Chapter 5. A Godson and a Princess (August 10-11, 1995)
Once again, Harry found himself alone in the Grimmauld Place kitchen shortly after sunrise. Unlike the past several days, however, he was neither looking nor feeling particularly dynamic. He still went about the motions of breakfast preparation, thus ensuring that a household that had quickly begun to take his services for granted would still awaken today to a hearty meal. However, they might have to do without any cheerful whistling or self-effacing smiles... because Harry was lacking a certain spark.
Harry wasn't regretting his commitment to breakfast. Since voluntarily assuming morning meal responsibilities, he had grown very fond of the lively exchanges that only seemed possible while the Grimmauld's most garrulous (and least cerebral) occupants were all still asleep. With most of the day monopolized by talk of house cleaning (Molly's favourite topic), Quidditch, pranks and embarrassing bodily functions (the twins), or how bloody useless everything and everyone else was (Ron), Harry found the early morning hour to be an interesting and refreshing change of pace.
Harry had been most pleasantly surprised by Hermione's company. Her subtle warmth and wit seemed to peak during their little morning discourses, before dropping beneath the austere shell she wore when things got stressful or chaotic. Harry also enjoyed Remus Lupin's friendly demeanour, extensive knowledge and gentle wisdom.
Yes, these little breakfast table perks were reliable and would be coming soon enough, and that was enough to bring a small smile to Harry's face.
But not a grin.
After cracking some eggs into a heated pan in which rashers were just beginning to softly sizzle, Harry took a long pull on the cup of thick, dark coffee that was sustaining him. He gazed at the two chairs he and Ginny had occupied early yesterday morning, and sighed at the sight of how empty they seemed.
Harry silently berated himself for being weak, but the fact of the matter was that his emotions were a muddled mess. With last night's dreams still fresh in his mind, he had awoken to a surge of vicarious hope for the Publican and Lanossëa who somehow seemed to have begun to recognize their feelings for each other. Unfortunately, there was also a sinking regret for the same two characters, whom fate seemed bound to pull apart. There were other, intangible pressures squeezing him in various ways but, above all, he found himself wrestling with a nagging uncertainty about how he was supposed to feel about... how he ought to act around... the girl who was on his mind more than anyone else these days.
As a natural loner, Harry tried not to depend on others, yet he could no longer deny that he was starting to rely on Ginny in ways that he had never before expected of any friend.
Friendship had rarely been a source of unconditional comfort to Harry in the past, but spending time with her during the past few days had transformed him. Her spirit had gotten him back on his feet and helped him conquer his harrowing depression.
More than anything, this new beginning with Ginny was a chance to say 'never again'. Never again squander an entire month anguishing over a horrific past, or his future would be no better. Never again overlook the happiness ready to be discovered in the present.
Ginny's company was so fun and exciting that he'd barely had time to contemplate the feelings that he held for his new best friend, but now the quiet of the early morning kitchen was setting his mind loose to wander.
Harry somehow understood that the sensations Ginny inspired in his chest were unlike anything he'd ever experienced. There was none of the queasy skittishness he vaguely recalled having once felt around Cho Chang. Instead, it all seemed so simple and natural...
Indeed it probably was simple and natural, except when he let himself think about things. Once he started doing that, everything began to look much more ponderously complicated...
In any normal world, there was nothing healthier and more satisfying than enjoying the company of someone who also enjoys your company, right? But the world of Harry Potter was not normal. However much he loved to talk to Ginny Weasley; no matter how he wished he was sitting across from her at this very moment, listening to her calm assurances, Harry could not shake the guilty concern that his friendship might be the worst thing to ever happen to her.
What if it was his fault she had become ensnared in his dreams?
Dreams... Harry's thoughts all seemed to begin and end with them.
Harry Potter was no stranger to dreams. He regarded them both fascination and trepidation. Last year, they had afforded him some unexpected glimpses into Voldemort's machinations. During the nadir of his recent depression, Harry had decided that a careful reading of those dreams might have prevented the horrific tragedy in Little Hangleton. He had now finally resolved not to torment himself any further over past failures, but he wasn't above using them as motivation. Never again would he overlook any potential insight presented in his dreams.
But what did it mean for someone to be sharing those dreams?
Harry was baffled. How should he react to Ginny's no-nonsense embrace of this affliction? Some of these visions had been heinous and demoralizing; how could she still pledge to stand by him in a struggle that could cost them both their lives?!
Harry could accept that she wanted to help. He had been grateful for those other people who courageously stood with him in the past, but nobody had ever come to him under conditions so vague, bewildering and utterly perilous as this!
And yet Harry knew that he couldn't turn Ginny away. On top of that, although he couldn't possibly expect anything beyond what she had already offered freely and determinedly, he knew he wanted something more.
He simply wished she was here; wished she were speaking to him in that lively, melodious voice of hers...
Harry closed his eyes, exhaling slowly and deeply for a moment. He straightened himself, began to tend the eggs, and tried not to spend every minute hoping that he'd hear her voice...
“Good morning, Harry.”
The not-quite-melodious female voice that jolted him out of his thoughts was, once again... only Hermione.
