Chapter 12. Crack in the Rock
Hermione paces along the ridge beneath a tall oak, occasionally glancing down toward the bizarre fire, around which agitated Death Eaters are still clustered. She renews Harry’s earlier privacy charms and, for the third (increasingly frustrating) time, she recapitulates the situation.
“The Order of Letum was in Italy; Naples is in Italy; So is Mount Vesuvius — that’s all consistent. But there’s still so much we don’t understand! What is the frozen flame? Why is Ginny trapped in it? Why is Riddle so upset that she’s trapped in there? What was was he really hoping would have happened to her, and what can we do to prevent it?”
“Er, well what I’d like to know,” Ron interjects, “is why Greyback thinks you attacked him. In Italy or wherever.”
“I don’t understand that either, but...” Hermione chews her lip. “Why did he go to Italy in the first place? Why would he think we were in Italy? What would we be doing there?” She pauses to glance at Harry, who is standing nearby with his eyes closed. On his face is the first slight hint of smile she has seen in days. “I wonder if Harry’s gone to Italy?”
“Yeah, I wonder.” Ron rolls his eyes, mistaking Hermione’s question for wry humour. “Well I wish Harry would get his arse back to Scotland. I hate for those tossers down there to start rampaging while he’s still all spaced out like this.”
Hermione shakes her head. For some reason, she is confident (or at least reasonably hopeful) that he will rouse in time for any important action. But now that Ron has mentioned it, she can’t help feeling just a bit tempted to go over and give their friend a shake. She knows that Harry's dream (whatever it is) may be valuable in it’s own right, but at the moment she would dearly love to get his opinion on a whole slew of urgent questions, including most of those she's just finished fretting over, plus:
What are you seeing? Have you heard from Ginny? What do you know of the ‘fires’? What’s so important about Vesuvius? And what did Voldemort mean about...
Hermione blinks. “What did they mean about the Hallow?”
“Huh?” Ron rivets to his girlfriend. “What Hallow?”
“No, ’which’ Hallow?” Hermione steps past her puzzled boyfriend to get a closer look at the Death Eater gathering. “Riddle asked Malfoy and Greyback about ‘the Hallow’, right? But which one? And why?”
If Ron is left to shrug helplessly, it is because the important meetings dealing with things like Hallows and Horcruxes have seemingly been wiped from his mind, replaced by memories of a ghastly ten months of increasing desperation.
Hermione is too tied up in her thoughts to notice his discomfort. “Harry still has the Invisibility Cloak.” She absently extends a finger to touch a stuffed pouch on the side of Harry’s anorak. “Dumbledore had the Elder Wand for decades, but Riddle stole it last year, and it’s right there in his hand. So that only leaves the Resurrection Stone.”
“Wait!” Ron stares. “You're talking about that children’s story? I mean, sure, I remember you lot finding stuff out about the Elder Wand, and I know you believe the Peverells were real, but you seriously think the rest of it is true? Death and the three Hallows, and all that?”
“Sort of.” Hermione nods. “Dumbledore felt that the Tale of Three Brothers was a metaphor for real events, and that each of the brothers did somehow come away with one Hallow.”
“But why would any of the Death Eaters care about the Resurrection Stone?” Now Ron is the one pacing. “It was always the lamest Hallow.”
“Why do you say that?” Hermione frowns.
“It’s obvious.” Ron shrugs. “The cloak wasn’t exciting, but it’s perfectly safe and reliable. The death stick gave you awesome power — pretty thrilling toy, as long as you knew to use it wisely. But the stone was just... pathetic. It doesn't do anything but resurrect stuff, and even for that it does a half-arsed job. No point in bringing someone back to life if it only makes a sad person sadder?”
Surprised at the apt summary, Hermione blinks. “That's true. I would have to agree.”
“Yes, so here's what doesn't make sense, ‘Mione. Old Snake-nose down there doesn’t do ‘sad’. He gets mad as hell, and he gets smug and insufferable, but you’d hardly expect him to get all snuffly over some dead old gran who used to make him sweet tea and honey crumpets.”
