Chapter 4. Enemy Eyes (August 9, 1995)
He pulled his tunic close against the cold steady rain that had long since dispelled any memories of what, hours ago, had been a mild spring morning. The residue of partly treated wounds and strain of an arduous flight through the wilderness had saturated every corner of his body. Encountering yet another coarse, brambly thicket, Harry paused for a moment to rest his travel-worn back, crouching to brace his hands on the pair of sturdy (if tired and scraped) Roman knees.
He straightened up and gazed around from his position on the highest hill above their campsite near the banks of the Great Ouse. He nodded in satisfaction, first to reconfirm their apparent seclusion, and then to note their substantial progress. Rather than travel all the way on the meandering rivers, they had gambled on a hard overland march from the Little Ouse, and the short cut had served them well. They were now little more than a league from confluence of the River Cam. At first light tomorrow, they could simply rejoin the waterway and expect fairly easy passage to Camboricum. Furthermore, traveling in a currach was easy work (Harry's magic could propel them upstream with little effort), and would afford long periods of rest — something valuable for all of them; especially the queen's eldest daughter who was desperately ailing.
Harry picked up the two hares he had ambushed earlier in his reconnoitre, placed their still-warm bodies into the small pack he carried, and pushed his way through the thicket, heedless of thorns that scored several new raw marks across his legs. Within minutes, he had crossed the seclusion enchantments he and Ginny had set around the camp perimeter, and was greeted with the glimmer and welcoming scent of a campfire, and the evening meal that Ginny was preparing.
Rejoining the campsite, he gazed around at the stoic group — Ginny stirring the conjured cauldron, while the queen silently held the sleeping Heanua and stared grimly at the fire. Harry coughed slightly to announce his presence, and smiled. “I haven't seen any sign of people in our vicinity. It would appear I must have truly managed to stun the Legate before he could set anyone on our tail. A lucky strike that was!”
“Whether luck or skill, it was very courageous.” Ginny gave her co-conspirator a meaningful glance as she added several branches to the fire.
Queen Boadicea nodded. “Both the Publican and my second daughter have proven immensely courageous and resourceful.”
In spite of the queen's glowing words, her tone seemed rather guarded as she continued. “Yes, the Publican risked his life and livelihood for a person to whom he bears no true formal allegiance. And my brave LanossŽa — small in stature, yet towering in heart — acquitted herself with the prowess of an Icenian hero of legend.” She gazed thoughtfully at Ginny. “Your magic, my daughter, has unfolded as a flower of great splendour. I still to this moment cannot grasp how exactly you saved the Publican from his descent. It must have been a spell of great power and sophistication. Most impressive...”
The queen continued to examine her younger daughter analytically for a moment. Ginny did not meet the woman's sharp gaze, but rather averted her eyes and focused diligently on the stew. It wasn't clear whether the queen had expected an explanation, but none would be forthcoming yet because, in all honesty, Ginny had nothing to offer. Although she recalled raising her wand, the final moments of the incident were gone from her memory. The magic she had unleashed to save the Publican had seemingly dazed her, knocking her off her own feet. Moments later, she had been lifted from the ground by the Publican who, although sincerely grateful, was equally hazy about what exactly had happened.
The queen glanced furtively at the pair, but then withdrew her scrutiny, turning instead back to the fire. “I shall reward you both handsomely some day.” Her eyes flashed in momentary magnificence… then dimmed. “Assuming, of course, that Amaethon may guide me back to my sovereign station.”
Harry nodded as he conjured bowls and spoons. “Yes, and for that I wish to help. I recommend that we make haste together to Camboricum, so that we may dispatch a petitioner to the Proconsul to tender your grievance. We are sixteen leagues from the garrison and may make most of the journey by water. Aided by magic and a good night's sleep, we should reach it comfortably before tomorrow evening.”
Boadicea stiffened. “You may reach it, Publican, but my daughters and I will go no further west. I have permitted you to lead us out of imminent danger, but from here we shall stray no more from the lands of our people.”
“But your presence will make the argument more compelling!” Harry protested. “Faced with the mighty Queen of the Iceni, I am certain the Proconsul will uphold the treaty and order the Legate to stand down before...”
The queen's eyes smoldered and her voice rose to brook no dissent. “No, Publican, the throne of the Iceni is not a token to be confiscated or bestowed by any perfumed Roman peacock. I know exactly how to regain control of my people. But for one item, regardless of the will or wiles of your treacherous Legate, I would still at this moment be Queen of the Iceni!”
“My sincerest apologies if I offended you.” Harry bowed his head humbly. “And what is this object in question? The Staff of Scavo?”
“Yes.” With that one word, spoken quietly and dangerously, the Queen's eyes returned, once again, to the fire to which they seemed irresistibly drawn. Her voice continued in a low murmur. “Were I wielding the staff right now, all of my subjects would follow me through any flame or shadow. I would bring a new dawn of glory.” Her chest swelled with momentary pride. Then she exhaled slowly. “But as you see me before you, bare of hands, bereft of majesty, I can lead nobody... except my loyal daughters.”
Harry and Ginny exchanged an uneasy glance, before returning their attention to the queen.
