Chapter 11. Disruptions
Clasping the jaw of Fenrir Greyback, Voldemort’s pale, long-taloned fingers tremble for a moment, then thrust the scruffy face back down into the marshy peat. “I haven’t time for this!” He bursts to his feet and begins walking away. “Someone heal and rennervate this clod!”
Breathless, Narcissa Malfoy comes running up, brandishing a potions kit. In a moment, she is kneeling next to the werewolf, administering to his wounds.
Nobody else moves for a long moment, until Lucius Malfoy (his eyes semi-permanently widened with shock) recovers some composure and approached gingerly. Crouching beside his wife, his low voice is somehow audible to Hermione and Ron who remain concealed atop the ridge about a hundred feet away.
“What happened, Greyback?!” Malfoy’s tone is frayed. “You still have it, don’t you??”
Malfoy stiffens, suddenly rather aware that his dark master has turned and is listening intently.
“Have what, Lucius?” Voldemort’s eyes smoulder. “Am I correct in presuming this conversation is of interest to me?”
Obscured from Voldemort but plainly visible from the ridge, Malfoy cringes.
Voldemort turns to take an ominous step back toward the Malfoys. “I rather hope that you will not tell me that you entrusted this werewolf with guardianship of the Hallow?”
“I-I…” Lucius’s eyes dart around the clearing as if trying, belatedly, to plot an escape. Clearly thwarted, his shoulders sag. “Yes sir. Fenrir, you do still have it, do you not?”
“Have whut?” Responding to Narcissa’s treatments, but still woozy from blood loss, Greyback remains rather addled.
“The ring.” Malfoy's pale face is blanching further. “Remember, you removed it from the Letum Manse last December?”
“Uhhhh…” Greyback’s head lolls to the side.
Desperately, Narcissa pulls out a nasty looking purple potion from her bag, wrenches Greyback’s jaw open and pours it down.
The werewolf startles, emits a horrible resounding belch, then finally focuses his eyes on Lucius Malfoy. His jaw flexes several times. “Whaddya mean, removed it last December?”
“You don’t remember?” Malfoy blinks. “Our trip to Naples? The Letum Manse in the old ruins? Taking the Peverell trinket for safe keeping?”
“What the hell are you talking about, you bloody nit!” Greyback stares, recovering his clarity and tactlessness. “I just now got back from there. That dozy Granger twit shot my goddamned arm off before I could even get in the door, and I had to Portkey back.”
Any chance Hermione and Ron may have had to exchange astonished glances is instantly cut off by Voldemort — his voice lashing out, whingingly nasal yet deathly perilous. “Naples? Letum Manse? What rot is this?!”
Labouring for breath, Voldemort stares obliquely past his two henchmen. “Lucius, you accompanied me to Gaunt House this past Samhain. I retrieved the ring then and gave it to you to protect.” A low guttural sound emits. “To protect with your life, as I recall.”
“What are they talking about what? ” Ron tugs at Hermione’s sleeve. “Did you really hex Greyback?? I thought you were with Harry and Ginny in the castle. Or with Harry at least but-”
With a sharp glance, Hermione silences Ron’s gabble. She is staring and listening and thinking furiously. She would pay every Galleon in Lucius Malfoy’s Gringotts vault twice over to know what object it is that has Voldemort and his thugs in such a confused tizzy. And how is it possible that three different people have three completely different stories about how it was (or was not) acquired and safeguarded?
“By your silence, I will assume you have lost it.” Voldemort turns away from the flame; his face has the sheen of grey ice, reflecting the faint moon upon which his flaring eyes have locked. A long, unpleasant hiss escapes his thin lips. “Mulciber. Dolohov. I need you to search the Forge and the Manse. Use these for transit, and re-activate them the moment you encounter any… company.”
A pair of death Eaters step to Voldemort to receive silver amulets on fine chains. The moment they slip the medals around their necks, the thugs disappear in a swirl of dark Portkey mist.
“Your Lordship?” A curious look on his face, Malfoy seems emboldened by the unexpected fact that he has somehow still avoided being either tortured nor killed. He is staring at the bare ground from which Mulciber and Dolohov disappeared.
For a long moment, Voldemort does not acknowledge him. Then, he half turns back toward the Malfoys. “Yes, cretin?”
“Those were not our standard two-way Portkeys, sir.”
“You are correct, Lucius.” Voldemort turns away. “They are modified in ways that suit some rather special circumstances. And they will help Mulciber and Dolohov succeed where you have failed.”