“Erm?” Hermione scratches her head, a bit bewildered.
“If Snakey wants the Resurrection Stone...” Ron’s intensity is practically smouldering. “If he's really that worked up about it, then it’s not a ‘resurrection’ stone.”
“Okay.” Hermione purses her lips. “If it’s not a resurrection stone, then what is it?”
“Don’t you get it?” Ron stares.
Very slowly, Hermione shakes her head.
“It’s obvious!” Ron is practically hopping. “Can’t you guess?”
“Pardon me, Ronald.” Hermione's eyebrow spikes. “I’m obviously a bit simple, so perhaps you would be so kind as to ‘explain’ it to me?”
“It’s not a ‘resurrection’ stone, it’s a ‘this stone has a very cool power that we haven’t guessed yet’ stone. And we need to start guessing!”
A broad grin spreads across Ron’s face as he basks a moment in his deductive reasoning. Then the grin sags as he parses his words.
Once he starts comparing this latest blather with all of the smart, logical things that he's heard Hermione conclude over the years, and he reflects on how unhelpful and non-obvious his not-quite-so brilliant thinking must have sounded to the (legitimately) brilliant witch he probably just insulted, it starts to become increasingly clear to him that, at some point, she's liable to exhaust her last shred of patience and quite possibly kill him for being so dim. He begins to take a few precautionary steps backward, but...
“Okay.” Hermione’s frown looks rather more contemplative than homicidal. “I agree, Ron. That is a good way of looking at it. Now if only Harry was awake to help us brainstorm.”
Leaving the dark void for Annisgwyl's world, Ginny winces at the bright daylight of the Vesuvian afternoon.
As her eyes focus, she finds the wizard looking at her with a deep and curious expression. His demeanour seems respectful (as is practical, given how he is tied up and at her mercy), but it's apparent that he's also rather unsettled, as if he does not quite know what to make of this young woman.
She suppresses a smirk as she imagines things from his perspective — how unnerving to be subdued by some crazed witch with a penchant for two-fisted magic; not to mention animated conversations with herself in a language (English) that would probably seem almost completely incomprehensible to a first century Roman.
Nonetheless, the man is doing his best to recover the appearance of equanimity. He catches her eye. “Nonne scis, quod ego frater tuus?” He pauses for a couple of seconds, then adds, “Fi yw eich brawd?”
Calling on well-honed acting skills, Ginny flashes the man a single dismissive eyebrow, then feigns a few seconds of busy work (pretending to run more screens) that buy her enough time to revive the region of her mind that, a couple of years earlier, had become fairly fluent in both Latin or Gaelic. After less than ten seconds (just long enough to appear unhurried in her response) the words have come back to her, and she is able to respond fairly easily in Latin. “My brother? What do you mean, you are my brother?”
In the instant during which she awaits his reply, she examines the wizard’s face and mannerisms analytically.
This surely isn’t Ignotus — decades too old to be Annisgwyl’s twin, and little or no resemblance to Harry.
There is something in the wizard’s features and mannerisms that seems vaguely familiar and unsettling to Ginny, though she can’t really put her finger on it.
The wizard, meanwhile, seems encouraged by Ginny’s scrutiny. He smiles. “I believe I am correct? You are the daughter of Paternas Peuerellius, are you not?”
“You’re…?!” Ginny’s eyebrows shoot up as she makes the connection. “You’re Cadmus??”
“Yes, your half-brother Cadmus.” He nods earnestly. “I promise you I mean you no harm. If my greeting was not suitably convivial, this was merely because you caught me at unawares, and I did not yet recognise you."
“Not suitably convivial? You were casting a hex.”
“Not a hex.” The wizard shakes his head vigourously. “A cushioning spell. You exhibited sudden disorientation, and I feared you were about to fall. Completely innocent, you see? So, perhaps you may find it in your heart to unbind me?”
“Perhaps.” Ginny’s voice is neutral, projecting casual ambivalence rather than her true feelings of conflictedness. Needing more time and a better sense of the wizard's character, she takes quick stock of the state in which Gemina (Wilsey) had left matters. She notes that the wand in her right hand is still aimed toward Cadmus, and decides to renew the magical sweep for dark objects or concealed weapons that Gemina had seemingly not yet completed.