“When we break camp in the beckoning glimmers of tomorrow's twilight, you may return to your garrison in Camboricum as you intend, Publican,” Boadicea declared, “You may pursue those interests that you, in your kind, wise and imminently pragmatic soul, believe are the best service to your empire. Perhaps it shall be that your interests and mine will once again converge — then or in the future. In which case, Publican, I will welcome you with open arms as a cherished friend. But until then, my daughters and I must make our way back across the lands we have traveled. We timid rabbits have thrown off the hounds, but now we must become three lionesses who shall stalk the woods, not resting until we have devoured our prey...”
The queen, her eyes gleaming dangerously in the flickering firelight, unconsciously clasped her hands, palm over knuckles, as if she was still wielding the copper horse-head grip of her family heritage.
Harry shook his head. “I beg your reconsideration. I suggest you accompany me at least as long as it takes to find wands for you and your eldest daughter. There is a well-respected wand-seller near Camboricum, and I believe he can find you...”
“No, Publican.” Once again, the queen's regal tone closed the debate without even pulling her gaze from the fire. “I have my own means to secure magical objects. I have contacts who have never sullied themselves in dealings with Romans, and never will.”
Harry steeled himself patiently and took a breath. “I have one final entreaty, your majesty, and then I will hold my peace.”
Harry gestured gently toward the frail young woman slumped against the queen. “I beg you do not drag Heanua along with you on your desperate quests. Her soul is unwell. It matters not to me whether we seek a Briton healer or Roman, but she is in dire need of care.”
“Heanua is the daughter of Queen Boadicea, my dear Publican,” the queen replied coldly. “She is built of stern fibre, and will recover her strength to fight valiantly at her mother's side.”
“At least permit LanossŽa to apply her healing skills to the girl.” Harry eyes swept over to Ginny, striving to shroud the dejection in his voice.
Ginny said nothing; she continued to tend the stew, resignedly disguising her angst and regret.
Boadicea stared hard at Harry for a long moment, then looked away and nodded. “Granted. LanossŽa will tend to her sister as we make our way back east.”
Cradling her eldest daughter in a manner that no longer bore any semblance of motherly nurturing, the queen turned back to face the fire and reclaim her silence.
The Publican and LanossŽa caught each other's eyes — a seasoned man from half a world away; a young woman from a land that welcomed few strangers... In barely more than a day, they had progressed together far beyond the simple acquaintance that once they shared. In the glimmers of a cold setting sun, their hearts subsided into wells of uncertainty and regret.
Pressed against Ginny's heart, in that boreal valley and in an Islington bedroom of another era, the silver brooch whispered in timeless, enigmatic sorrow.
Harry was not the only one to awaken early the next morning. As he was beginning to warm a pan on the stove in preparation for another round of Grimmauld Place breakfasts, he was surprised to feel a small hand grasp his arm from behind, and a cheek press itself into his upper back.
He extinguished the heat on the stove, and turned his focus instead to the soft warmth radiating into him. Different emotions streamed through his mind. In part, he felt a tantalizing thrill at knowing that a beautiful girl had just clasped herself to him and was in no hurry to release him. Conversely, however, the melancholy emanating from her was almost palpable.
“I feel so hollow.” Ginny's whisper drifted up to him. “So drained... Things seem hopeless for them.”
“Them? Oh, you mean the...” Harry hesitated uncertainly.
“The princess and the Publican, yes.” Ginny's head nodded slightly against his back.
Harry nodded as a weight of recognition set in. All at once, he realized that he was now starting to remember more and more of his peculiar dreams; that the images were no longer fading into a vague emotions within minutes of his awakening. In fact, the dreams were beginning to feel like an extension of reality, with tangible implications to the waking world.
Harry also knew that this largely confirmed his suspicion that these dreams were affecting Ginny as profoundly as him. Reflecting on her current sadness, he couldn't help but worry that, in some way, he might be responsible for pulling the sunny, vivacious girl into a tense, ponderous otherworld...
Now quite vested in getting to the root of his friend's dejection, Harry sighed. “Yes, the princess and the Publican. LanossŽa and Peuerellius.” Unexpectedly, Harry's memory seemed to be filling in more and more details that, only a moment ago, would not have occurred to him. “So, I guess you're worried that they'll be dragged apart?”
“I can't see how they can avoid it.” Ginny took a step back and gently pulled Harry around to face her. “The Publican must alert his Proconsul ; the princess is bound to follow her queen...”
Harry exhaled wearily.
“And, for the record...” Ginny uncoupled herself from him and began pacing. “This time the dreams do not feel 'right'. I'm not sure why, but for some reason I feel as though you and I have a personal stake in what happens to them. There's no way that separation will be good for anybody — not for the princess or the Publican ; not for the queen and Heanua. Who's to say it might not even be harmful for us, Harry?”
Harry stared in surprise at a sharp flash of anger in Ginny's face — the momentary glint of something harder that mere Weasley ire; a flame more in keeping with a certain woodland princess. Harry stepped in to intercept her stride. Catching her slightly off guard, he grasped her hand, and held it for a long moment, and watched with relief as she deflated; the momentary pallour reverting to Ginny's normal healthy tones.
Sighing again, Harry guided Ginny to the table, where the two teens faced each other, feeling for all the world like conspirators attempting to avert some crisis... except for the strange fact that they were agonizing over events that had already taken place — more than nineteen centuries ago.
“I agree with you.” Harry poured tea for Ginny and himself, then met her eyes from across the corner of the table. “I feel that same sort of personal stake in all of this — maybe because I can't imagine why we would both be having these dreams if they weren't somehow important to us.”