“G'morning!” Harry manufactured a smile that, although undoubtedly not glowing, might hopefully conceal his disappointment.
Hermione examined him carefully. “How are you this morning?”
Harry could tell by her tone that the question had nothing to do with small talk. He stared at her for a moment, weighing the relative merits of lying. Deciding that he didn't have the energy to hold a smokescreen over a friend with x-ray vision, he opted to be blunt. “I'm actually feeling rather crappy, thank you. No, I do not feel like talking about it. And, to blatantly change the subject, how would you like your sodding eggs?”
Hermione fixed him with a glare, but it softened. A moment later, she was laughing.
“What?!” Harry's left eyebrow shot up past his fringe.
“Harry Potter is back.” She wore a distinctly un-Hermione-like smirk. “You should have seen the odd duck we've been stuck with the last few days!”
Harry couldn't help chuckling at her audacity. “Since when does Hermione Granger wound people with insufferable wit?” He sighed tragically. “If you don't bring the old schoolmistress back, then I'll bring back the odd duck.”
“Go ahead.” Hermione's eyes twinkled. “He was actually sort of cute.”
“Ack! Schoolmistress Granger would never have said anything like that!” Harry gazed in mock-horror for a moment, then suddenly recalled his duties, darting back to the stove. He huffed and began to attack the pan with a spatula. “Okay then, because you distracted me, you're officially getting your eggs scrambled.”
“Whatever.” Hermione shrugged. “So then. Still feeling lousy?” She gave him a tentative smile.
The corners of Harry's mouth curled a bit. “I'm okay. I've had better mornings, but I'll be okay, Thank you for asking.”
“Would it help to know that I'm certain Ginny would like to be down here with you.”
Harry paused for a moment in his cooking, then shrugged. “She has the right to sleep in from time to time.” Harry resumed his labours, hoping that his statement sounded more magnanimous than he felt.
“I agree,” Hermione responded, “which is why I stopped her alarm this morning before it went off.”
“Huh?” Harry muttered, turning to his friend with a quizzical expression.
“Ginny's not really a morning person, Harry,” Hermione explained. “The last few days, she's been adjusting a lot of her ways in order to can spend more time with you, working on... this research of yours. I told her last night that I felt she ought to scale back some of those changes.”
“I beg your pardon?” Harry inquired somewhat darkly.
“Don't be angry, Harry,” Hermione responded quickly. “I'm not quite certain what you two are up to, but I strongly suspect that it's very important to both of you, and my instincts are somehow telling me to support it...”
“Which is why you find it necessary to interfere?” Harry surmised with a raised eyebrow.
“No, you thick oaf, listen to me!” Hermione instructed, brandishing an irritable finger at him. “I've already told Ginny, and now I'm telling you — please try to be more subtle! For your own good! If you're truly committed to this... project... then the last thing you want are a bunch of hyperactive Weasleys blundering into it like a battalion of well-intentioned wrecking balls!”
“Oh,” Harry replied contritely. Silently scooping eggs and bacon onto plates, he thought it over for a few moments, then chuckled.
“Yes...? ” Hermione inquired suspiciously.
“Great metaphor,” he answered, turning toward her with a grin. “Normally I'd be a lot more stiff-necked over this, but you made me laugh.”
Hermione tittered slightly. “Not bad, yeah?” she responded with a genuine smile. “If there's one benefit from being mashed in here with all these numpties, it's that they inspire me to new heights of acerbity.”
“I have no idea what 'acerbity' means,” Harry admitted with a wink as he served her plate, “but I couldn't agree more!”
“Ah!” Lupin proclaimed as he walked into the kitchen. “No better way to start the day than with a note of sunny consensus!”
“Erm,” Harry replied, turning quickly toward his former Professor. “Seeing as you're in such a good mood, is it okay if we don't tell you what we were just agreeing about?”
Lupin raised an eyebrow then chuckled. “Suit yourself,” he answered. “So, have you made any progress up in the library?”
“A few more potentially relevant questions,” Harry responded, “but in general, no, we don't have much more insight than we did before.”
“Well, I have no idea whether this has any bearing on your thesis at all,” Lupin mused, “but I ran across a bit of trivia yesterday as I was thumbing my way through a new NEWT-level Defence Against Dark Arts text. It struck me as an interesting little coincidence...”
“What was it?” Harry asked with interest.
“While reading about the origins of European dark magic, I learned that the first recorded description of the Imperius curse was by Roman wizards during the reign of Emperor Nero.”
“Nero?” Hermione exclaimed. “He was emperor at the time of the Iceni revolt!”
“Yes, exactly,” Harry agreed. “In fact, the Imperius curse crossed my mind just yesterday as a possible sabotage tool. That really is a brilliant little coincidence — thank you, Remus!”
“Do you think the Imperius curse might have played a role in Queen Boadicea's defeat, Harry?” Hermione asked.
Harry shook his head thoughtfully. “Maybe not directly, but I wouldn't be surprised if it may have somehow contributed to the political instability that led to the rebellion in the first place.”
“That was what I was wondering,” Lupin affirmed. “It occurred to me that those terrible misunderstandings bespoke a level of misgovernance that was rare in the early empire. But what if they weren't purely accidental?”
