond the bothersome heat, it gradually dawns on her that she feels rather unsettled… unwell. Her head swimming, she pauses for a long drink of water from her flagon, and attempts to centre herself on calm, stabilising thoughts. Unfortunately, this does little to ease a growing sense of strange torpid nausea.

Wiping her foreheard, she examines her fingers and frowns at the wet grime.

Odd. Hot, yes, but surely not more so than those stifling days near Florentia…

Suddenly her stomach heaves. One knee buckles and she grapples for a nearby sapling. She and the tree sway like drunken dancers for a moment, then she realises-

Enchantment! Magic!

Two distinct forces seem to be swirling about her, muddling her faltering consciousness. One force seems to be a distant voice, emanating wistful melancholy, bringing to mind the raw sorrow of her separation from Traianius. The other impulse is blunt, cold and forbidding; her skin prickles from a loathsome dissuasion that recalls…

Belgica! The incantations of that tall, spindly wizard?!

Even as she teeters and her vision fades to grey, Annisgwyl’s mind dwells on the bizarre symmetry — two months and hundreds of leagues have passed since the night in late spring when she first met Traianius, yet the bizarre confluence of opposing powers feels all too similar — on one side she senses threat; on the other, a promise. Just as some mysterious clarity of purpose One cloud of disorientation rises up to battle.

Similar, yet also painfully different. It is not the dead of night, but rather… the dead of day. And Traianius is not here. He will not offer his strong hand to help her to her feet.

Or will he?

Annisgwyl can almost feel his presence. Longing desperately for the comfort of his arms, and finding it not, the final threads of conscious fray, as if dreams can promise her what the waking world denies.

Daylight fading to grey, legs surrendering to gravity, Annisgwyl’s eyelids flicker open one last time and she begins to understand why she has grown so disoriented. With a last bit of energy, her brow is creased by the faintest of frowns.

Who is the dark figure standing before her on the path?

And what spell issues from his blackened wand…?


***


Since embarking on the Vesuvius tour, Hettie has been too focused on internal deliberations to notice that the Wilsey family album inside her rucksack has been jostling in an agitated way that does not quite match the shuddering of the bus.

Her nose pressed to the window glass, she watches the scenery with a fierce intensity. It seems as though she's looking for something… but has no idea what.

Nowhere near the summit, not more than ten minutes into the ride, her eyes flash wide, fixing onto a patch of thick greenery; a worn kiosk… dirt and gravel leading back from the road.

“Trail!” Hettie’s finger batters the glass. “We want that woodland path!”

“We whuh?” Rob awakens from a doze. “What’s the matter?”

“We need to get off the bus.” Hettie glances around frantically.

“Why?” Rob frowns. “I thought you paid the driver a bunch of Muggle coins to take us up higher so we can walk to the mountaintop?”

“No. Yes, but… Argh!” Hettie shakes her head in vigourous agitation. “Stupid stupid stupid of me not to have thought this through!”

“Thought of what?”

“Why ever would we want to walk to summit, Rob? That whole area has been flattened to flinders by dozens of eruptions since A.D. 79!”

“Uhhh…” Rob taps his chin intelligently. “Uhhh? That means we’ll find nothing?”

“Not up there.” Hettie hauls out a topographical map. “If there’s anything to find, it would have to be some place sheltered by a ridge… like these southern slopes.”

“Er, yes, sheltered.” Rob scratches his head. “So, where do we start then?”

“Down here in these woods.” She waves toward the driver. “Grazie me signore! Possiamo scendere?”

“Cosa vuoi?” Puzzled for a moment the driver glances back through his mirror. “Scendere al museo?”

“Errr…” Hettie traces a finger along her map, then nods urgently. “Sž! Sž grazie!”

Appraising Hettie’s distressed yet pretty face, the driver’s eyes twinkle and he nods affably. Several tight switch-backs later, he stops the bus and lights his emergency flashers. With a jaunty wave, he opens the door, laughing roguishly at all the angry beeps that instantly spring up from the line of traffic behind them.

Grateful, Hettie dumps a handful of change into a plastic cup and hands it to the driver as she whisks Rob off the bus.

Showing a predictable lack of civility, several motorists make rude gestures through their windows. Hettie ignores them, but a red pulse surges up Rob’s neck, and his jaw clenches. “Bloody berks. I’ve half a mind to hex their bits to-”

“Shush.” Hettie grabs his hand, and begins leading him purposefully up a narrow lane leading toward Museo Vulcanologico dell'Osservatorio Vesuviano. “Tetchy tossers look for trouble, and sometimes trouble finds them.”

Rob opens his mouth to respond, but his brain catches up in time to process the 'Hettie-ism'. Finding a bit of earthy wisdom, he shrugs and nods.

In fact, Hettie could not have known the prescience of her words. She could not have known this as nobody is aware that, in mere minutes, the entire line of tetchy traffic will experience an unusual inconvenience rather worse than a 45 second bus delay — Legilimency and Obliviation at the hands of two dark wizards blocking the road less than a mile further up.

Blissfully unaware of this, Hettie hums a tune as they make their way up the lane, further back from the main road.

“So…” Rob stares questioningly at a nearby sign. “We’re, uh, going to a museum?”

“I’d love to, but not today.” Hettie shakes her head then smiles. “No, Rob. I’m looking for a shortcut back down to that nature trail.”

“Oh right.” He scratches his head. “So we’re going there because, uh, Like you said? It hasn’t been destroyed?”

“No Rob.” Hettie laughs. “We’re going down there because I have a blind, irrational hunch, and I never get anywhere in these crazy capers without following blind irrational hunches.”