Avoiding eye contact, Ginny progresses with the spells. She soon senses a tension in the wizard that seems at odds with his attempt at pleasant humility and his claims of innocence. The anxiety increases as she makes her way down toward the lowermost fringe of his cloak on his left side.
Her wand twitches. Cadmus freezes.
Ginny takes a step back, and this time decides to confront her prisoner face-on, gesturing toward the hem. “You have something sewn into your cloak. If I was to slice it open, what would I find?”
“It is an object of power, sister.” Cadmus does not avert his eyes, or even look to where Ginny is pointing. Rather, he projects a tone that at least sounds fairly calm. “It is a stone formed from the lapis fusilia at Hercules’ forge. It has been endowed with charms by an old wizard in our service.”
“Charms?” Ginny’s eyes narrow as she pieces together a reasonable deduction. “And would these charms enable you to resurrect the dead?”
“Er…?!” Cadmus swallows. “Well, I suppose the stone may be capable of that. Did you wish to see it?”
“No, I do not.” Ginny’s brow knots in a frown at an odd tone of voice that she can’t quite place. The figure before her is a known dark wizard, is acting a bit erratically… hurriedly, perhaps. The casual generousity does not seem to fit.
Seeking another angle (and a bit more space) to more fully evaluate her captive, Ginny retreats another several steps, training a wand on his chest. Using an unconventional tactic that she and Harry had practised over the years, she wills the blood from her face, narrows her eyes, and lets her features descend to an image of impassive deadliness. “Is the object cursed?”
“No, not at all!” Cadmus’s eyes go wide as he shakes his head in agitated denial.
Ginny nods to herself. Fine. That should keep the creep off-balance for a while. Now to figure out what the hell to do with him.
As she finishes her sweeps, the stone plays on her mind. It is difficult to shake the temptation to take the proffered object… at least to examine it. Even now, she is rather curious whether is has other interesting powers beyond resurrection. After all, perhaps those powers might be put to bear on the grave predicaments that she and her friends face?
Luckily, despite the rapidly evolving and distinctly bizarre sequence of events she’s experienced over the past two weeks, she’s managed to cling to a healthy bit of pragmatic perspective. As case in point, she has not forgotten that she is currently carrying out real actions as a surrogate mind for a real person who lived close to two thousand years ago. If she were to do anything outlandish, the consequences would be real… and could be severe.
Handling a powerful artifact like the stone seems like a great way to court unintended consequences.
Of course, the choice would be a lot easier if she were given the opportunity to examine it in 1998, considering that she has seen Harry handle it without obvious curse or injury. To increase her trepidation, however, she recalls that at least one unexpected thing happened in the brief time he experimented with it. Even a minor mishap like that could, on this summer afternoon in A.D. 79, cascade wildly through the centuries, with untold effects on so many crucial things.
I could delete my life. My family.
Amongst these sober musings, she continues her mock investigation, then it further occurs to her that that she hardly needs help from the Resurrection Stone to make some future-destroying mistake. She begins to curse the Gryffindor-impulsiveness that brought her hurtling back into Roman times to save a young woman from… well, whatever it was that Annisgwyl might (or might not) have needed saving from.
I've gone and captured, confused and intimidated a great great great (etc.) uncle of mine and Harry's.
Now for all I know I have twelve brothers instead of six; I get kicked out of Hogwarts because of the Chamber of Secrets, and I end up cleaning Floos in Nocturn Alley for a living…
Ginny finds herself wishing that Annisgwyl was back here; back in full control over her actions; back to making whatever decision she was destined to decide regarding her rather oddly-behaving half-brother…
However, that seems unlikely to happen in a hurry, so Ginny resigns herself to attempting the next best thing. She must put aside the Gryffindor brashness and act with all the calculating canniness of a Ravenclaw.
I must behave like Annisgwyl.
How would she handle this? Sweet little naif would find a way to let the blighter go, wouldn't she?
Of course she would.