“Whoa sis!” Ginny’s pacing abruptly veers; she sidesteps to catch a skittering Gemina. “You’re back! Any luck?”
“Rattled on the frame for five minutes.” Gemina is speaking before she has even fully caught her balance. “Couldn’t roust the numpties, but now’s not the time anyway because-”
“Annisgwyl.” Ginny nods, frowning. “Strange alarm signal from Brit-chick, yeah?”
“Good on ya!” Gemina grins. “Fancy a little jaunt to ancient Italy to check it out?”
“I’d be honoured.” Ginny spares a split second to give her alt-equal a fist bump, then they race together into the darkness.
Before their eyes have adjusted to the Vesuvian daylight; before Annisgwyl’s dazed body has even hit the ground, they are already acting. With the barest glimpse of the situation, almost as if she were the one to have been attacked, Gemina has instantly, instinctively, willed Annisgwyl’s wand into hand, and it blazes with a wicked nonverbal Expelliarmus.
A rather astonished (and suddenly empty-handed) dark wizard is then left to watch helplessly as his intended victim fails to collapse. Rather, Ginny manages to adapt Annisgwyl's erstwhile stumble into something that looks convincingly like an agile leap; especially convincing, given the fact that she captures his flying wand. And before even fully wrapping fingers around the confiscated instrument, her ample adrenaline is pulsing out an Incarcerous that lashes the bewildered assailant with a spray of stout, fiercely adhesive cords.
“Bangin’, Ginger!” Gemina gapes at the outcome of their masterfully improvised teamwork. “We were damn near casting spells at the same time. Is that even possible?”
As Ginny processes the situation, an old story races to mind. “Uh, er, yes it is, actually. Harry and the Publican pulled the trick quite brilliantly at least once, but what I find really strange is…” She pauses to collect her thoughts. “How is it we’re able to do any magic at all? Annisgwyl always blocked us.”
“Hey Brit-Birdie, you in there?” Gemina taps on a head that belongs physically to Annisgwyl, but that she and Ginny seem to be co-monopolising.
There is no response.
“Rather peculiar, yeah?” Gemina shrugs, then proceeds with the practical matter of employing their borrowed legs to walk over to the wizard they just subdued. Reaching up to grab the tall man’s boney shoulder, she jerks him roughly downward. “On your knees, mate.”
A blend of fear and resignation on his face, he complies.
“I do wonder what happened to her.” Ginny begins running a wand up and down the wizard’s body, searching for Portkeys and dark objects in the way that Sirius had once taught her. “The biggest worry that I- Oh!” Ginny’s eyes flash wide.
“What’s doin'?” Gemina pauses her own evaluations.
“It's Harry! I think he’s somehow found some way to contact me, and-”
“Go girl, go!” Gemina grins. “I’ve got Roman Blokey here under control. You scarper, and…” Gemina’s grin broadens. “Give green-eyed boy my best, yeah?”
Ginny pauses just long enough to smirk… and then the hot Vesuvian afternoon blinks out and she finds herself pelting through cold darkness; racing, streaming toward a single beacon of light, that grows larger and brighter, and more and more real, and-
“Harry!” She is in his arms, and tears spring instantly, rolling down her cheeks to wet the one shoulder where she allows herself such displays. “Oh Harry, we tried and tried to reach you! We were just about to try again, except we sensed that something had happened to Annisgwyl.”
His arms locked around someone he had nearly despaired of ever finding, Harry remains silent for a long moment. Nearly his entire soul is devoted to savouring her presence. A bit of his cognition has registered (and is happy to have heard) the first dozen words she’s communicated… but a selfish little sliver of his mind would really prefer to ignore that last bit.
Because the last bit is a problem.
Problems ought to be addressed.
And addressing problems may well cut short their embrace.
He sighs. “Er, okay Gin’. First the easy question. When you say ‘we tried’, who do you mean by ‘we’?”
“Myself and Gemina Wilsey.” Ginny pulls back enough to beam a momentary grin. “She’s back. Somehow.”
“Really??” This, at least, is good news. Not only was he rather fond of the other-world Ginny, but Gemina’s sudden reappearance in their lives also lends more credence to his growing belief that fabric of time must be distinctly fouled up. Harry quirks a smile. “Well, I'm glad to hear you've had some company! But now the other bit — what do you mean about something happening to Annisgwyl? Where is she?”