“Hmmm...” Harry mused, gazing off distantly for a long moment, neither nodding, nor shaking his head.
“The chapter I read was mainly focused on the origins of the modern conflict between dark and light magic. The book claims that social pressures in the emerging empire may have played a key role,” Lupin continued. “Do you you recall the basic motivations of light and dark magic?”
Hermione nodded. “Light magic is traditionally practised for the greater good of society, while dark magic often arises in order to intimidate or persecute people that wizards deem to be inferior or threatening, or both.”
“Precisely!” Lupin agreed. “So as the Romans grew their empire, the Muggle administration strategically opted to grant their conquered subjects full imperial citizenship, with all its incumbent privileges. To the magical community, this meant that their small, insular society suddenly multiplied dramatically in population over the course of a few short generations. Some communities were easy to absorb — especially wizards in the Mediterranean region whose practices employed the same Greek traditions that the Romans descended from, but others were too different for the Roman magical elite to tolerate. When confronted by northerners like the Druids, the culture shock proved overwhelming.”
Harry and Hermione both nodded in grim fascination.
“The most immediate consequence,” Lupin resumed, “was the formation of dark cults sworn to protect the magical purity of their own little society. But there was a second, long-term effect that reminds me of the old adage — 'necessity is the mother of invention '.”
“New spells?” Harry inquired.
“Quite so!” Lupin agreed. “The paranoia and hatred festering in these cults toward the barbarians reached a level that spurred great creativity. Many terrible new hexes and curses were devised between about 50 B.C.E and 150 A.D. I already mentioned the Imperius, but the Cruciatus curse also came from that era; probably a bit earlier during Caligula's reign.”
“Fascinating,” Harry muttered; frowning as he reached across to serve Lupin his breakfast. “Did the book provide any descriptions of these cults? Any names?”
Lupin shook his head. “No, sorry, I don't recall reading any specifics like that, but, well...” he mused, then paused for a long moment before adding uneasily, “that's probably something you can find out for yourself.”
“Oh? How?” Harry asked eagerly.
Lupin opened his mouth to speak, then froze.
Through the kitchen door, they heard the approaching sounds of Molly arguing with Arthur about something as the two Weasley parents made their way downstairs to breakfast.
Reflexively, Hermione gestured to Lupin, urging him to answer quickly.
With a furtive final glance toward the doorway, Lupin leaned in close to Harry and Hermione. “Library upstairs,” he whispered. “The upper shelf at the back has dozens of books on dark magic!”
With every hour that the currach traveled down river, the tugging sensation from brooch hidden within Ginny's shift grew a bit weaker... but the ache that she had felt upon parting was still clear within its subtle song. For now, however, she resolved to push the faint beckoning call out of her thoughts. Instead, she fixed her eyes singularly upon the river ahead, lest a submerged branch or rock once again jolt the queen from her dark thoughts.
The departure from camp that morning had been wordless. Heanua had not spoken to anyone in days. The queen and the Publican felt no desire for further speech. And to Lanossëa, the previous night had conveyed, wordlessly, everything that could be said... upon parting from the man she loved.
Stung by the teeth of a glacial north wind, Ginny cursed silently, and propelled them steadily downstream.
In the early afternoon of that cheerless day, after traversing a wide bend, the river opened up into a broad expanse that she assumed was the confluence of the Great and Little Ouse Rivers. From here, the merged rivers would meander their way to the sea, whereas Iceni settlements lay up the smaller river to the southeast. Instinctively Ginny steered right, toward their homeland.
“Stop girl!” the queen shouted, stirring suddenly from her shrouded reverie. “Where do you think you're taking us?”
“Home, mother,” Ginny replied factually. And out of the accursed wind, she added silently.
“Be not a fool!” Boadicea excoriated. “Did you not hear me say that I had need of wands for myself and your sister. A great wand seller dwells in the woods to the west of the river, about eight leagues down stream. Steer us there,” she commanded.
“But those are Coritani lands, Mother,” Ginny protested. “They are no friends of ours!”
“True,” her mother muttered grimly. “But they despise the Romans even more.”
Without further argument, Ginny turned them back onto a downstream course. After the queen had once again pulled a heavy blanket around herself and huddled into the bottom of the currach, Ginny drew her shawl tight against the growing gale and scanned the broader, calmer waterway. In the weariness of someone who had slept little overnight, she let her mind drift... and opened her eyes to the greyish mid-morning haze of Grimmauld place.
“Eleven o'bloody clock?! “ Ginny raged, shaking the flimsy timepiece that had been lurking guilty on her night stand. “I needed to be up hours ago!” she seethed, bursting from bed and indiscriminately kicking objects that cluttered the floor nearby. “Less than two days to prepare for the Ministry, and I lay about all bleeding morning like some shiftless piker!”
Wrapped in her bathrobe, Ginny's thundercloud stormed its way into the corridor and onto the stairway.
“Har!” Ron barked as she passed him. “The princess better hope there's a pea under her mattress, because there sure as hell won't be any breakfast left this late.”
“Naff off!” she declared succinctly, not wasting the barest glance at him. For a moment, she considered simply heading straight up to third floor, but a sharp hunger pang jabbed her midsection, making it obvious that concentration would be futile without at least an old crust to sustain her.