Switching to a tone of voice that is a near-perfect affectation of Annisgwyl (the skill comes naturally to Ginny, considering how she was forced to listened passively to her Celtic host for what felt like weeks on end), she takes an additional two steps back, regarding Cadmus very carefully.
“If I was to unbind you…” Ginny lowers her wand. “If I was to release you, would you promise to aid me in finding my twin brother Ffodion? Ignotus?”
Cadmus stares for a long moment, wary of the change in demeanour. Very slowly, he nods.
Equally warily, and with both wands trained on him, Ginny vanishes the restraints.
Cadmus rubs his arms vigorously for a moment to ease the apparent sting, then turns toward a steep incline. “I shall lead you. Follow me this way.”
After about twenty minutes of brisk silent walking, they rise above the line of scraggly conifers. The path begins winding its way up through oddly twisted boulders that Ginny assumes are volcanic in origin. To heighten the effect, the occasional sulphurous whiff gives her a growing unease. She waves to her guide. “This place seems hardly fit for humans. Are you certain Ignotus is up here?“
“Just a little further,” Cadmus calls back, and clambers hastily over a sharp rise. He pauses in front of a fissure that seems to have been cleaved into the hard rocky slope, and waves to her. “Hercules Forge!” Without waiting for her acknowledgment, he hurries into the chasm.
Ginny stops at the mouth of the cleft, and turns around to scan the rugged surroundings. She finds no obvious evidence that this is a trap… but she certainly wishes it didn’t still feel so much like one.
The banter has faded by the time Dolohov and Mulciber rise back above the tree line and begin picking their way along a fairly steep path in and among boulders. The going is difficult, but Hettie and Rob do their best to keep within a hundred yards. However, they don’t dare get much closer to the Death Eaters; it's too difficult to keep casting privacy charms to mask their heavy breathing.
After struggling past a steep twenty foot stretch that forces Rob and Hettie to drop down and clamber on all fours, the path abruptly levels. Cresting the rise, Hettie stares at something unexpected. Rather than continuing to climb the mountain, the narrow trail almost seems to cut into Vesuvius — veering into a steeply cut gorge — almost as sharp as a crevasse.
Her eyes tracing the contours, Hettie notes that the summit-side wall of the cleft is comprised of a sharp ridge nearly twenty feet higher than the downhill side. This suggests to her that maybe, just maybe, this location might have been sheltered from much of the past volcanic fury. Nothing is definite after so many hundreds of years, however it is possible that such a place might somehow have preserved key clues to their quest.
Just what we’re looking for!!
Excited, Hettie is about to hasten into the gorge, when she feels a quick tug on her sleeve.
“Hett?” Rob whispers.
“I don’t like this. The cliffs are too steep to climb, and I’ve got this nasty feeling that chasm is loaded with magic. Wards? Curses maybe? And if we can survive getting into where those Eaters have gone, we might find it tough getting back out again.” He sighs. “Damn. I wish Gem were here — she’d know how to size up this place.”
“We could ask her, maybe?” Hettie asks, fingering her ruck sack.
Rob pauses a moment. “I doubt we could find the right page without canceling our Disillusionment.”
“Oh. Right.” Hettie had almost begun taking their invisibility for granted, and the more she ponders the situation, the less she’s willing to relinquish it; even for a minute. She pulls closer to Rob and self-consciously drops her voice to the lowest possible whisper. “Did you notice how quiet those two thugs went a little while ago?”
“Yeh. I did.”
“Do you think they suspect they’ve been followed?”
Rob’s reply, although noncommittal, comes without hesitation. “Maybe.”
Hettie grimaces to herself as an unpleasant thought occurs to her. “They, uh, probably know how to go invisible too?”
Under her breath, Hettie growls in frustration. As with Rob, she can feel something in the air but, unlike him, the sensation excites her. She knows that Rob has far more experience in such matters, and that his caution is probably more warranted than her exhilaration, but that does little to quell the thrill coursing through her as she grows more and more convinced that they’re honing in on the crux of this task that Dunbar intended for them to accomplish.
Whatever that was.