“Ah.” Rob’s brow knots slightly. Uncertain of how best to react, he simply nods. “Very good, then. Sounds fun.”

Hettie says nothing but, a little while later, Rob can't resist stealing a quick glance over at his companion. The cheery-focused-enthusiastic expression on her face is all the validation he needs.

Apparently, he must be starting to figure out this boyfriend-girlfriend thing.

Back to index


Chapter 11: Disruptions

Author's Notes:

Mostly good news from my side -- a chapter that (for once) did not demand tons of buckets of revision, and a bit of down time within which to actually get back to drafting new material. Not done yet, but not too far to go!


Chapter 11. Disruptions

Clasping the jaw of Fenrir Greyback, Voldemort’s pale, long-taloned fingers tremble for a moment, then thrust the scruffy face back down into the marshy peat. “I haven’t time for this!” He bursts to his feet and begins walking away. “Someone heal and rennervate this clod!”

Breathless, Narcissa Malfoy comes running up, brandishing a potions kit. In a moment, she is kneeling next to the werewolf, administering to his wounds.

Nobody else moves for a long moment, until Lucius Malfoy (his eyes semi-permanently widened with shock) recovers some composure and approached gingerly. Crouching beside his wife, his low voice is somehow audible to Hermione and Ron who remain concealed atop the ridge about a hundred feet away.

“What happened, Greyback?!” Malfoy’s tone is frayed. “You still have it, don’t you??”

Malfoy stiffens, suddenly rather aware that his dark master has turned and is listening intently.

“Have what, Lucius?” Voldemort’s eyes smoulder. “Am I correct in presuming this conversation is of interest to me?”

Obscured from Voldemort but plainly visible from the ridge, Malfoy cringes.

Voldemort turns to take an ominous step back toward the Malfoys. “I rather hope that you will not tell me that you entrusted this werewolf with guardianship of the Hallow?”

“I-I…” Lucius’s eyes dart around the clearing as if trying, belatedly, to plot an escape. Clearly thwarted, his shoulders sag. “Yes sir. Fenrir, you do still have it, do you not?”

“Have whut?” Responding to Narcissa’s treatments, but still woozy from blood loss, Greyback remains rather addled.

“The ring.” Malfoy's pale face is blanching further. “Remember, you removed it from the Letum Manse last December?”

“Uhhhh…” Greyback’s head lolls to the side.

Desperately, Narcissa pulls out a nasty looking purple potion from her bag, wrenches Greyback’s jaw open and pours it down.

The werewolf startles, emits a horrible resounding belch, then finally focuses his eyes on Lucius Malfoy. His jaw flexes several times. “Whaddya mean, removed it last December?”

“You don’t remember?” Malfoy blinks. “Our trip to Naples? The Letum Manse in the old ruins? Taking the Peverell trinket for safe keeping?”

“What the hell are you talking about, you bloody nit!” Greyback stares, recovering his clarity and tactlessness. “I just now got back from there. That dozy Granger twit shot my goddamned arm off before I could even get in the door, and I had to Portkey back.”

Any chance Hermione and Ron may have had to exchange astonished glances is instantly cut off by Voldemort — his voice lashing out, whingingly nasal yet deathly perilous. “Naples? Letum Manse? What rot is this?!”

Silence.

Labouring for breath, Voldemort stares obliquely past his two henchmen. “Lucius, you accompanied me to Gaunt House this past Samhain. I retrieved the ring then and gave it to you to protect.” A low guttural sound emits. “To protect with your life, as I recall.”

“What are they talking about what? ” Ron tugs at Hermione’s sleeve. “Did you really hex Greyback?? I thought you were with Harry and Ginny in the castle. Or with Harry at least but-”

With a sharp glance, Hermione silences Ron’s gabble. She is staring and listening and thinking furiously. She would pay every Galleon in Lucius Malfoy’s Gringotts vault twice over to know what object it is that has Voldemort and his thugs in such a confused tizzy. And how is it possible that three different people have three completely different stories about how it was (or was not) acquired and safeguarded?

“By your silence, I will assume you have lost it.” Voldemort turns away from the flame; his face has the sheen of grey ice, reflecting the faint moon upon which his flaring eyes have locked. A long, unpleasant hiss escapes his thin lips. “Mulciber. Dolohov. I need you to search the Forge and the Manse. Use these for transit, and re-activate them the moment you encounter any… company.”

A pair of death Eaters step to Voldemort to receive silver amulets on fine chains. The moment they slip the medals around their necks, the thugs disappear in a swirl of dark Portkey mist.

“Your Lordship?” A curious look on his face, Malfoy seems emboldened by the unexpected fact that he has somehow still avoided being either tortured nor killed. He is staring at the bare ground from which Mulciber and Dolohov disappeared.

For a long moment, Voldemort does not acknowledge him. Then, he half turns back toward the Malfoys. “Yes, cretin?”

“Those were not our standard two-way Portkeys, sir.”

“You are correct, Lucius.” Voldemort turns away. “They are modified in ways that suit some rather special circumstances. And they will help Mulciber and Dolohov succeed where you have failed.”


***


“Whoa sis!” Ginny’s pacing abruptly veers; she sidesteps to catch a skittering Gemina. “You’re back! Any luck?”

“Rattled on the frame for five minutes.” Gemina is speaking before she has even fully caught her balance. “Couldn’t roust the numpties, but now’s not the time anyway because-”

“Annisgwyl.” Ginny nods, frowning. “Strange alarm signal from Brit-chick, yeah?”

“Good on ya!” Gemina grins. “Fancy a little jaunt to ancient Italy to check it out?”

“I’d be honoured.” Ginny spares a split second to give her alt-equal a fist bump, then they race together into the darkness.