Steering herself into the kitchen, she did indeed find an old crust. He was sitting at the table, nursing something dark and sludgy.
“G'morning Princess,” Sirius proclaimed with a wink.
“Next person to call me that is going to be mopping blood off the ceiling,” Ginny snarled... but she instantly regretting it. With a look of contrition, she turned to apologise, but instead burst out laughing at the sight of the rogue cowering, halfway beneath the table.
“Sorry, sorry — the word was stuck in my head!” Sirius pleaded from his comically timourous crouch. “Just finished badgering my thick godson — gave him a right talking to! Told him he needs to spend more time embracing what's right and less time fixing what's wrong. Reminded the dope that life will only give him this one chance to find his true princess.”
“You believe that? Don't be ridic...” Ginny's protest faltered as her foggy brain began trying to parse Sirius's words.
Oblivious to the strange look crossing Ginny's face, her companion burst up energetically. “Harry's gone to the library, but he set aside a full plate for you,” Sirius announced, whisking the last hot breakfast from the stove to her place at the table. He poured her a glass of pumpkin juice and a cup of tea as Ginny, dumbfoundedly, took the well-appointed seat.
Ginny gazed at her food and blinked. Staring right back at her were two sunny eggs and a healthy serving of fine rashers, all artfully arranged about the plate to depict a cheery face. Breakfast with a smile!
The smile on her plate may not have been the precise smile she had most hoped to share breakfast with, but she appreciated the gesture. Typically thoughtfully Harry!
For the remainder of breakfast, the actress within Ginny smiled and laughed at all of the best lines in Sirius's collection of 'silly Buckbeak' stories. Unfortunately, the amusing tales were completely lost on her... because her mind had still not recovered from that offhand comment.
Something about a godson and his princess...
The stack of books from yesterday had been pushed to the side. A new tome, dusty and cracked, and decorated with mysterious old runes, had been added to the pile, but it lay unopened. Several other innocuous books had been stacked around it to largely conceal the title ('A Historie of Magicke Moste Dark ') from prying eyes, until Harry was ready to start reading it.
Harry was not currently reading. At the moment, all of his attention was absorbed by a large, blank sheet of fine papyrus that he had found inside the escritoire. Minutes went by as he stared, unmoving, into the creamy blankness. Finally, with deliberation — slowly but with surprising confidence — he dipped a quill into one of the wells, tapped the excess ink back into the reservoir and ran the tip smoothly across the page, creating a dark satisfying line.
Other marks followed — smooth curves, neat cross-hatches, sharp angles and intriguing little flecks — as another world began to take shape in front of him.
After an indeterminate time, Harry placed the quill in its holder, pushed back from the escritoire, rose from his seat and stared at what lay before him. A curious frown alighted on his face, almost as if he was not quite certain what he was looking at.
Yet what lay before him had meticulous, elegant expression. The rendering was perfectly clear, even if only two people in the world would understand what it meant...
A gentle breath stirred across Harry's cheek. “Heavens Harry,” Ginny exclaimed softly from her silent stance behind him. “This is breathtaking! Look how you captured their faces in the moonlight!”
In his trancelike focus, Harry hadn't even heard her enter the room... yet he did not startle. “You weren't supposed to see this yet,” he said simply, and turned to face his closest friend.
Ginny angled her head; a puzzled expression on her face as she waited for an explanation.
“I'm sorry Ginny,” Harry told her, looking awkwardly away. “First I was distracted, then busy, then imprisoned here in Grimmauld...” He paused a long moment, before exhaling. “So, this is the only gift I have for your birthday tomorrow...”
Ginny stared at him wide-eyed. And then suddenly she was no longer staring at him, because she had lunged forward and was squeezing every ounce of air from Harry's chest, as only a Weasley can.
“Thank you thank you thank you...” she whispered, her voice ragged like a scratched phonograph.
“Yh... ...hm,” Harry replied wheezily.
Ginny sniffled a little, pulled back and dried her eye with a corner of her sleeve. “You know, with all this insanity, I don't think even Mum and Dad remembered my birthday, but I honestly don't care,” she declared with a grin. “Because this is the best one ever!”
“Er, you mean tomorrow is... or will be...?” Harry stammered.
“No silly,” Ginny chided. “August eleventh is just another day — maybe a cake and silly song, and maybe not. But August tenth is the day when my best friend ever gave me the best present ever.”
Harry responded with a goofy smile.
Ginny returned the grin, then angled back toward the escritoire, studying the sketch of the princess and the Publican embracing above the moonlit river. “I have just one question, though?” she queried.
“Where did you learn to draw like this?”
“Well, you see,” Harry began, pursing his lips thoughtfully, “I, uh, don't have any idea...”
“Hmm... This might be useful,” Hermione suggested as she traced her finger carefully along a page in one of the older, more decrepit volumes she had removed from the top shelf.
Harry and Ginny put down their own books to listen.
“Let's see now. This is only a rough translation because I'm not very good with German...” she advised.
Ginny turned to Harry and rolled her eyes. He smirked and winked.