Ginny nodded, adding milk to her tea.
“I don't know who's right.” He tapped his warm cup thoughtfully with his finger. “I don't think the Publican should be quite so willing to place such trust in his garrison. I realise that their spell repertoire back then was quite different from ours, but surely there were dark wizards who had nasty tricks like Imperius curses, right? If so, who can anyone really trust?” He blew on his cup, then continued. “At least some of what the queen said sounded logical to me. To truly reclaim her throne, it may well be that she really does first need to recover the staff — whether for magical power, credibility, or both.”
“The words that came out of the queen's mouth sounded logical, but...” Ginnys voice faded into pensive silence.
Harry gazed at his friend as she frowned in deliberation. “But...?” he prompted after a while.
“But I think she's losing it, Harry.” Ginny's knuckles were white around her mug. “She's a bit unhinged.”
“Who's a bit unhinged?” The voice was that of Remus Lupin. Their former professor entered the kitchen with a look of deep concern spreading over his face.
“Oh!” Uncharacteristically rattled, Ginny's weariness from the early hour and disrupted sleep, had thrown her a bit off her game, but she nonetheless shifted gears quickly. “We were talking about someone named Queen Boadicea, who apparently was a powerful Druidess and queen in early Roman Britain.”
Harry smiled surreptitiously as he watched Ginny improvising with a near truth — a masterful strategy. He cleared his throat. “Yes, Ginny and I were discussing a historical account that we found up in Sirius's library.”
“That's a relief!” Lupin chuckled. “For a moment I was afraid you were talking about your mother!”
“My mother?!” Confusion and alarm was momentarily evident on Ginny's face. “What... er, she's not my, uh...”
“Molly?” Harry calmly poured a cup of tea for Remus. “Goodness no, Remus. Ginny and I can see what she's going through, and truly feel for her. I'm sure Mrs. Weasley finds it incredibly stressful to be exiled here in Grimmauld, but she seems to be trying hard to adapt to the situation.”
Ginny exhaled, offering Harry a furtive smile of gratitude as she reassembled her stage presence. “Professor Lupin, have you ever seen my Mum when she's truly unhinged?” Ginny passed him the cream and sugar. “To be honest, I'd say she's actually taking things surprisingly well so far.”
Lupin smiled. “Okay, point well taken! Anyway, I'm glad, at least, that the two of you are giving her a benefit of the doubt. I have deep affection for Molly, but this is not her ideal environment and it really shows. She's rather rubbed Sirius the wrong way, and Ron and the twins start steaming at the very mention of her name.”
Harry shrugged. “Yes, well unfortunately it takes some people a long time to realize that the one thing worse than a frayed parent is no parent at all.”
Lupin and Ginny both startled somewhat at Harry's neutral, off-handed remark, but Harry paid no attention, rising from the table to resume breakfast preparations.
The table fell silent for a long moment. Lupin nodded slowly to himself, his face hinting at sad reminiscences, then he stirred and turned to Ginny. “So.... you're reading about Queen Boadicea?”
“Yes.” Ginny nodded, meeting his gaze. “You've heard of her?”
“Of course.” Lupin leaned forward with an engaged expression. “She was a fascinating and tragic character. It is such a shame that Professor Binns seems incapable of expanding his curriculum; there are so many amazing stories in magical history that students, sadly, may never learn at Hogwarts. It is laudable that you two taking the initiative to broaden your horizons.”
Harry pulled several plates out of the cupboard and paused in his efforts. “Er, I'm sure we're get to this soon enough in our, uh, research, but what sort of tragic end did the queen come to?”
“Ah.” Lupin paused for a moment as he replenished his tea. “She led perhaps the most infamous revolt against the Romans in British history. Her Iceni army and their Trinovante allies sacked several large Roman towns and led to the loss of more than fifty thousand, and perhaps nearing one hundred thousand, Roman citizens.”
Lupin acknowledged Ginny's sharp intake of breath with a sombre nod. “Very grim story indeed! Yet, it's not easy to feel sorry for the Romans. Even their own historians are in general agreement that the rebellion was precipitated by very poor decisions on the part of local Roman administrators.”
“You don't say.” Trying not to grit her teeth, Ginny hid a momentary scowl behind her teacup.
“Indeed.” Not noticing Ginny's quiet pique, Lupin steepled his fingers. “Most Muggle and Magical historic accounts are based on the writings of Tacitus, who recorded that Romans seized Iceni lands without provocation, confiscated great quantities of wealth, captured and flogged the queen and, uh..." Lupin fidgeted a bit. "Well, they supposedly raped her daughters.”
Harry and Ginny exchanged wide-eyed glances. Catching this out of the corner of his eye, Lupin cringed slightly. “Sorry. I firmly believe that history is a very important subject, but it can get rather... ugly at times.”
More puzzled than appalled, both Harry and Ginny shrugged, attempting to suppress their visceral responses.
Settling back again, Ginny blew on her tea pensively. “Yes, well the ugly incidents are obviously the ones our society must try hardest to not repeat.”
“Exactly.” Lupin nodded vigourously. “So while the Romans began the episode shamefully, the queen reaped no glory either. She very likely was, as you so eloquently phrased it, rather unhinged by the Roman attack. Her eventual response seemed to be inspired much more by wrath than political calculus.”