Ginny exhales. “Well, I went ages without hearing from her, but she must be in Italy. My guess is that she's on, or near, Mount Vesuvius. I think she was in the process of being attacked, but I’m not certain what happened to her — there’s no damage to her body, but her mind is unresponsive.” Ginny bites her lip. “Gem and I subdued some wizard; presumably her assailant. Gem’s back there keeping an eye on him.”
“Body untouched; mind unresponsive. Shite.” Harry scowls. “I don’t like the sound of-”
“Hey Ginny-Tonic, I need to ask you a—” Gemina suddenly bursts on the scene. “Oh… Uh, hi.”
“Hi Gemina!” Harry discards his angst and finds a smile for the girl. “Great to see you!”
A whole spectrum of emotions swirl over Gemina’s face — shock at seeing a face she had only ever dreamed of; astonishment that he knows her name (though she does recall Ginny saying something about some adventure that occurs sometime in the past, or the future, or whatever), a moment of absolutely unprecedented shyness… then finally a look of sheepish regret. “I'm, uh, so sorry to interrupt luvs, but, er, can I ask Ginny something?”
“Sure.” Ginny pulls back from Harry and gives her alt-equal a reassuring smile. “What’s up?”
Gemina hesitates awkwardly for a moment, then groans. “Boyo back there started talking Latin at me, and I haven’t the flamingest clue what he wants. I tried saying ‘cogito ergo sum’ which is about the limit of my vocabulary and he gave me a queer look and switched to Gaelic which is even worse cuz I know naught but a few swear words, so we’re getting bloody nowhere. Do you suppose you could, uh…?”
“I could.” Ginny nods in a matter-of-fact way. She pulls Harry into a fierce, brief, embrace, then looks him the eye. “Can you keep Gemina company for a bit? I should really go find out what our captive wants.”
“Uh, right.” Harry chews his lip, a bit uncertain given how rapidly everything is progressing. “Gin’? Take care of yourself, okay? That fellow could be dangerous.”
“I will.” Ginny kisses him and, without further hesitation, leaves the darkened void, now occupied only by Gemina and Harry — each of whom feel just a little bit… awkward.
“Oh, I know.” Rob puts down his mostly-devoured Sfilatino Ripieno and leans forward on the bench. “Here’s a bit of transfiguration — one of the more useful branches of magic.” He points his wand at chunk of basalt lying off to the side of the trail. “Lapifors!” The stone transforms into an unusually ugly hare... then lapses back into its original stoney form.
“I see.” Hettie nods. “So that’s the sort of thing you learned in school?”
“Er, well...” Rob scratches his chin. “That particular spell, perhaps, but I had to leave Hogwarts after my fourth year, so most of the transfiguration I know was from Dunbar’s tutoring.”
“You learned from Dum-bar?” Hettie’s nose wrinkles. “Sounds like a thrill.”
“It was actually quite... uh...” Rob hesitates, noting Hettie’s glower. “Hett, I wish you’d give him a chance. You haven’t even met him.”
“Haven’t I?” Hettie’s eyebrow spikes.
“I, uh...” Rob shifts uneasily. “So, er, you’ve met him, then?”
“How the hell should I know?!” From her expression, it's clear that Hettie doesn’t care how many points that exceedingly rare epithetic would have cost her house back at St. Cuthbert’s. “Maybe I’ve met him, maybe I haven’t. I can’t remember the sweetest, crummiest, dullest, most exciting thing from my childhood in England because he took all my memories away. Tell me, Robert, did you ever know your grandparents?”
“Er, not really.” Rob fidgets and looks pointedly away. “Never saw much of the Wilseys. My Prescott relatives died when I was really young, except for Auntie Murietta, but she’s a-”
“Auntie Murietta — there you go!” Hettie crumples the wrapper from her sandwich, and surges to her feet. “I have nobody — no grans or gramps, aunts or uncles. No cousins; not even any childhood friends! At least you have a sweet old Auntie to visit.”
“Sweet?? You stick your tail on the receiving end of one of her stinging hexes and tell me-” Luckily, Rob happens to glance back, just in time to see his girlfriend’s anger transforming into...
“Oh, Hett, forgive me!” He rises and places two very tentative hands on her rigid, trembling forearms. For a moment she turns sharply away, then wilts; her tension diffusing.
“I’m really sorry — honest!” Rob moves carefully closer. “Sometimes I get a bit whingy about my lot because I’ve lost so much, but you — you’ve lost even more.”