“Wonky wekas, Rob.” Hettie groans. “What a mess.”
“You really want to go on, don’t you Hett?” Rob’s tone is matter-of-fact.
“Yes.” Hettie unclenches her teeth (it’s bad for their perfect alignment) and exhales. “We came half the way across the globe to find whatever it is that’s in that cleft, but we have no idea what it is, how we’re supposed to get it, what to do with (or about) it. And we don’t know how it’s guarded, or what the dangers are.”
The sound is soft and would normally seem ‘pleasant’ but, under the circumstances, Hettie has no idea how to interpret it.
“Argh!” She seizes what she believes (hopes) are the lapels of his anorak and shakes. “You’re not taking this seriously!”
In the midst of the throttling, Rob’s arms find their way down to her waist. “Sorry, Hett. You put it perfectly — you always do. I was just commiserating.”
“I’m commiserating because this is your decision to make — you’re the smart one; you’ve got us this far, and your guess is best for what to do next.” He pauses for a moment. “I feel bad because I’ve been pretty useless, hanging back not knowing what we need to do or how to do it. I'm still sure you're the one to decide how to proceed, but it’s probably time for me to start being a little more helpful.”
“Uh, maybe.” Hettie blinks a few times as Rob’s words transform into perspective. “But you are helpful, Rob.”
“Not really, but there's a first time for anything, yeah? For starters, maybe I can be helpful by telling you I've got complete faith in you, and-”
“Yes, well I don't.”
“You didn't let me finish.” He chuckles again. “I was going to say that I have complete faith in your decision, in part because I'm going to do everything I can to help it succeed.”
“Oh. Thanks.” Hettie swallows. “And does that include helping me make that… decision?”
Rob takes a moment to strengthen their privacy charm, and laughs. “You already decided, Hett’. It’d kill you to turn back now.”
“Kill me?! ” Hettie rolls her eyes. “I’m rather more worried I'll decide something that gets us both killed.”
“We both know the risks.” Rob pauses for a moment. “But I think we both also have some sense of the dangers of doing nothing.”
Rob can tell that Hettie is nodding; he can feel the light wisps of her hair grazing his arm. For some reason this makes him smile for a moment, but then he focuses again. “Let’s divide things up this way — you lead us in and try to figure out what’s in there and what bearing it has on what Dunbar might want us to do. Meanwhile, it’s on me to be scoping out the place for jinxes and traps, and I’ll try to improvise a plan to get us out again if we run into trouble.
“Huh.” Hettie pauses for a moment. “That might work.”
“So, we go?” Rob lowers his arms, releasing her.
“Uh…” Hettie takes a moment before she lets go of the lapels she’s been clutching. “Right. We go. Let’s take fifty paces in — enough to see around that next corner. Then we’ll decide what to do next.”
“Sure.” Rob visually measures the distance they’ve already progressed into the narrow channel. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Nodding, Hettie grabs his hand. Suppressing a slight tremble, she leads in careful deliberate steps, silently counting off fifty paces. In a minute they pass the bend in the narrow path and enter what feels almost like a chamber — a narrow, flat, basaltic space with a single large central boulder in the middle, made from dark vitreous rock.
Rob sees that the chamber ends in a steep-wall, about twenty feet further in. He notes, with suspicion, that he does not see any sign of the two Death Eaters who ought to be in here somewhere. Furthermore, his wand is warning him of some minor jinxes in the near vicinity, though he can't tell precisely what or where.
He is about to whisper a caution to Hettie but she steps away from him. One of Hettie's hands raises to cover her astonished mouth; the other decouples from Rob’s and tries (unsuccessfully, given her invisibility) to point toward something strange and inexplicable that she can see and he, apparently, cannot.
Suspended comatose in the air above the dark boulder, Hettie looks upon the evanescent form of an old man, garbed in loose, frayed robes.
“Rob! I-i-it’s…” She gasps. “Could it be… Duff?! ” She leans in, unconsciously reaching for the shimmery, glowing hand.
The dreary afternoon gloom of the crevasse suddenly falls pitch black, and the air fills with the piercing, horrific shriek of a klaxon!