“Ill-advised,” Harry opined as he flipped several eggs.
Lupin nodded. “Unfortunately, yes. Basing a military campaign on rage alone is a very risky proposition — especially against the Romans who were the masters of cold calculation. Unsurprisingly, the Icenian rebellion faltered. After destroying Camboricum, driving the Romans from Londinium and then sacking the wealthy town of Verulamium, Boadicea's warriors were met with a disciplined, war-hardened Roman force in northern Hertfordshire. Badly outmaneuvered, and with her forces being slaughtered and dispersed, the queen supposedly committed suicide. Her body was recovered by parties sympathetic to her cause, and she was buried in reverence, but the defeat demoralised all of the English Celts. The Romans solidified their power, and no more major rebellions would occur in England for hundreds of years thereafter.”
“Hmm, well regardless of emotional instability,” Ginny remarked, “it seems strange that the Iceni revolt should have begun in such strength, dominated through several major battles, and then suddenly collapsed into such misery.”
Lupin pursed his lips in thought, nodding absent-mindedly to Hermione as she entered quietly and took a seat.
“A fascinating observation.” Lupin beamed a professorial smile. “Part of the difference was a likely matter of Roman leadership,” he suggested. “The initial Iceni strikes exploited the tactical weaknesses of Procurator Decianus, whom Tacitus seemed to regard as criminally incompetent. In the final battle, however, the Iceni faced a Legion of exemplary preparedness, led by Proconsul Paulinus, whom historians view far more favourably.”
“Okay, so you said that Roman leadership was part of the difference.” Harry's voice raised as he clattered about, assembling four plates. “What's the other part?”
“Ah yes.” Lupin scratched the stubbly beginnings of a beard on his chin. “Pure speculation on my part, but I rather believe that the rest of the story had a magical component. I'm guessing that in the early going, the Iceni held a singular advantage in the magical prowess of the queen herself, but by the end, the Romans had found some way to neutralize that edge, or reverse it.”
“Interesting.” Ginny stirred her tea absently. “Harry, have any of our History of Magic lectures ever mentioned magical and Muggle forces fighting alongside in the same battles?”
A guilty twinge flickered across Harry's forehead as he reflected on all of the time he'd spent sleeping in Professor Binns' class. “Er, not that I can remember. Hermione do you recall anything like that?”
Hermione smiled. “You remember correctly, Harry.” Her face held the faintest hint of a smirk as she replied to her classmate. “In all the time I spent in that class, I never heard of any descriptions of joint magical-Muggle campaigns. I admit that I missed some class time in my second year, but the notes that I borrowed from Parvati were nothing but the usual Goblin Wars drivel.”
Lupin sighed. “Well, in this case, it's actually not Cuthbert's fault. The International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy actually contains a clause that governments have used to... well, downplay... old records of cooperation between the magical and non-magical communities.
“Downplay?” Harry's eyebrow raised suspiciously.
Hermione gave a cynical shrug. “I think that's Professor Lupin's euphemism for 'suppress', Harry.”
Lupin chuckled. “Well, we would have to wake up earlier than this to pull wool over Miss Granger's eyes, wouldn't you say? Anyway, from what I can tell, there were numerous instances of collaboration prior to the Statute. Records and accounts of such cooperation still exist, but you won't find them in libraries or book stores. There are likely a good number of interesting documents in the Ministry of Magic Archives, but they can only be viewed by appointment.”
“Professor...” Ginny peered incisively across the table. “Have you ever wondered what that initial magical advantage might have been, and how it got taken away?”
Lupin regarded her thoughtfully. “Are you okay with something even more speculative?”
Ginny and Harry both nodded eagerly.
“Well...” Lupin paused to collect his thoughts. “If you read between the lines of Muggle historical texts, it's easy to convince yourself that Muggle-magical relationships varied a lot over different cultures. The more urbanized societies such as the Greeks and Romans produced a separation between magical and non-magical peoples that seemed to presage what we have today. By contrast, the more rural populations — what came to be thought of as barbarians — embraced magic as a part of daily life... and as a part of warfare. While the Romans were busy successfully conquering other urban civilizations around the Mediterranean, their military had little use for wizards, and their leadership may have actively distrusted them. However, as the Romans expanded northwards into the warlike Celtic, Teutonic and Slavic provinces, tacticians confronting barbarians' hexes may have gradually recognized that a magical component to their military would be necessary.”
Harry nodded. “So perhaps Queen Boadicea encountered no worthy magical resistance at the start of the Iceni uprising, but then the desperate Romans finally decided to find her a worthy opponent?”
“Exactly!” Lupin grinned at the astute inference. “That would be my first guess. The other possibility is that something happened to the queen's magical abilities.”
Ginny's piercing glance drifted from their former professor, to Harry, and then back to Lupin. “I wonder how we might find out more about what really happened...?”
Lupin sipped his tea contemplatively. “Well, you probably chose a reasonable place to start — leafing through books up in Sirius's library. There are volumes up there that predate the Statute of Secrecy, so you may well find interesting perspectives that you wouldn't get at Hogwarts. Those might keep you occupied for a while longer, but if you really get serious with this project of yours, you would be advised to consider the Historical Archives at the Ministry.”
“Right.” Ginny's chin dropped pensively into her hands. “But how would we ever get an appointment there when we're shut in this house under lock and key?”