Before their eyes have adjusted to the Vesuvian daylight; before Annisgwyl’s dazed body has even hit the ground, they are already acting. With the barest glimpse of the situation, almost as if she were the one to have been attacked, Gemina has instantly, instinctively, willed Annisgwyl’s wand into hand, and it blazes with a wicked nonverbal Expelliarmus.

A rather astonished (and suddenly empty-handed) dark wizard is then left to watch helplessly as his intended victim fails to collapse. Rather, Ginny manages to adapt Annisgwyl's erstwhile stumble into something that looks convincingly like an agile leap; especially convincing, given the fact that she captures his flying wand. And before even fully wrapping fingers around the confiscated instrument, her ample adrenaline is pulsing out an Incarcerous that lashes the bewildered assailant with a spray of stout, fiercely adhesive cords.

“Bangin’, Ginger!” Gemina gapes at the outcome of their masterfully improvised teamwork. “We were damn near casting spells at the same time. Is that even possible?”

As Ginny processes the situation, an old story races to mind. “Uh, er, yes it is, actually. Harry and the Publican pulled the trick quite brilliantly at least once, but what I find really strange is…” She pauses to collect her thoughts. “How is it we’re able to do any magic at all? Annisgwyl always blocked us.”

“Hey Brit-Birdie, you in there?” Gemina taps on a head that belongs physically to Annisgwyl, but that she and Ginny seem to be co-monopolising.

There is no response.

“Rather peculiar, yeah?” Gemina shrugs, then proceeds with the practical matter of employing their borrowed legs to walk over to the wizard they just subdued. Reaching up to grab the tall man’s boney shoulder, she jerks him roughly downward. “On your knees, mate.”

A blend of fear and resignation on his face, he complies.

“I do wonder what happened to her.” Ginny begins running a wand up and down the wizard’s body, searching for Portkeys and dark objects in the way that Sirius had once taught her. “The biggest worry that I- Oh!” Ginny’s eyes flash wide.

“What’s doin'?” Gemina pauses her own evaluations.

“It's Harry! I think he’s somehow found some way to contact me, and-”

“Go girl, go!” Gemina grins. “I’ve got Roman Blokey here under control. You scarper, and…” Gemina’s grin broadens. “Give green-eyed boy my best, yeah?”

Ginny pauses just long enough to smirk… and then the hot Vesuvian afternoon blinks out and she finds herself pelting through cold darkness; racing, streaming toward a single beacon of light, that grows larger and brighter, and more and more real, and-

“Harry!” She is in his arms, and tears spring instantly, rolling down her cheeks to wet the one shoulder where she allows herself such displays. “Oh Harry, we tried and tried to reach you! We were just about to try again, except we sensed that something had happened to Annisgwyl.”

His arms locked around someone he had nearly despaired of ever finding, Harry remains silent for a long moment. Nearly his entire soul is devoted to savouring her presence. A bit of his cognition has registered (and is happy to have heard) the first dozen words she’s communicated… but a selfish little sliver of his mind would really prefer to ignore that last bit.

Because the last bit is a problem.

Problems ought to be addressed.

And addressing problems may well cut short their embrace.

He sighs. “Er, okay Gin’. First the easy question. When you say ‘we tried’, who do you mean by ‘we’?”

“Myself and Gemina Wilsey.” Ginny pulls back enough to beam a momentary grin. “She’s back. Somehow.”

“Really??” This, at least, is good news. Not only was he rather fond of the other-world Ginny, but Gemina’s sudden reappearance in their lives also lends more credence to his growing belief that fabric of time must be distinctly fouled up. Harry quirks a smile. “Well, I'm glad to hear you've had some company! But now the other bit — what do you mean about something happening to Annisgwyl? Where is she?”

Ginny exhales. “Well, I went ages without hearing from her, but she must be in Italy. My guess is that she's on, or near, Mount Vesuvius. I think she was in the process of being attacked, but I’m not certain what happened to her — there’s no damage to her body, but her mind is unresponsive.” Ginny bites her lip. “Gem and I subdued some wizard; presumably her assailant. Gem’s back there keeping an eye on him.”

“Body untouched; mind unresponsive. Shite.” Harry scowls. “I don’t like the sound of-”

“Hey Ginny-Tonic, I need to ask you a—” Gemina suddenly bursts on the scene. “Oh… Uh, hi.”

“Hi Gemina!” Harry discards his angst and finds a smile for the girl. “Great to see you!”

A whole spectrum of emotions swirl over Gemina’s face — shock at seeing a face she had only ever dreamed of; astonishment that he knows her name (though she does recall Ginny saying something about some adventure that occurs sometime in the past, or the future, or whatever), a moment of absolutely unprecedented shyness… then finally a look of sheepish regret. “I'm, uh, so sorry to interrupt luvs, but, er, can I ask Ginny something?”

“Sure.” Ginny pulls back from Harry and gives her alt-equal a reassuring smile. “What’s up?”

Gemina hesitates awkwardly for a moment, then groans. “Boyo back there started talking Latin at me, and I haven’t the flamingest clue what he wants. I tried saying ‘cogito ergo sum’ which is about the limit of my vocabulary and he gave me a queer look and switched to Gaelic which is even worse cuz I know naught but a few swear words, so we’re getting bloody nowhere. Do you suppose you could, uh…?”

“I could.” Ginny nods in a matter-of-fact way. She pulls Harry into a fierce, brief, embrace, then looks him the eye. “Can you keep Gemina company for a bit? I should really go find out what our captive wants.”

