Chapter 13. Starshine
“Eh?!” Voldemort goes stark stiff, staring for a long moment into the nothingness of space. “Well, mightn't this be a fascinating twist?”
“Er…” Malfoy blinks away his bewilderment. “What do you sense your eminency? Good news?”
“Good news…?” Voldemort eyes are diffuse as he attempts to parse a series of unusual impulses in his mind — distant visions seen by eyes other than his own. He nods slowly. “Perhaps good… Perhaps…”
Malfoy stands in rapt, hopeful fixation.
“Yes, I do believe so!” Voldemort’s focus returns to the here and now, and a repugnant smile oozes onto his face. “At the very least, we have seem to have acquired some morsels of tender bait.” His eyes gleam. “And, in the best case, my lucky friend, we may be about to recapture that trinket you lost.”
“The trinket I, uh we…? Oh!” Malfoy’s spine jolts like a jack-in-the-box. “Of course, your lordship. Yes, this is just as I planned. And so how may I now assist in the, uh, next phase?”
“Next phase?” Voldemort raises the ridge of skin that would normally bear an eyebrow. “First phase, last phase, only phase. The word ‘phase’ shall be deliciously irrelevant once I am the Master of Time!” His eyes flare red with delight, as his followers back away.
Taut with the near paralysis of someone who has no understanding of what has just been said, Malfoy tries not to recoil as Voldemort’s high-pitched laugh ensues — a sound that chills even the most hardened Death Eaters. Finally Malfoy forces a nod. “Quite so. And may I offer my assistance in… effecting the plan?”
Voldemort regards his henchman bemusedly for a moment. His eyes narrow, appraisingly. “Yes Lucius, you may.”
“Thank you sir. What would you have me do?”
“I would like you to reinforce the Forge; make certain our captives are fully pacified.” Voldemort rubs his hands together. “Dolohov, Mulciber, and one other key ally should already be on site, but they may need assistance.”
“And I…” Voldemort thinks for a moment. “I will join you soon for the grand finale; la grande apertura. But I feel the need first to personally investigate the Gaunt House and the Letum Manse to rule out any chance of this being some sort of post-mortem ruse set by that doddering old Dumbledore.”
“Very prudent, your excellency.” Malfoy frowns for a moment, then remembers to bow his head. “I will be happy to assist. Thank you for the opportunity.”
“You are right to be grateful, but the greatest leaders always reward loyalty. Even incompetent loyalty.” From his cloak, Voldemort withdraws five Portkeys similar to those used by Dolohov and Mulciber. He hands four of them to Malfoy. “Take one for yourself, and share the others with three of our best operatives who shall accompany you. Barring your failure in securing the Forge, I may grant you all the privilege of remaining to witness my ascendance to eternal glory.”
Bellatrix approaches. “Master, I-”
“You'll remain here, Bella.” Voldemort stops her short with a dismissive wave. “Keep this rabble under control, and await further instructions.”
Ignoring Lestrange’s sneer of chagrin, Voldemort pockets the remaining Portkey, and Disapparates in a blinding flash.
From atop the nearby ridge, overlooking a scene in which Malfoy (trying to disguise how rattled he is) begins to sort his way through the rather confused throng to select his cohort, Ron turns to find a wide-eyed Hermione at his side. He clasps her shoulder. “Hey, uh, I don’t know what's going on, but… Well, I mean to say that I have no idea what they’re planning, and what we can possibly do about it, but we’re going to do something, right?”
“Uh…” Hermione chews her lip as she processes a number of hunches that have somehow popped into her mind.
She has an intriguing notion of ‘who’ might be meant as the ‘bait’ that Voldemort so indelicately mentioned, but the scenario sounds nearly preposterous. How is it remotely possible that an alternate reality version of herself (Hermione vaguely recalls details from years ago — a bright girl from Auckland; raised as a Muggle; very sharp in Maths, Science and Theatre Arts) has somehow crossed into their universe? What would she be doing in Italy? And could it really be that, at this very moment, Henrietta Gravener is snarled up in some wild caper that has run afoul of Voldemort’s cronies??
“Uh, hello?” Ron gives her shoulder a light tap. “What do you suppose we should do?”
Hermione shakes herself. She looks first at Ron, and then glances over to the still-comatose Harry. After staring for a long moment, her jaw drops as the final bit of unfathomable intuition dawns on her.
“Oh Merlin!” Her face is suddenly quite drawn. “Ron? Do you think Harry has the Resurrection Stone??”
Within the void, Harry frowns for a moment. Deferring some vague, distant distraction as something to attend to later, he returns his full attention to his companion’s animated dialogue.
“… takes a bit of practice and getting used to but, after a while, it comes naturally and you'll seriously find it gives more power and versatility. Watch this!” Gemina pauses and gazes to the dark nothingness. She raises her bare fist, focuses, and sends arcs of lightning whipping and snapping into the void.
Harry gapes at the display.
“Bet you don’t find that in a textbook.” She grins. “At first, I started off by casting non-verbals, but I’ll warrant that someone of your power could go straight to wandless. Highly recommended! It can be a bloody life saver, y’know?”