“Okay,” Hermione continued. “The general gist goes like this, 'We know from comparing the charters of other distinguished societies, that they share not only the ideals, but most likely the same origins as our own Gesellschaft für Magische Säuberung...'”
Hermione paused for a moment to think. “Er, I believe that translates as 'Society for Magical Cleansing',“ she explained, before continuing. “'Other societies most closely mirroring our noble objectives include the English 'Order of Death Eaters', the Italian 'Federazione della Purezza', and 'La Flamme Purificatrice' from France. Our scholars have concluded that each of these organizations likely descends from 'The Glorious Order of Letum', a courageous defender of civilized Magical Society, founded more than one thousand six hundred years ago.'”
Hermione paused to glance at the volume's cover. “This book was published in 1645, so this 'Order of Letum' must have originated in Roman times. Does that help you at all?”
“Blimey!” Harry muttered. He looked at Hermione for a moment with an inscrutable expression on his face, then fell silent, gazing off into the distance.
Ginny watched Harry perplexedly for a moment, then refocused, turning to Hermione. “So Death Eaters were around in the seventeenth century, and had their origins a lot earlier?” she asked.
“It would appear that way,” Hermione agreed.
“Interesting,” Ginny replied. “I always thought they were just cronies who followed Tom Riddle.”
Hermione looked at her curiously. “You use that name for... you know... ?”
“A name is just a name,” Ginny replied in a matter-of-fact way. “Dumbledore is constantly badgering the Order to get over their silly phobia.”
Hermione nodded. “Yes, I suppose you're right,” she agreed. “Now speaking of Professor Dumbledore, I'm sure that he or Professor Lupin would know the answer to your question, but I can only guess. If Professor Lupin is correct that Dark Magic is strongest when the insular elite feels most threatened, I'm guessing that, as an organization, Death Eaters grew and dwindled many times over the centuries. If so, the current crop probably bears far more allegiance to, er... Riddle, than to any ancient tradition. I'd bet that if any living Death Eaters existed before Riddle came along, he probably just co-opted them. If the group was already extinct, then he likely just borrowed the name to lend credibility to his movement. You've met more of them than we have, Harry. What do you think?”
With some effort, Harry summoned his focus from distant ponderings, and processed the various open questions. “Yeah, I think it's safe to say that the Death Eaters are mostly just spineless stooges,” he agreed. “As far whether the modern Death Eaters were co-opted by Voldemort, or if he merely recycled the name, I don't think it matters much. What I'm most interested in is how much Snake-face knows about the organization's heritage.”
Hermione stared at him analytically for a long moment. “The organization's heritage, in terms of a possible involvement in the Iceni Rebellion? Involvement by the Order of Letum, you mean?” she inquired.
Harry and Ginny exchanged glances. Harry nodded to her, silently conveying that he felt it was safe and appropriate to answer.
“Perhaps,” Harry answered, turning back to Hermione. “Or maybe it's something peripheral to the rebellion itself. I'm really hazy on the details, but I'm convinced that something happened around that time that could have some important bearing on Voldemort's future success.”
“Are there any other details you can provide that might narrow that 'something' down, Harry?” Hermione prodded.
“No, we might have to wait until it actually hap...”
Harry paused, suddenly recognizing just how stupid his statement was going to sound, considering that any relevant Roman-era event obviously had actually occurred – many centuries ago.”
“No, Hermione,” Ginny broke in, “it's difficult to explain, but Harry and I are just going to need more time to think about this.”
Hermione gave her two friends a hard look that darted from one of the other several times before she gave up and huffed. “Do you have any idea how frustrating the two of you are?” she scolded.
“Yes, I think so,” Harry answered with a grin.
“Uh huh and, er... sorry,” Ginny added with a small contrite smile.
Of course Harry and Ginny had to do penance for their circumspection. In order to maintain 'appearances', Hermione browbeat them into participating in a gobstones tournament that the twins had decreed for that evening.
As the evening unfolded, Ginny proved to all that she was a tough competitor in the somewhat revolting game. By the time she faced off against Fred in the tourney final, she had not been gobbed upon a single time.
Harry on the other hand, had required three trips to the loo to wash off the foul liquid, and had been the second player eliminated. While others continued to cheer and jeer for the finalists late into the evening, Harry found himself sitting quietly in the corner, gazing into the fire... feeling vaguely anxious, though he didn't quite understand why.
As often as not, Hermione took her eyes off the inane competition to steal furtive glances at her friend, wondering what exactly Harry was thinking about in his quiet fireside solitude. She also continued to ponder whether (or how) such 'thinking' could truly resolve an ancient mystery regarding one of Voldemort's supposed... advantages?
Over the course of twenty minutes, Hermione watched Harry silently tune out the chaotic room, gradually slipping into something like an open-eyed trance. And that was then it suddenly occurred to Hermione...
Hermione recalled how Harry had experienced terrible, disturbing nightmares in the past — some of which would later be shown to bear eerie similarities to frightening real events had had occurred elsewhere in places and times he could not possibly have known about.
Was Harry having strange dreams again?
Hermione frowned thoughtfully. The one thing that the 'dream' hypothesis did not explain was why Ginny seemed to be so intimately involved in all of his mysterious deliberations. That part did not make any sense...