“Uh, right.” Harry chews his lip, a bit uncertain given how rapidly everything is progressing. “Gin’? Take care of yourself, okay? That fellow could be dangerous.”

“I will.” Ginny kisses him and, without further hesitation, leaves the darkened void, now occupied only by Gemina and Harry — each of whom feel just a little bit… awkward.


***


“Oh, I know.” Rob puts down his mostly-devoured Sfilatino Ripieno and leans forward on the bench. “Here’s a bit of transfiguration — one of the more useful branches of magic.” He points his wand at chunk of basalt lying off to the side of the trail. “Lapifors!” The stone transforms into an unusually ugly hare... then lapses back into its original stoney form.

“I see.” Hettie nods. “So that’s the sort of thing you learned in school?”

“Er, well...” Rob scratches his chin. “That particular spell, perhaps, but I had to leave Hogwarts after my fourth year, so most of the transfiguration I know was from Dunbar’s tutoring.”

“You learned from Dum-bar?” Hettie’s nose wrinkles. “Sounds like a thrill.”

“It was actually quite... uh...” Rob hesitates, noting Hettie’s glower. “Hett, I wish you’d give him a chance. You haven’t even met him.”

“Haven’t I?” Hettie’s eyebrow spikes.

“I, uh...” Rob shifts uneasily. “So, er, you’ve met him, then?”

“How the hell should I know?!” From her expression, it's clear that Hettie doesn’t care how many points that exceedingly rare epithetic would have cost her house back at St. Cuthbert’s. “Maybe I’ve met him, maybe I haven’t. I can’t remember the sweetest, crummiest, dullest, most exciting thing from my childhood in England because he took all my memories away. Tell me, Robert, did you ever know your grandparents?”

“Er, not really.” Rob fidgets and looks pointedly away. “Never saw much of the Wilseys. My Prescott relatives died when I was really young, except for Auntie Murietta, but she’s a-”

“Auntie Murietta — there you go!” Hettie crumples the wrapper from her sandwich, and surges to her feet. “I have nobody — no grans or gramps, aunts or uncles. No cousins; not even any childhood friends! At least you have a sweet old Auntie to visit.”

“Sweet?? You stick your tail on the receiving end of one of her stinging hexes and tell me-” Luckily, Rob happens to glance back, just in time to see his girlfriend’s anger transforming into...

“Oh, Hett, forgive me!” He rises and places two very tentative hands on her rigid, trembling forearms. For a moment she turns sharply away, then wilts; her tension diffusing.

“I’m really sorry — honest!” Rob moves carefully closer. “Sometimes I get a bit whingy about my lot because I’ve lost so much, but you — you’ve lost even more.”

“Well, I don’t know about that...” Hettie’s words die away. She’s aware that she was being angry and petulant, and probably a bit unfair, but now the only thing on her mind is that the young man whose arms are closing warmly about her keeps finding ways to be remarkably considerate, and with each passing hour she wonders more and more if perhaps she, well, might be, sort of, falling in... love?

They remain locked together for a while, standing still long enough that even Rob’s metabolism is not enough to hold back the creepy chill of the afternoon mist. Reluctantly, Hettie disengages to pull a jumper back on.

Rob smiles. “A bit more magic, or should we get back on the trail?”

“One more spell.” Hettie grins. “This time, please show me how to do it.”

“Okay, here’s a good one to start.” Rob gestures at the stone he’d transfigured earlier. “Wingardium Leviosa!” The stone rises up to levitate a foot above the ground.

Hettie bursts out laughing.

Rob blinks. “Erm, what’s so funny?” The stone thuds back to earth.

Hettie’s fingers dance like a choral conductor’s as her voice rises to a passable soprano. “Hwinngahr — DYYhmmm — lehvyy - OHHHsahhh!”

“I’m saying it right, aren’t I?” Rob scratches his head. “I mean, of course it’s right. The stone did lift, errr...?”

“Sorry Rob.” Little pricks of moisture appear in the corners of Hettie’s eyes as her flushed cheeks struggle to restrain the mirth. “It’s just that these ridiculous incantations — they, uh...”

“They, uh, what??

Hettie grabs his hand in a conciliatory way, whispering, “They make you sound a bit poofty.”

“Oh really.” Rob rolls his eyes. “You try it then, little Miss ‘Not poofty’.”

“Okay.” Hettie shrugs. Without hesitation, she picks up her confiscated wand and waggles it at the stone. It rises cleanly into the air, sprouts feathers, wings and tail, and flaps off past the row of low-growth cedars.

“Quaking shrakes!” Rob’s arms drop to his sides. “Nonverbal levitation while transfiguring?! Blimey, you don’t need me to teach you anything, Hett.”

“Of course I need you, Rob!” Hettie pulls him back into a half hug. “I need you to teach me what’s possible. Only once I’ve learned what’s possible can I know what I should foc-” A sudden shiver races through her. She shakes her head clear and stares back down the trail. “Shoot.”

“What the heck was that!” Rob follows her glance. “Did you hear something? Is somebody coming?”

Hettie nods.

Hastily, Rob disillusions them both, and they edge warily back from the path, listening.

“... still don’t know vhy ve go from varm night to cold day. Eet makes no sense.”

“Who cares? The Dark Lord made the Portkeys, and the Portkeys took us to Italy, eh? Different weather here, I warrant.”

Two men emerge from around a bend in the path, climbing up toward where Hettie and Rob are now crouching beneath the scraggly lower limbs of a pine.

“MuhDakh! Ve may be vhere ve're supposed, but vot about vhen?” The gaunt fellow with grimy stubble is glancing around nervously. For an instant, Hettie’s heart skips — the man is staring straight through her... but the beady, skittish eyes dart off elsewhere.