Hermione coughed slightly. “Er well... Not wanting to disrupt such a delightful educational discussion by reminding everyone of more mundane idiocies, but Harry has a date at the Ministry coming up soon...”
“Oh, that's right!” Harry's eyes widened; his enthusiastic tone belying any concern for the disciplinary hearing. “Gin', I think your father had planned to take me. I don't know whether I'll have time to visit the archives myself because of my meeting, but perhaps he could be convinced to sign you into the archives while I'm busy?”
“Yes, good idea! It never hurts to ask, right?” Ginny nodded, with supportive murmurs from Hermione and Lupin.
“Never hurts to ask whut ?” Ron asked as he stalked into the room. “Harry mate — be a sport and scrape some bacon and eggs onto a plate, eh?”
Lupin's eyes trailed the tall youth. “The kids are working on a fascinating summer research project.” He beamed a proud smile toward Ginny and Harry. “With a little luck, maybe we can get them access to some old documents in the Ministry of Magic Historical Archives.”
“Uhhhhh... Research? Documents?? ” Ron's incredulous gaze darted among the other four occupants of the room, trying to guess a punchline to what was obviously a very lame joke.
“Yes Ron.” Hermione composed herself patiently. “They are planning to research some documents.”
Ron blinked several times in rapid succession, opened his mouth to say something, but then stared lustily at the full plate Harry was placing in front of him. “Yeah, well, jolly good then.” Ron shrugged, and proceeded to fill his face.
Harry ran his hand through his hair, producing a work of disheveled art that made Ginny pause and grin.
Aware that Ginny had stopped rustling around with books, Harry glanced at her, raised a suspicious eyebrow at her mirthful expression, then went back to trying to focus on yet another page of miniscule typeface.
After several minutes, he groaned loudly, and pushed away another book -- the third in a sizable stack that Ginny had been piling on the table by his elbow. He rested for a moment, gazing out at the light rain trickling down the window of the Grimmauld Place library, then looked up again, chagrined to see Ginny place two more dusty tomes onto the pile.
“You know, Harry, I've been thinking...” Ginny trailed off.
Ginny's face wore a look of intense concentration for a moment, then she nodded. “I was wondering if maybe we should see whether Hermione is interested in helping with some of this research.”
“Oh?” A note of surprise was evident in Harry's voice. “Well, maybe three minds would be better than two for trying to sift through all these books, but... she has a mountain of her own school texts to read. And besides, what makes you think she'd been the least bit interested in something half-cocked like this?”
“Oh...” Ginny smiled. “I just have this hunch...”
“You mean because of the way she's been so helpful and supportive recently?”
“No.” Ginny caught Harry's attention with a certain twinkle in her eye. “I mean because of the way she's standing right outside the door, listening in on us from the corridor...”
Harry burst out laughing. He turned to direct his voice out the open doorway. “Hermione, come on in — we're just about to start brainstorming.”
Visibly flustered, Hermione emerged in the library doorway. “I, uh, was just checking the walls for residual dark magic.”
“Oh brilliant, thank you!” Ginny gave her a sprightly grin. “But for better results, you actually might try using your wand for that.” She gestured toward Hermione's bare hands.
Red-faced, Hermione unconsciously grappled for the wand in her pocket. “I, well, you see...” she explained.
“No worries if you have other things to do,” Harry cut her off good-naturedly, “but if you're interested, we're doing some preparations for our visit to the Ministry on the twelfth. Arthur agreed to arrange a pass for Ginny to visit the Archives while I'm in the hearing, but he estimated that she'll likely only be cleared to research for an hour or two, so we're trying to pin down our goals as precisely as possible.”
“Oh?” Hermione quickly banishing her earlier embarrassment. “So what's your focus, and what sort of questions have you come up with?”
“Well..." Harry spread out a scroll with a few outline points scrawled across it. "The main issue is whether magic could have been a key component in Boadicea's downfall, but we haven't narrowed down the more specific questions yet.”
“Yes, that's what we're about to discuss right now as we skim through these books.” Ginny took a seat beside Harry. “For example, I want to know whether the Queen was in possession of the Staff of Scavo during the rebellion and, especially, in the final battle.”
“Staff of Scavo?” Hermione gave her a curious look.
Ginny nodded. “Yes, it was a very powerful instrument of magic made for the Iceni by one of the early Ollivanders.”
Hermione's eyes lit up. “Ah! So you're thinking that if the queen didn't have the staff during the final battle, it might explain their unexpectedly devastating defeat!”
Harry smiled at his friend's enthusiasm. “Right. And, for curiosity's sake, I'd also wonder what eventually happened to the staff. I'm not sure just how useful that information would be, but as the last and greatest of the Druidic staves, I find it all quite fascinating.”
Hermione took a seat and reached for a spare quill and parchment on the table.
"We're also interested in the opposite hypothesis." Ginny's tapped a dry quill on the desk. "Suppose Boadicea actually was in possession of the staff, but nonetheless still lost. If so, then did some powerful wizard intervene on behalf of the Romans? If so, then who?”
“Yes, exactly — as you were discussing this morning!” Hermione picked up one of the texts from the stack and began scanning the index.
Harry glanced at his scroll, then pushed it away. “Hermione, a little off topic perhaps, but do you know what responsibilities someone with the Roman title Legate would have had?”