Ginny, meanwhile, was not dreaming. She was taking fairly seriously the assigned chore of acting unseriously. Although she was not a huge fan of gobstones, the game was definitely going her way this evening. Half an hour into a fiercely fought final, Fred was playing with his usual intensity, but Ginny still had the upper hand. If she could just hold him off a while longer, she could probably...
A tiny sudden shiver ran down her neck. Subconsciously, she slid a hand into her pocket, touched the brooch... and felt a deep chill of trepidation.
Ginny looked quickly about the circle, at the various faces, all grinning and laughing... except for Hermione. The older girl was frowning and stealing a glance to the far corner of the room, by the fire... toward Harry.
Ginny herself twisted around for a moment to catch a quick glimpse of her best friend. Muscles in Harry's face were tense... and was that a drop of perspiration on his...?
“My point!” Fred crowed jubilantly. Ron and George cheered lustily for their brother and snickered at the gob running down their sister's cheek.
Undefined trepidation sinking into her, Ginny turned back to face the gobstones circle, reflexively dabbing the slime from her face with an old kerchief as her mind raced.
“Time out, please,” Ginny called.
“Ho ho!” George chortled. “L'il Gin-Gin's feeling the heat!”
“Time out approved,” Fred agreed, “but everyone keep an eye out so she doesn't try to slip old 'Sulphur Spray ' onto her pile. That stone's illegal!”
Ginny, however, went nowhere near her pile. Instead she shuffled back several paces on knees, angling her head towards Hermione. “Can you go get some tea on, 'Mione?” she whispered, loud enough for the others to hear, before adding in the faintest murmur, “Take Harry. I'll follow soon.”
“Ginny's already ordering tea!” Ron laughed. “She thinks she's going to take you down fast, Fred!”
“You bet!” Ginny replied with a wide counterfeit grin... then she began to carefully calculate the best way to lose as quickly as possible, without raising suspicion.
“Okay Harry,” Hermione admonished sternly as she handed him a steaming cup. “No more evasion and pretense — what's the matter?”
“I don't feel very well,” Harry muttered, absently-minded drinking his tea without adding milk or even blowing on it. “Oi!” he cried, nearly spilling the hot liquid.
“Well thank you for the enlightening detail!” Hermione exclaimed sarcastically as she handed her friend a glass of cold water to soothe his burnt mouth. “Any chance you could elaborate a bit?”
“I... uh...” Harry waffled uncertainly.
“Were you having a bad dream?” Hermione inquired, her voice rising slightly.
Harry stared at her for a long moment. “Not yet,” he replied finally, then took a long drink of water, before re-attempting the tea.
“Not yet...??” Hermione parsed perplexedly. “Are you, uhhh, planning to?”
“Planning to have a bad dream?” Harry responded. The corners of his mouth twitched slightly before seriousness reasserted itself. “No Hermione, I'm not planning any of this. But sometimes dreams come... and sometimes I can sort of sense when they're likely to hit.”
“What sort of dream...?” Hermione began asking, before hesitating over how to phrase a rather strange question.
“I don't know — I haven't had it yet,” Harry answered in a matter-of-fact manner.
“Harry!” Ginny exclaimed under her breath as she stole her way into the kitchen. “Are you okay?” she breathed, taking a seat and unthinkingly grabbing his hand.
Harry's gaze flickered from the pretty little hand grasping his own, across to several sacrificial gobs trailing down the girl's jumper, to the wide-eyed look of concern etched into her face.
He smiled... for the moment grateful to just live for the moment...
It took several seconds for the warmth of Harry's smile to register with Ginny, but then it did and, hesitantly, a small smile of her own flickered to acknowledge her special friend... but then the worry returned. “Are you okay, Harry?” she asked again.
“Right now, I'm more than okay,” Harry responded. “I'm sitting here with two wonderful friends,” he beamed. “No lame jokes or tiresome horseplay. No more bleeding gobstones...”
Hermione laughed. Ginny's eyes darted down to the sticky accretions on her jumper and she groaned, reaching for a napkin.
“Anyway,” Harry continued, “I'm okay for now. I may be run through the ringer a bit tonight, but these are only dreams, right?”
Ginny and Hermione both regarded him skeptically.
“I'll be fine,” he assured them. “If you're up early tomorrow morning, then maybe we can talk it over. With luck, perhaps can learn something.”
Ginny chewed her lip tensely. “I don't know, Harry,” she said. “I feel like I should stay with you tonight. I think it could help to...”
“No,” Hermione declared, cutting softly but definitively across the younger girl. “You've made fine progress today to throw the plonkers off the scent, but there's no way we can discretely arrange for you two to spend another night together, and... well I can't think of anything else we could do, other than maybe asking Sirius for some Dreamless Sleep potion...”
Harry shook his head. “I really can't explain why,” he said, “but I'm certain that the dream has to happen. I doubt it'll be pleasant, but I think we'd be worse off if I tried to avoid it.”
Hermione nodded stoically. “So, Ginny, I think we'll just have to trust Harry to get himself through tonight, and we'll be there for him in the morning. Is that okay?”
Ginny pursed her lips silently for a long time, but did not quite disagree.