“What about 'when'?” The larger, thick-headed man kicks a stone in annoyance. “What ya goin' on about, Dolohov?”

“Thees is not Kamchatka, Mulciber. Thees is Italy, and Italy should be middle of ze night, not middle of some pissy afternoon. Unless ve travel also in time.”

“Portkeys don’t travel in time, dope!”

“Ees my bleeding point! And vhy zhe hell so cold? No leaves on trees? Ees not May; ees not night. And ve still not find zhe bleeding kids.”

“They were on the bus. We had a dozen witnesses.”

“Yes yes yes yes yesss.” The thin Slavic wizard hisses as the pair walk straight past Hettie’s and Rob’s hiding place. “I know zhey vere on bus. But vhy zhey get off bus?”

Mulciber shrugs. “Maybe they wanted ta take a walk in the woods?”

“Ya, bloody hell.” Dolohov scowls. “Zhey vanted to go for valk in voods to find Forge. Granger girlie is smart vun. She must know about Forge.”

“All the more reason ta catch ‘em and kill ‘em, eh?”

Hettie has to bite her hand to suppress a gasp, but it is not the death threat that shocks her.

Silently she mouths those two words. ‘Granger girlie?’

As in, Hermione Granger?? But, she's in a different reality!

Hettie bites her lip.

Somebody's gotten mixed up in the wrong universe!

She stares as the two crooks recede into the mist. She finds Rob’s hand and silently coaxes him out from their hiding place to discreetly follow the pair. Listening to their crusty banter, she scowls.

Someone is out of place, but who??

Is it them? Or… US?

Back to index


Chapter 12: Crack in the Rock

Author's Notes:

So, the key question in my mind at this point is whether this will end up being a 17 chapter story, or whether it will spin out into 18. I'll keep you posted on that, as it gives you an idea of where you currently stand. Anyway, chapters 13 and 14 (plus most of the last chapter) are now at least preliminarily drafted.

My sincere gratitude to those who are reading, and special appreciation to those reviewing!


Chapter 12. Crack in the Rock

Hermione paces along the ridge beneath a tall oak, occasionally glancing down toward the bizarre fire, around which agitated Death Eaters are still clustered. She renews Harry’s earlier privacy charms and, for the third (increasingly frustrating) time, she recapitulates the situation.

“The Order of Letum was in Italy; Naples is in Italy; So is Mount Vesuvius — that’s all consistent. But there’s still so much we don’t understand! What is the frozen flame? Why is Ginny trapped in it? Why is Riddle so upset that she’s trapped in there? What was was he really hoping would have happened to her, and what can we do to prevent it?”

“Er, well what I’d like to know,” Ron interjects, “is why Greyback thinks you attacked him. In Italy or wherever.”

“I don’t understand that either, but...” Hermione chews her lip. “Why did he go to Italy in the first place? Why would he think we were in Italy? What would we be doing there?” She pauses to glance at Harry, who is standing nearby with his eyes closed. On his face is the first slight hint of smile she has seen in days. “I wonder if Harry’s gone to Italy?”

“Yeah, I wonder.” Ron rolls his eyes, mistaking Hermione’s question for wry humour. “Well I wish Harry would get his arse back to Scotland. I hate for those tossers down there to start rampaging while he’s still all spaced out like this.”

Hermione shakes her head. For some reason, she is confident (or at least reasonably hopeful) that he will rouse in time for any important action. But now that Ron has mentioned it, she can’t help feeling just a bit tempted to go over and give their friend a shake. She knows that Harry's dream (whatever it is) may be valuable in it’s own right, but at the moment she would dearly love to get his opinion on a whole slew of urgent questions, including most of those she's just finished fretting over, plus:

What are you seeing? Have you heard from Ginny? What do you know of the ‘fires’? What’s so important about Vesuvius? And what did Voldemort mean about...

Hermione blinks. “What did they mean about the Hallow?”

“Huh?” Ron rivets to his girlfriend. “What Hallow?”

“No, ’which’ Hallow?” Hermione steps past her puzzled boyfriend to get a closer look at the Death Eater gathering. “Riddle asked Malfoy and Greyback about ‘the Hallow’, right? But which one? And why?”

If Ron is left to shrug helplessly, it is because the important meetings dealing with things like Hallows and Horcruxes have seemingly been wiped from his mind, replaced by memories of a ghastly ten months of increasing desperation.

Hermione is too tied up in her thoughts to notice his discomfort. “Harry still has the Invisibility Cloak.” She absently extends a finger to touch a stuffed pouch on the side of Harry’s anorak. “Dumbledore had the Elder Wand for decades, but Riddle stole it last year, and it’s right there in his hand. So that only leaves the Resurrection Stone.”

“Wait!” Ron stares. “You're talking about that children’s story? I mean, sure, I remember you lot finding stuff out about the Elder Wand, and I know you believe the Peverells were real, but you seriously think the rest of it is true? Death and the three Hallows, and all that?”

“Sort of.” Hermione nods. “Dumbledore felt that the Tale of Three Brothers was a metaphor for real events, and that each of the brothers did somehow come away with one Hallow.”

“But why would any of the Death Eaters care about the Resurrection Stone?” Now Ron is the one pacing. “It was always the lamest Hallow.”

“Why do you say that?” Hermione frowns.

“It’s obvious.” Ron shrugs. “The cloak wasn’t exciting, but it’s perfectly safe and reliable. The death stick gave you awesome power — pretty thrilling toy, as long as you knew to use it wisely. But the stone was just... pathetic. It doesn't do anything but resurrect stuff, and even for that it does a half-arsed job. No point in bringing someone back to life if it only makes a sad person sadder?”