Hermione paused to think for a moment. “I think the function of a Legate was similar to that of a modern envoy. Not so much an ambassador as a trouble-shooter, I believe.”
Harry frowned thoughtfully.
“Imperial Rome was really huge and diverse, which made it challenging to govern.” As she spoke, Hermione dashed off a surprisingly apt sketch of Europe and the Mediterranean. “Each province had different issues and concerns, so it wasn't practical to expect everyone to rule according to identical policies. The best emperors such as Augustus and Trajan achieved a fine balance by letting individual provinces do a lot of local improvising while still working toward the good of the Empire. However, if a province, or its governor, got too out of line, the emperor would have to reign it in. In the early stages, when the emperor was just starting to grow annoyed, I assume a logical step would be to send out a Legate to straighten up the local administration.”
“Ah.” Harry ran a hand through his hair again.
Hermione studied him. “Why do you ask? Do any of these books mention a Legate playing a role in the Iceni affair?”
“No, not the slightest mention at all.” Harry tapped his fingers on the table. “That's what's so interesting...”
“Huh?” Hermione stared quizzically. “Sorry, am I missing something Harry? Why would you want to know about a Legate if there's no evidence...?”
“Don't worry about it Hermione.” Ginny winked. “Harry dreams up the strangest questions sometimes.”
“I'm knackered! Time for me to call it a night.” Harry stepped away from the chessboard where, despite Fred's many furtive attempts to sneak black pieces back onto the board, George's last hope was being systematically eviscerated by Ron's white pieces.
“So soon?!” Ron stared at him in dismay. “I thought you might be keen for another rematch right after I'm done beating Fr-, I mean George.”
“Have mercy!” Harry yawned and rubbed his eyes. “You've already flattened me twice tonight, Ron.”
Fred merely smirked. “Let him be. Early to bed, early to rise, makes us... the best breakfast in all of Islington!”
George's eyes rose from the chess board. “Oh, too true! By all means Ron, quit badgering and let little Miss Harry-kins get her beauty sleep!”
Harry's voice filtered back from somewhere down the corridor. “I'm sure I can convince Kreacher to spit in your omelet, George.”
“Gah — you win!” George swatted down his black king, groaning in disgust. “How's an honest man to concentrate with Harry distracting me like that?”
“Next up?” Ron gazed around the room with a wide solicitous grin. “Ginny, are you ready to be humiliated again?”
“No thank you, Ron,” Ginny replied from her armchair in the corner. “I'm...”
“Tired too!” Fred finished for her. “Hey mates, have any of you noticed that minutes after Harry gets tired and leaves, sweet little Gin-Gin always wilts like the fragile flower we all know her to be?”
Throughout the room, several eyebrows raised.
Hermione raised more than her eyebrows. Bursting out of her chair, she slammed down her book. “Hey mates!” she exclaimed in acid mimicry. “Have any of you noticed that whenever Harry gets tired and leaves, the idiot quotient in the room suddenly rockets through the roof?!”
The twins burst out laughing, but Hermione silenced them with glacial eyes. “You know, if you two tried concentrating half as much on chess as you do on nosing about in other peoples' business, you might actually win a match sometime during your lifetime?”
Ron snickered, only to find himself confronted with a furious face framed by bushy brown hair.
“And as for you, Ronald Bilius Weasley...” Hermione's finger extended menacingly in the direction of the youngest Weasley brother. “Unless you start treating people around you with a little of the consideration and respect you bestow on your precious chess pieces, then I'd recommend you just apprentice yourself to Mundungus Fletcher right now, because that's about all you'll ever amount to in your life!”
Striding toward the door of the amazingly subdued drawing room, Hermione glanced, mid-step, toward a quiet corner by the fire. “Say Ginny...” Her voice had suddenly reacquired a measure of calm. “Would you care to join me for a quick cup of tea before bed?”
Ginny smirked at the shocked looks plastered across her brothers' faces. With an amused shrug, she put her magazine down, and followed her friend out the door.
“Is everything okay, Hermione?” The twinkle in Ginny's eye was somewhat masked by an expression of concern.
Carrying the tea service, Hermione turned and smiled broadly. “You better than anyone should recognize diversionary tactics.”
Ginny groaned, but then grinned. “Okay, good one.”
“Thank you, but listen, that's unlikely to be the last time someone starts to make awkward insinuations. It might be time to starting watching your step a bit more carefully.” Hermione gave Ginny a pointed look as she poured two steaming cups. “I personally believe that you and Harry aren't doing anything improper, and I'm thrilled that the two of you have become so responsible and studious, working on this independent research project and all. However, we're trapped inside a house with a bunch of other people right now. Some of them are stressed or hypersensitive, while others are natural troublemakers, and that's a volatile combination. You have to admit, Ginny, that if people notice you spending all this time with Harry, it's a fine invitation for tongues to start wagging.”
Ginny stirred her tea and shrugged.
Hermion took a seat beside her friend and continued. “Ron promised Sirius that he wouldn't tell anybody about you and Harry, uh, spending the night together. He's been sticking to his word so far, but I know your brother well enough to guess that if he thinks things might be getting out of hand, he'll go straight to your parents.”
“What do I care if he tells Mum and Dad?” Ginny's tone rose in pitch for a moment, then she inhaled deeply and shook her head. “Harry patched up my cuts and bruises, put me to bed, and fell asleep on the armchair. It was completely sweet, honourable, and perfectly harmless.”