“Well, I don’t know about that...” Hettie’s words die away. She’s aware that she was being angry and petulant, and probably a bit unfair, but now the only thing on her mind is that the young man whose arms are closing warmly about her keeps finding ways to be remarkably considerate, and with each passing hour she wonders more and more if perhaps she, well, might be, sort of, falling in... love?
They remain locked together for a while, standing still long enough that even Rob’s metabolism is not enough to hold back the creepy chill of the afternoon mist. Reluctantly, Hettie disengages to pull a jumper back on.
Rob smiles. “A bit more magic, or should we get back on the trail?”
“One more spell.” Hettie grins. “This time, please show me how to do it.”
“Okay, here’s a good one to start.” Rob gestures at the stone he’d transfigured earlier. “Wingardium Leviosa!” The stone rises up to levitate a foot above the ground.
Hettie bursts out laughing.
Rob blinks. “Erm, what’s so funny?” The stone thuds back to earth.
Hettie’s fingers dance like a choral conductor’s as her voice rises to a passable soprano. “Hwinngahr — DYYhmmm — lehvyy - OHHHsahhh!”
“I’m saying it right, aren’t I?” Rob scratches his head. “I mean, of course it’s right. The stone did lift, errr...?”
“Sorry Rob.” Little pricks of moisture appear in the corners of Hettie’s eyes as her flushed cheeks struggle to restrain the mirth. “It’s just that these ridiculous incantations — they, uh...”
“They, uh, what??”
Hettie grabs his hand in a conciliatory way, whispering, “They make you sound a bit poofty.”
“Oh really.” Rob rolls his eyes. “You try it then, little Miss ‘Not poofty’.”
“Okay.” Hettie shrugs. Without hesitation, she picks up her confiscated wand and waggles it at the stone. It rises cleanly into the air, sprouts feathers, wings and tail, and flaps off past the row of low-growth cedars.
“Quaking shrakes!” Rob’s arms drop to his sides. “Nonverbal levitation while transfiguring?! Blimey, you don’t need me to teach you anything, Hett.”
“Of course I need you, Rob!” Hettie pulls him back into a half hug. “I need you to teach me what’s possible. Only once I’ve learned what’s possible can I know what I should foc-” A sudden shiver races through her. She shakes her head clear and stares back down the trail. “Shoot.”
“What the heck was that!” Rob follows her glance. “Did you hear something? Is somebody coming?”
Hastily, Rob disillusions them both, and they edge warily back from the path, listening.
“... still don’t know vhy ve go from varm night to cold day. Eet makes no sense.”
“Who cares? The Dark Lord made the Portkeys, and the Portkeys took us to Italy, eh? Different weather here, I warrant.”
Two men emerge from around a bend in the path, climbing up toward where Hettie and Rob are now crouching beneath the scraggly lower limbs of a pine.
“MuhDakh! Ve may be vhere ve're supposed, but vot about vhen?” The gaunt fellow with grimy stubble is glancing around nervously. For an instant, Hettie’s heart skips — the man is staring straight through her... but the beady, skittish eyes dart off elsewhere.
“What about 'when'?” The larger, thick-headed man kicks a stone in annoyance. “What ya goin' on about, Dolohov?”
“Thees is not Kamchatka, Mulciber. Thees is Italy, and Italy should be middle of ze night, not middle of some pissy afternoon. Unless ve travel also in time.”
“Portkeys don’t travel in time, dope!”
“Ees my bleeding point! And vhy zhe hell so cold? No leaves on trees? Ees not May; ees not night. And ve still not find zhe bleeding kids.”
“They were on the bus. We had a dozen witnesses.”
“Yes yes yes yes yesss.” The thin Slavic wizard hisses as the pair walk straight past Hettie’s and Rob’s hiding place. “I know zhey vere on bus. But vhy zhey get off bus?”
Mulciber shrugs. “Maybe they wanted ta take a walk in the woods?”
“Ya, bloody hell.” Dolohov scowls. “Zhey vanted to go for valk in voods to find Forge. Granger girlie is smart vun. She must know about Forge.”
“All the more reason ta catch ‘em and kill ‘em, eh?”
Hettie has to bite her hand to suppress a gasp, but it is not the death threat that shocks her.
Silently she mouths those two words. ‘Granger girlie?’
As in, Hermione Granger?? But, she's in a different reality!
Hettie bites her lip.
Somebody's gotten mixed up in the wrong universe!
She stares as the two crooks recede into the mist. She finds Rob’s hand and silently coaxes him out from their hiding place to discreetly follow the pair. Listening to their crusty banter, she scowls.
Someone is out of place, but who??
Is it them? Or… US?