Surprised at the apt summary, Hermione blinks. “That's true. I would have to agree.”

“Yes, so here's what doesn't make sense, ‘Mione. Old Snake-nose down there doesn’t do ‘sad’. He gets mad as hell, and he gets smug and insufferable, but you’d hardly expect him to get all snuffly over some dead old gran who used to make him sweet tea and honey crumpets.”

“Erm?” Hermione scratches her head, a bit bewildered.

“If Snakey wants the Resurrection Stone...” Ron’s intensity is practically smouldering. “If he's really that worked up about it, then it’s not a ‘resurrection’ stone.”

“Okay.” Hermione purses her lips. “If it’s not a resurrection stone, then what is it?”

“Don’t you get it?” Ron stares.

Very slowly, Hermione shakes her head.

“It’s obvious!” Ron is practically hopping. “Can’t you guess?”

“Pardon me, Ronald.” Hermione's eyebrow spikes. “I’m obviously a bit simple, so perhaps you would be so kind as to ‘explain’ it to me?”

“It’s not a ‘resurrection’ stone, it’s a ‘this stone has a very cool power that we haven’t guessed yet’ stone. And we need to start guessing!”

A broad grin spreads across Ron’s face as he basks a moment in his deductive reasoning. Then the grin sags as he parses his words.

Once he starts comparing this latest blather with all of the smart, logical things that he's heard Hermione conclude over the years, and he reflects on how unhelpful and non-obvious his not-quite-so brilliant thinking must have sounded to the (legitimately) brilliant witch he probably just insulted, it starts to become increasingly clear to him that, at some point, she's liable to exhaust her last shred of patience and quite possibly kill † him for being so dim. He begins to take a few precautionary steps backward, but...

“Okay.” Hermione’s frown looks rather more contemplative than homicidal. “I agree, Ron. That is a good way of looking at it. Now if only Harry was awake to help us brainstorm.”


***


Leaving the dark void for Annisgwyl's world, Ginny winces at the bright daylight of the Vesuvian afternoon.

As her eyes focus, she finds the wizard looking at her with a deep and curious expression. His demeanour seems respectful (as is practical, given how he is tied up and at her mercy), but it's apparent that he's also rather unsettled, as if he does not quite know what to make of this young woman.

She suppresses a smirk as she imagines things from his perspective — how unnerving to be subdued by some crazed witch with a penchant for two-fisted magic; not to mention animated conversations with herself in a language (English) that would probably seem almost completely incomprehensible to a first century Roman.

Nonetheless, the man is doing his best to recover the appearance of equanimity. He catches her eye. “Nonne scis, quod ego frater tuus?” He pauses for a couple of seconds, then adds, “Fi yw eich brawd?”

Uh, what??

Calling on well-honed acting skills, Ginny flashes the man a single dismissive eyebrow, then feigns a few seconds of busy work (pretending to run more screens) that buy her enough time to revive the region of her mind that, a couple of years earlier, had become fairly fluent in both Latin or Gaelic. After less than ten seconds (just long enough to appear unhurried in her response) the words have come back to her, and she is able to respond fairly easily in Latin. “My brother? What do you mean, you are my brother?

In the instant during which she awaits his reply, she examines the wizard’s face and mannerisms analytically.

This surely isn’t Ignotus — decades too old to be Annisgwyl’s twin, and little or no resemblance to Harry.

There is something in the wizard’s features and mannerisms that seems vaguely familiar and unsettling to Ginny, though she can’t really put her finger on it.

The wizard, meanwhile, seems encouraged by Ginny’s scrutiny. He smiles. “I believe I am correct? You are the daughter of Paternas Peuerellius, are you not?”

“You’re…?!” Ginny’s eyebrows shoot up as she makes the connection. “You’re Cadmus??”

“Yes, your half-brother Cadmus.” He nods earnestly. “I promise you I mean you no harm. If my greeting was not suitably convivial, this was merely because you caught me at unawares, and I did not yet recognise you."

“Not suitably convivial? You were casting a hex.”

“Not a hex.” The wizard shakes his head vigourously. “A cushioning spell. You exhibited sudden disorientation, and I feared you were about to fall. Completely innocent, you see? So, perhaps you may find it in your heart to unbind me?”

“Perhaps.” Ginny’s voice is neutral, projecting casual ambivalence rather than her true feelings of conflictedness. Needing more time and a better sense of the wizard's character, she takes quick stock of the state in which Gemina (Wilsey) had left matters. She notes that the wand in her right hand is still aimed toward Cadmus, and decides to renew the magical sweep for dark objects or concealed weapons that Gemina had seemingly not yet completed.

Avoiding eye contact, Ginny progresses with the spells. She soon senses a tension in the wizard that seems at odds with his attempt at pleasant humility and his claims of innocence. The anxiety increases as she makes her way down toward the lowermost fringe of his cloak on his left side.

Her wand twitches. Cadmus freezes.

Ginny takes a step back, and this time decides to confront her prisoner face-on, gesturing toward the hem. “You have something sewn into your cloak. If I was to slice it open, what would I find?”

“It is an object of power, sister.” Cadmus does not avert his eyes, or even look to where Ginny is pointing. Rather, he projects a tone that at least sounds fairly calm. “It is a stone formed from the lapis fusilia at Hercules’ forge. It has been endowed with charms by an old wizard in our service.”

“Charms?” Ginny’s eyes narrow as she pieces together a reasonable deduction. “And would these charms enable you to resurrect the dead?”

“Er…?!” Cadmus swallows. “Well, I suppose the stone may be capable of that. Did you wish to see it?”