“Yes, of course I know that, Ginny.” Hermione reached across the table and grasped her friend's hand amicably. “But your Mum is on a knife's edge, and you don't want anything sweet, honourable and perfectly harmless to send her into a catastrophic meltdown, do you?”
“So, what are you suggesting?” Ginny took a calming drink of tea.
“I'm suggesting that you might want to be prudent about the image that you cultivate. I'm not sure that everyone around here can simply accept the idea of a serious, mature Ginny Weasley, unless they're given a bit more time to adjust.”
Ginny arched an eyebrow. “Serious? Mature? What do you mean?”
“Come on Ginny, don't try to pretend you've always been like this. Something has changed with you recently, and as far as I can tell — which is not far because you and Harry are being fairly circumspect about it — the two of you are investing a lot of energy into something rather important. It seems important enough that it's made you rethink your priorities, and examine your key values.”
“Maybe it has, but who in this gaggle cares the least bit what I think about my own priorities and values? Ooohhh,” Ginny gushed mockingly, “look at little Gingersnap getting all serious about things. Let's see what she's so fussed about so we can take the mickey out of her!”
Hermione shook her head. “I don't know about that Ginny. You have several family members who might well take notice if they decided that you were behaving differently. At the very least, things could get rather nettlesome for you if someone told your mum they thought you and Harry were going off to snog in a broom clo...”
“I'm just saying!” Hermione raised her hands in self-defence. “But you also need to remember that a few years ago you went through a huge, life-changing event, and nobody noticed until it was very nearly too late... if you know what I mean?”
Hermione shrugged. “Yes, well you might have moved on from that, but not everybody has. Keeping that in mind, some people around you may not respond perfectly rationally if they see sudden changes in the way you act.”
“I mean you no offense at all, Hermione, but this is stupid.”
“Yes, of course it is, but the best way to deal with a stupid situation is to be very smart.”
Ginny smirked. “Be smart by acting stupider?”
“Okay, okay, I get it. I'll try to act more like the old Ginny — snarky, irascible, lazier, less studious, put in late nights playing stupid games, have less... Harry-time.” Ginny huffed grumpily. “Impossible bleeding gits.”
Hermione reached over and clasped Ginny's free hand again, smiling warmly. “You're very dear for me, Ginny; you're the sister I always wanted. Deep down I'm really excited because I'm guessing that you might be starting along some very fulfilling path.” She withdrew her hand and grew serious. “But that's the thing. Whenever I get excited, I also get cautious. If what you're trying to accomplish is really important to you, then my instincts tell me that you need to be cautious too.”
“But, uh, Ginny...?”
Ginny met Hermione's gaze, but Hermione looked away, shyly. Ginny frowned quizzically. “Yes?”
“One of these days, you are planning to, uh... tell me?” Hermione clasped her hands behind her back, gazing at the floor.
“Tell you, uh, what?”
“Tell me what exactly it is that you're trying to accomplish.” Hermione shifted uneasily, still averting her gaze. “I know there's no broom closet involved, but however much Professor Lupin wants to believe that the two of you are becoming solemn, dedicated historical scholars, I'm not buying it for a moment.”
“How dare you doubt my solemn scholarly dedication?!” Ginny inhaled sharply in theatric indignation. “If you don't apologize right now, I'll have to prank you from here to Hogwarts for your impudence!”
“Oh good!” Hermione laughed. “I'm not certain I could tolerate a solemn, dedicated and scholarly Ginny.”
Ginny let a snicker slip, then recomposed her face to see Hermione peering inquisitively at her, with the hint of a plaintive smile on her face. “So, are you are going to tell me what's really going on?”
Ginny gave her friend a long, scrutinizing look, then smiled slightly. “Yes.”
Hermione nodded, wide-eyed and expectant.
“But not yet, Hermione.” Ginny sighed. “I don't know — it's just... strange, complicated, vague... I promise I'll tell you when... when I've figured out what there actually is to tell. Is that okay?”
Hermione frowned for a moment, then nodded. The two girls finished their tea in amicable silence, then headed for bed.
Ginny swept her hair back and glanced rapidly around at her surroundings — the battle-torn Great Hall at Hogwarts.
As much as she despised this scene, at the moment it seemed preferable to facing LanossŽa and the Publican again. Ginny felt that it was too soon to truly help her ancient forebears. With more time and research, Ginny hoped that she and Harry might be able to learn what was really supposed to happen back then. With such hindsight, she hoped that they might even be able coax these powerful, heroic but imminently fallible characters toward some sort of desirable outcome.
Unfortunately, for the time being, Ginny despaired of finding a solution. The princess was about to be torn away from the Publican. Each seemed fated to charge blindly into a different quest of dubious wisdom, with everything being somehow contingent on the disruptive influence of a mysterious villain and a dreadfully powerful sorceress driven to the brink of madness.
On the other hand, here at Hogwarts, the descent into madness was already manifest and very nearly complete. Surrounded by chaos, Ginny watched as Harry wound down the final, grotesque preamble.
"So it all comes down to this, doesn't it?" Harry gestured subtly, yet demonstratively with his hand. “Does the wand in your hand know its last master was disarmed? Because if it does... I am the true master of the...”
A flash of icy revelation raced through Ginny's veins, and time ceased.