“Sure a special pleasure to see you again, my dear Publican,” the heavy, balding Roman declared jovially. “Such a fine fortune that, by merest chance, I should be called here to Camboricum on the very same day that you should choose to visit,” he oozed with a too-wide smile. “May I offer you more wine?”
“No thank you, esteemed Procurator,” Harry replied in clipped tones. “I must not take any more of your valued time. As long as you can assure me that a messenger has been sent to the Proconsul notifying him of this breach of treaty, I shall leave you to your important responsibilities, and return myself to my own.”
“Treaty?” the Procurator replied. A flicker of vexation was immediately replaced by his unnervingly effusive grin. “I'm not aware of any treaty with the Iceni, per se, but do rest assured that your message has already been sent. I am most confident that we will be quickly able to resolve this foolish little squabble to your most exacting satisfaction!”
The man filled Harry's goblet to the brim from a flagon of rich, dark wine. “Now, I bid you, stay and tell me some stories of our lands to the east. A merry folk, these barbarous Iceni?”
“They are sober, wise and just,” Harry opined neutrally as he rose and began to make his way to the door. “Now, if you may excuse my departure, I have need of...”
“You have no needs that I cannot meet, my cherished Peuerellius,” the Procurator interjected, capturing his hand. “In fact, for your sole comfort, I have obtained a ravishing young maiden of the Cantii. You must come meet her!” he urged, his fleshy lips gleaming luridly in the candle light. “You shall swoon under her pleasures! Her skin is white like the virgin Appenine snows of winter; her eyes are the brightest of sapphires, her...”
“No!” Harry shouted, tearing his hand away. “My sincerest regrets, your honour, but I have urgent responsibilities in the name of Rome and Britannia!”
Harry swept through the door and out into the dusky night... but not before casting a surreptitious glance back through the closing door, catching sight of the Procurator scurrying toward a rear chamber of his quarters.
His anxiety suddenly spiking, Harry quickly disillusioned himself, and turned from the pelagus platea running through the center of town, opting instead for the muddy paths skirting the aft edges of the numerous military dwellings and enclosures.
The Publican's quarters in Camboricum were located on the north outskirts of the military district. He spent little time there, preferring to dwell along the Roman roads and the open countryside on the eastern frontier, mostly leaving his official residence in the hands of two trusted servants of Catuvellauni heritage. In his brief conversations with the pair early this afternoon, he had been informed that, several times earlier that day, Roman soldiers had tarried nearby, observing the building... and one had stopped in late afternoon to politely inquire when the master of the residence was expected home.
None of that boded well.
As Harry drew level with an alley with a view to the platea, he heard and then briefly saw, two horsemen racing past.
That also did not bode well... yet he continued stealthily on his way.
By the northern fringe of the district, the buildings along the platea were quite sparse. Approaching within two hundred feet of his residence, he was able, even by the low light, to see clear across to his property. No lamps were lit within his quarters; nobody appeared to be on the grounds in front, but... there! On the street nearby, he spied a slight movement in the darkness.
Edging cautiously closer, he was able to distinguish the shape of a single horse, tied to a post in deep shadow, its breath rising in small clouds through the cold night air. Squinting, he descried a second shape as well — a tall man clad all in black, apparently watching the building, waiting, perfectly motionless.
Unease, even some undefined fear, prickled Harry's skin. Basic instinct told him to turn away, but he somehow felt a need... a compulsion to learn who the dark horseman might be. After all, surely the true reason for this dream was to learn deep secrets hidden far back in time...
Harry's left foot raised and moved toward the mysterious figure, landing silently on the soft ground. His right foot did the same. Step after cautious step, Harry moved toward the man. Approaching close enough to pause and observe more closely, Harry found... that he could not stop! Straining to halt his traitorous legs, Harry wrestled hard against his straining foot, forced it to the ground... and snapped a brittle twig!
The tall horseman immediately turned toward Harry, gazing across in the darkness. He threw back his black hood and stepped out of the shadow.
Ice flooded Harry's every vein as the man smiled toward him — calm, vaguely amused. The rider's face...
Could not possibly be...!
Had to be...?
... the spitting image of Harry Potter!
A pair of cold dark eyes seemed to pierce effortlessly through Harry's disillusionment spell.
“You should not try to hide from us father,” the smiling face admonished with eerie charm.
Harry was just scrabbling for his wand when he was hit in the back with a stunner. As he struggled valiantly to cling to consciousness, Harry glimpsed a second face hovering above him, waving a wand in his approximate direction to cancel the disillusionment charm. The Latin incantation, “Invenias qui honorem,” echoed hollowly through Harry's troubled soul as his mind was set adrift.
Harry felt completely numb and detached. Experimentally, he tried reaching out with his hand to touch his face... but discovered that he could find neither a face, nor a hand to touch it with...
He opened his non-existent eyes to gaze around someplace... dim. The place was not quite as dark as the cold Camboricum night, however. There were torches flickering from ornately carved brackets set about stone walls. A glimmer of twilight was beginning to show in tall Gothic windows.
It took several minutes, but Harry recognized this place... sort of. In this dream, Harry seemed to floating, disembodied, about a room that resembled the Great Hall at Hogwarts.