“No, I do not.” Ginny’s brow knots in a frown at an odd tone of voice that she can’t quite place. The figure before her is a known dark wizard, is acting a bit erratically… hurriedly, perhaps. The casual generousity does not seem to fit.

Seeking another angle (and a bit more space) to more fully evaluate her captive, Ginny retreats another several steps, training a wand on his chest. Using an unconventional tactic that she and Harry had practised over the years, she wills the blood from her face, narrows her eyes, and lets her features descend to an image of impassive deadliness. “Is the object cursed?”

“No, not at all!” Cadmus’s eyes go wide as he shakes his head in agitated denial.

Ginny nods to herself. Fine. That should keep the creep off-balance for a while. Now to figure out what the hell to do with him.

As she finishes her sweeps, the stone plays on her mind. It is difficult to shake the temptation to take the proffered object… at least to examine it. Even now, she is rather curious whether is has other interesting powers beyond resurrection. After all, perhaps those powers might be put to bear on the grave predicaments that she and her friends face?

Luckily, despite the rapidly evolving and distinctly bizarre sequence of events she’s experienced over the past two weeks, she’s managed to cling to a healthy bit of pragmatic perspective. As case in point, she has not forgotten that she is currently carrying out real actions as a surrogate mind for a real person who lived close to two thousand years ago. If she were to do anything outlandish, the consequences would be real… and could be severe.

Handling a powerful artifact like the stone seems like a great way to court unintended consequences.

Of course, the choice would be a lot easier if she were given the opportunity to examine it in 1998, considering that she has seen Harry handle it without obvious curse or injury. To increase her trepidation, however, she recalls that at least one unexpected thing happened in the brief time he experimented with it. Even a minor mishap like that could, on this summer afternoon in A.D. 79, cascade wildly through the centuries, with untold effects on so many crucial things.

I could delete my life. My family.

My… Harry.

Amongst these sober musings, she continues her mock investigation, then it further occurs to her that that she hardly needs help from the Resurrection Stone to make some future-destroying mistake. She begins to curse the Gryffindor-impulsiveness that brought her hurtling back into Roman times to save a young woman from… well, whatever it was that Annisgwyl might (or might not) have needed saving from.

Brilliant.

I've gone and captured, confused and intimidated a great great great (etc.) uncle of mine and Harry's.

Now for all I know I have twelve brothers instead of six; I get kicked out of Hogwarts because of the Chamber of Secrets, and I end up cleaning Floos in Nocturn Alley for a living…

Ginny finds herself wishing that Annisgwyl was back here; back in full control over her actions; back to making whatever decision she was destined to decide regarding her rather oddly-behaving half-brother…

However, that seems unlikely to happen in a hurry, so Ginny resigns herself to attempting the next best thing. She must put aside the Gryffindor brashness and act with all the calculating canniness of a Ravenclaw.

I must behave like Annisgwyl.

How would she handle this? Sweet little naif would find a way to let the blighter go, wouldn't she?

Of course she would.

Switching to a tone of voice that is a near-perfect affectation of Annisgwyl (the skill comes naturally to Ginny, considering how she was forced to listened passively to her Celtic host for what felt like weeks on end), she takes an additional two steps back, regarding Cadmus very carefully.

“If I was to unbind you…” Ginny lowers her wand. “If I was to release you, would you promise to aid me in finding my twin brother Ffodion? Ignotus?”

Cadmus stares for a long moment, wary of the change in demeanour. Very slowly, he nods.

Equally warily, and with both wands trained on him, Ginny vanishes the restraints.

Cadmus rubs his arms vigorously for a moment to ease the apparent sting, then turns toward a steep incline. “I shall lead you. Follow me this way.”

After about twenty minutes of brisk silent walking, they rise above the line of scraggly conifers. The path begins winding its way up through oddly twisted boulders that Ginny assumes are volcanic in origin. To heighten the effect, the occasional sulphurous whiff gives her a growing unease. She waves to her guide. “This place seems hardly fit for humans. Are you certain Ignotus is up here?“

“Just a little further,” Cadmus calls back, and clambers hastily over a sharp rise. He pauses in front of a fissure that seems to have been cleaved into the hard rocky slope, and waves to her. “Hercules Forge!” Without waiting for her acknowledgment, he hurries into the chasm.

Ginny stops at the mouth of the cleft, and turns around to scan the rugged surroundings. She finds no obvious evidence that this is a trap… but she certainly wishes it didn’t still feel so much like one.


***


The banter has faded by the time Dolohov and Mulciber rise back above the tree line and begin picking their way along a fairly steep path in and among boulders. The going is difficult, but Hettie and Rob do their best to keep within a hundred yards. However, they don’t dare get much closer to the Death Eaters; it's too difficult to keep casting privacy charms to mask their heavy breathing.

After struggling past a steep twenty foot stretch that forces Rob and Hettie to drop down and clamber on all fours, the path abruptly levels. Cresting the rise, Hettie stares at something unexpected. Rather than continuing to climb the mountain, the narrow trail almost seems to cut into Vesuvius — veering into a steeply cut gorge — almost as sharp as a crevasse.

Her eyes tracing the contours, Hettie notes that the summit-side wall of the cleft is comprised of a sharp ridge nearly twenty feet higher than the downhill side. This suggests to her that maybe, just maybe, this location might have been sheltered from much of the past volcanic fury. Nothing is definite after so many hundreds of years, however it is possible that such a place might somehow have preserved key clues to their quest.

Just what we’re looking for!!

Excited, Hettie is about to hasten into the gorge, when she feels a quick tug on her sleeve.

“Hett?” Rob whispers.

“Uh huh?”