All thoughts drowned out by searing curiosity, Ginny strode toward the hideous, gargoylish living statue of Voldemort, sensing none of the nausea she normally experienced in his presence. Fascinated, she closed in on what the monster held in his jaundiced hand — a long dark stick with the most elaborate shaping and wand ornamentation that she had ever seen...
Seen where? When?
Disregarding the riveting duel that had suddenly frozen in mid-execution, Ginny turned to Harry. “You called this the Elder Wand?”
Harry twitched. The dream he had been confronted with had required him to steel himself for battle with his arch-nemesis. It was a struggle to break himself free of the compulsion, but he was drawn by the music of Ginny's voice, so incongruously comforting within the macabre setting. He shuddered, shook his head, and found himself gazing at the bizarre surroundings — a scene of dynamic chaos all utterly rigid except for the grimy, disheveled (but still beautiful) young woman standing twenty feet in front of him, inspecting his enemy's wand.
“Er, yes.” Harry met her gaze. “Elder Wand. I do call it that, don't I?”
He scratched his head thoughtfully. “So, uhh, what actually is the Elder Wand? Does the term mean anything to you?”
Ginny frowned in consternation. “Well, the only mention that I've ever heard is from a children's story.” She raised a thoughtful finger to her lips. “It's a wand that supposedly can't be defeated in any duel or combat. I guess I've always assumed it was pure fable.”
“Well this particular wand isn't a fable.” Harry pointed toward Voldemort's hand. “I've seen it before.”
“Yes!” Ginny's eyes went wide. “It's...”
“Dumbledore's wand!” they both cried out together.
Harry ran fingers through his matted, dusty hair. “How did Snake-lips come upon Dumbledore's wand?”
Ginny shivered. “I'd really rather not try to guess just yet.”
The more Ginny became aware of Voldemort's presence, the more it became intolerable. She turned from the center of the room, and made her way unthinkingly toward the periphery as she pondered the situation.
“I must admit,” Ginny mused as Harry caught up with her, “that I'm very curious about whether... perhaps, this really is the Elder Wand. Luna's dad believes the wand is real...”
“Luna?” Harry paused near the doorway to the Entrance Hall, giving Ginny a quizzical look.
“Oh, I forgot — you've probably never met her.” Ginny slowed to wait for her friend. “She's a Ravenclaw in my year at school — one of my best friends in fact. I'll be sure to introduce you when... if... er...” An awkward look descended down Ginny's face.
“Don't worry about it, Gin'.” Harry smiled reassuringly. “If I'm ever allowed back at Hogwarts, I'd like very much to meet your friends. Let's just leave it at that.”
Ginny looked back to smile at him, grateful for his unexpectedly easy forbearance... but instead of catching his eye, she spotted something unusual over Harry's shoulder. Her smile evapourated as she stared.
“What is it?” Harry turned to follow her gaze into a distant corner of the Great Hall. But before she could point, he had sighted it too, and inhaled sharply. “No, it couldn't be...”
They were both staring at a pair of eyes.
All of other wizards and witches in the Great Hall were still frozen, watching in fascination, fear or horror, at the spot of the impending duel between Harry and Voldemort. Every feature of every face was completely transfixed by the impending battle... except for one pair of deep grey piercing eyes.
Flaring with fascination and hatred; framed by wild, silver hair and set into a creased and unkempt face, this lone visage had locked onto the two teens.
“Lucius Malfoy is staring at us, Harry,” Ginny whispered uneasily.
“Ginny...” Harry's low voice rasped in trepidation; his skin prickled. “Meet the Legate !”
Harry awoke as a chilling breeze swept over his face, stealing its way around the edges of his blanket. He shivered, pulled the fabric closer, then opened his eyes.
Moonlight flickered through the branches above.
He looked around to gauge where, and when, he might be.
What he saw was their camp near the river. The evening's storm had blown through, leaving behind crisp, dry air of the bracing freshness.
Noticing that the fire had nearly gone out, he threw off his blanket, and rose quietly to the small pile of deadfall that remained from what LanossŽa had collected that evening. He chose a few small pieces to lay over the embers and blew on them until they sparked to life.
In the flickering half-light, he reflexively counted the blanketed forms that he knew to be those of the fugitive Iceni royalty.
One was missing.
Harry did not panic. Rather, he added two larger branches on the flames, then sat down pensively on his blanket, closing his eyes in contemplation. After less than a minute, he re-opened them and rose to his feet. Instinctively he followed a deer path leading down to the river. When he had pushed through the final row of streamside branches and felt the sandy loam beneath his feet, he stopped and gazed around.
His eyes tracked toward the west; toward the soon-to-be-setting moon, and found what he sought. She was standing on a bluff, perhaps fifty feet upstream. The breeze rippled through her hair; cold moonlight playing off its silken iridescence.
Without conscious thought, he climbed the bluff and quietly approached her.
Without turning to face him, she cocked her head slightly, invitingly.
He slid his hands around her waist and angled his head down toward hers. She nestled her body into a place it had long seemed destined to find. Her cheek, cool to the touch, pressed upwards against his equally chilled face.
Together they remained, locked in timeless comfort for the brief while that yet remained to them, silently sharing the unexpected gift of sublime solidarity.
In that cold night, the princess and the Publican both found a measure of warmth — enough to sustain them through the cold day to come.