However, the Great Hall had never sported gleaming, pitch-black finished mahogany furniture trimmed in green velvet. It also did not have...
Harry's non-corporeal stomach wrenched as if a dagger had been thrust into it.
The brackets holding the flickering torches were not ornate carvings at all — on closer inspection, each bracket was made from the wide-eyed remains of a human head.
Harry's elevated nerves spiked further as he heard noises in the distance.
Th-th-th-th-thud... Th-th-th-th-Thud... Th-th-th-th-THUD... Th-th-th-th-THUD!
The noise steadily grew, as if one's own heartbeat was drawing inexorably drawing closer... until suddenly the noise resolved itself into a procession — dozens upon dozens of children and youth, all clad in pitch black cloaks and hoods, marching into the Hall, arranged in perfect order from smallest to tallest, stepping in totalitarian unison. The procession fanned out across the Hall, shaping a broad, multi-tiered semi-circle — smaller children forming the inner ring and taller youth spanning the periphery.
The procession came to a halt. The last students to enter reached their appointed positions, and the entire assembly fell utterly silent and still...
For moments stretching into minutes, nothing happened. Nobody moved or rustled; not a single cough, whimper or giggle.
The uncanny sight horrified Harry. Impotent in his disembodied state, he longed nothing more than to rage at them. You're children! Move! Fidget! Laugh and shout! Do something!!
But he too remained frozen, transfixed by the unearthly...
In quintessential instantaneous coordination, the right arm of every child and youth thrust forward, brandishing identical black wands, each pointing directly into the center of the semicircle.
“Good morning children!”
The thin, reedy voice saturated Harry in a chilling vapour of despair. So spellbound had he been by the horrifying children that Harry had not noticed the emergence of a massive black throne at the far end of the Hall, on the raised dais where the staff table should have been... He had not observed the vile figure seated high above his subjects, in repugnant ostentation.
“GOOD MORNING OUR LORD SAVIOUR AND PROTECTOR OF THE PURE! ” sang out the haunting sound of every child's voice raised in flawless, inhuman unanimity.
“On this fine morning, after your night of diligent labours, after your year of dedication, I have gathered you all, my dear students of The Lord Voldemort School of Magical Purity, to induct our esteemed Graduate Class of 1998 in the manner of our forefathers.”
“OH THANK YOU, OUR LORD SAVIOUR AND PROTECTOR OF THE PURE! ”
“Yes, children, you are wise to thank me! Yet I also bestow a token of my own gratitude, to each of you, as fellow protectors of the pure.”
“BY YOUR GRACE, LORD SAVIOUR AND PROTECTOR OF THE PURE! ”
“Indeed children, I see you have all drawn your wands!”
“FOR SO WE MAY DO YOUR BIDDING, OUR BENEVOLENT LORD SAVIOUR AND PROTECTOR OF THE PURE! ”
“Ah, very good,” droned the saccharine tones of distilled iniquity. “Then on this fine morning we together shall sanctify our hallowed walls with one more torch, to forever burn that which was once impure.”
The entire assembly fell into deep, expectant silence, before Voldemort once again raised his voice.
“Prefects! Bring forth the impure!”
For the barest moment, Harry glimpsed four stern young men and women. Dressed in black and green silk, they were entering the Hall through a high archway, solemnly levitating the prostrate body of an old woman, clothed only in a ragged white sheet...
Without wand or body, unable to even contemplate what obscene atrocity might come next, Harry knew only one possible recourse.
“STOP!!!” he bellowed.
The horrific scene extinguished.
Gasping, Harry glanced frantically about his dimly lit Grimmauld Place bedroom. His wide, anguished eyes settled upon the frightened but resolute face of Ginny Weasley.
He stared blankly for a moment, before registering the love and concern in her eyes. The remnants of his dream wall shattered, and he collapsed into her arms, sobbing.
“It's okay Harry,” she whispered as her grip tightened gently around him. “The dream is done. You're safe. You're with me.”
“I don't exist, Ginny,” Harry mumbled disconsolately. “I've never existed. I can't save anyone. I'm powerless, because now I'll never even be born...”
“You're right here in my arms,” Ginny persisted, tenderly stroking the back of his neck. “You exist, Harry James Potter! You are as good and as strong as ever. The dreams are over, and you're right here, holding me...”
“Bloody hell?!” erupted a hoarse masculine voice from the other side of the room. “What do you effing think you're doing in my bloody room?!!”
Two large feet thumped hard on the wooden floor and suddenly the tall frame of Ron Weasley loomed over them, shaking a dangerously sparking wand. “Ginny, you've got two stinking seconds to get your wretched litt...”
Ron crumpled to the floor, revealing to Harry's and Ginny's bewildered eyes the unexpectedly sober face of Sirius Black.
Sirius's gaze darted from Harry and Ginny locked in their embrace on the bed... to Ron twitching on the floor... and finally over his shoulder to Hermione who had followed him into the room and was standing several paces back with a shocked expression on her face.
Sirius exhaled deeply. “Okay kids,” he said slowly. “Raise your hand, whoever who wants to explain to me what the hell is going on.”