“I don’t like this. The cliffs are too steep to climb, and I’ve got this nasty feeling that chasm is loaded with magic. Wards? Curses maybe? And if we can survive getting into where those Eaters have gone, we might find it tough getting back out again.” He sighs. “Damn. I wish Gem were here — she’d know how to size up this place.”

“We could ask her, maybe?” Hettie asks, fingering her ruck sack.

Rob pauses a moment. “I doubt we could find the right page without canceling our Disillusionment.”

“Oh. Right.” Hettie had almost begun taking their invisibility for granted, and the more she ponders the situation, the less she’s willing to relinquish it; even for a minute. She pulls closer to Rob and self-consciously drops her voice to the lowest possible whisper. “Did you notice how quiet those two thugs went a little while ago?”

“Yeh. I did.”

“Do you think they suspect they’ve been followed?”

Rob’s reply, although noncommittal, comes without hesitation. “Maybe.”

Hettie grimaces to herself as an unpleasant thought occurs to her. “They, uh, probably know how to go invisible too?”

“Yeh.”

Under her breath, Hettie growls in frustration. As with Rob, she can feel something in the air but, unlike him, the sensation excites her. She knows that Rob has far more experience in such matters, and that his caution is probably more warranted than her exhilaration, but that does little to quell the thrill coursing through her as she grows more and more convinced that they’re honing in on the crux of this task that Dunbar intended for them to accomplish.

Whatever that was.

“Wonky wekas, Rob.” Hettie groans. “What a mess.”

“You really want to go on, don’t you Hett?” Rob’s tone is matter-of-fact.

“Yes.” Hettie unclenches her teeth (it’s bad for their perfect alignment) and exhales. “We came half the way across the globe to find whatever it is that’s in that cleft, but we have no idea what it is, how we’re supposed to get it, what to do with (or about) it. And we don’t know how it’s guarded, or what the dangers are.”

Rob chuckles.

The sound is soft and would normally seem ‘pleasant’ but, under the circumstances, Hettie has no idea how to interpret it.

“Argh!” She seizes what she believes (hopes) are the lapels of his anorak and shakes. “You’re not taking this seriously!”

In the midst of the throttling, Rob’s arms find their way down to her waist. “Sorry, Hett. You put it perfectly — you always do. I was just commiserating.”

“Commiserating?”

“I’m commiserating because this is your decision to make — you’re the smart one; you’ve got us this far, and your guess is best for what to do next.” He pauses for a moment. “I feel bad because I’ve been pretty useless, hanging back not knowing what we need to do or how to do it. I'm still sure you're the one to decide how to proceed, but it’s probably time for me to start being a little more helpful.”

“Uh, maybe.” Hettie blinks a few times as Rob’s words transform into perspective. “But you are helpful, Rob.”

“Not really, but there's a first time for anything, yeah? For starters, maybe I can be helpful by telling you I've got complete faith in you, and-”

“Yes, well I don't.”

“You didn't let me finish.” He chuckles again. “I was going to say that I have complete faith in your decision, in part because I'm going to do everything I can to help it succeed.”

“Oh. Thanks.” Hettie swallows. “And does that include helping me make that… decision?”

Rob takes a moment to strengthen their privacy charm, and laughs. “You already decided, Hett’. It’d kill you to turn back now.”

“Kill me?! ” Hettie rolls her eyes. “I’m rather more worried I'll decide something that gets us both killed.”

“We both know the risks.” Rob pauses for a moment. “But I think we both also have some sense of the dangers of doing nothing.”

Rob can tell that Hettie is nodding; he can feel the light wisps of her hair grazing his arm. For some reason this makes him smile for a moment, but then he focuses again. “Let’s divide things up this way — you lead us in and try to figure out what’s in there and what bearing it has on what Dunbar might want us to do. Meanwhile, it’s on me to be scoping out the place for jinxes and traps, and I’ll try to improvise a plan to get us out again if we run into trouble.

“Huh.” Hettie pauses for a moment. “That might work.”

“So, we go?” Rob lowers his arms, releasing her.

“Uh…” Hettie takes a moment before she lets go of the lapels she’s been clutching. “Right. We go. Let’s take fifty paces in — enough to see around that next corner. Then we’ll decide what to do next.”

“Sure.” Rob visually measures the distance they’ve already progressed into the narrow channel. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Nodding, Hettie grabs his hand. Suppressing a slight tremble, she leads in careful deliberate steps, silently counting off fifty paces. In a minute they pass the bend in the narrow path and enter what feels almost like a chamber — a narrow, flat, basaltic space with a single large central boulder in the middle, made from dark vitreous rock.

Rob sees that the chamber ends in a steep-wall, about twenty feet further in. He notes, with suspicion, that he does not see any sign of the two Death Eaters who ought to be in here somewhere. Furthermore, his wand is warning him of some minor jinxes in the near vicinity, though he can't tell precisely what or where.

He is about to whisper a caution to Hettie but she steps away from him. One of Hettie's hands raises to cover her astonished mouth; the other decouples from Rob’s and tries (unsuccessfully, given her invisibility) to point toward something strange and inexplicable that she can see and he, apparently, cannot.

Suspended comatose in the air above the dark boulder, Hettie looks upon the evanescent form of an old man, garbed in loose, frayed robes.

“Rob! I-i-it’s…” She gasps. “Could it be… Duff?! ” She leans in, unconsciously reaching for the shimmery, glowing hand.

The dreary afternoon gloom of the crevasse suddenly falls pitch black, and the air fills with the piercing, horrific shriek of a klaxon!

Back to index



Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

This story archived at http://www.siye.co.uk/siye/viewstory.php?sid=130225