Harry nods emphatically.
“Beats me why the fluffy-heads at Hoggy don’t teach it.” Gemina flutters her fingers and smiles absently as an eruption of rose petals sprinkles down between them. She sighs and shrugs. “Maybe forcing all the sprogs into wandy-verby magic is their way of cutting down on random crap, and I spose from the school’s point of view, one student’s random crap is another student’s ticket to the Hospital Wing. But that’s a shame, cuz I love random crap, and I ‘specially love figuring out how to make it non-random.”
Half of his mind is still trying to process Gemina’s prodigious self-taught magic, but Harry can’t help smirking. In part, he’s rather tempted to ask how many of those so-called ‘tickets to the Hospital Wing’ mightn’t have been issued to Slytherin snots who ventured foolishly onto this girl’s wrong side during her brief school tenure.
Gemina grins for a moment, almost as if she’s reading his mind, but then Harry sees a more serious cast slide silently over her face. He studies her, trying to reconcile how one moment’s playful irreverence can shift to this moment’s steely cage.
In his heart, Harry senses the truth. He can somehow tell that this girl, however vibrantly she may embrace life, will always have a hardened edge — a mark of the many heavy responsibilities and challenges she has already faced in her young life.
That, of course, is something Harry can relate to…
“Do something for me, Green-Eyes.” Gemina catches his gaze and holds it.
“Try something wandless.”
Her tone is completely serious, though Harry can perhaps sense a bit of flint in there. He stares, trying to guess why she would ask. She stares, daring, almost defying, him to impress her.
He nods again, and turns obliquely away. Recalling how she approached her most powerful spells, he focuses, retreats within himself, and raises his hand.
A huge boulder suddenly appears, not ten feet away.
“Whuh?” Harry takes a step back, blinking. “That doesn’t count because I didn’t do it. Did you, Gem?”
“The rock? Nah.” Gemina brushes past him, casually, as if their staring match had never happened. She examines the stone, running a finger over the odd vitreous texture. “Probably a gift from the void. Reckon it's here for you to practise on. Gin-gin’s really good at getting the place to do stuff for her. Kind of like the Room of Requirement, yeah?”
“Yeah, that's true; things do respond in this place.” Harry taps his chin. “It never occurred to me to come here to practice magic. I wonder if techniques learned in the void still work in the real world?”
“Why not?” Gemina shrugs. “Any spell starts from a thought, right? A thought here is every bit as good as any thought you have when you're fully conscious in the real world.”
“That makes sense.” Harry nods slowly. “So magic is magic, regardless if you’re dreaming, or messing about in the void, or standing up in class to demonstrate a spell…”
“Or knocking over some Eaters.” She grins. “But hey, Greeny — you’re avoiding the rock. You going to blow it up?”
“I, uh, was actually going to try lifting it.” He raises his arm again.
“Ah hell — blow it up. Double dare you!” Gemina’s grin reappears.
Harry lowers his arm and raises an eyebrow.
“Nah, do what feels right, luv.” Her face softens. “My Auntie Murietta once told me, ‘Would you rather spend half a day dithering, or half an hour making excuses for some pig's ear cockup? Just do something, and sod the consequence. ” She laughs. “Brilliant advice; wretched old girl's liable to outlive us all!”
Harry chuckles at the girl’s banter. Turning toward the stone, he thinks for a moment, then extends a bare hand toward it, silently willing magic from his core to pour into its dense, rough material. Experimentally (and indeed rather ‘randomly’) he chooses to neither levitate the boulder nor cast a Reductor, but rather to fill the object with power.
Rapt with curiosity, Gemina watches as the stone begins to change color — the dusky grey slowly taking on rosy hints, growing more vivid toward cherry red. As it glows, it begins to emit low light that penetrates into the dark surroundings.
Stepping back from the shimmering heat pouring off the boulder, Gemina suddenly startles. She twists about, stares, then glances wildly in different directions. “Shite!”
“What??” Harry breaks the spell; the rock vanishes. “What did you see?”
“Chaos!” She whips unruly hair from her face. “Danger! They’re in trouble!”
“Who?” Harry blanches.
“Everybody! Your people, my people, Ginny, the old cod from the fire! Merl’s pearls — something’s going off like a bed full of mouse traps!”
“Crumb.” Harry bites his lip. “I’ve got to get back to Ginny! I, errr… what sort of traps?”
“Eaters. Lots of Eaters!”
“Death Eaters? Where?”
“Uh… uh…” Gemina squints into the surrounding darkness but this time sees nothing. She closes her eyes. “I definitely saw a cliff. Lots of rocks. But… also trees? And, umm… fires?”
“Trees with lots of Death Eaters.” Harry frowns. “That would be the Forbidden Forest. Gem’, I’ve got to get back there to-”
“No!” Gemina shakes her head. “Her worst danger is probably on the ‘rocks’. Guessing that means the volcano.”
“Crumb, that's true.” Harry drags fingers through his hair. “Her body is back in the Forbidden Forest, but her mind is… in Italy?”
“Er, yeah. I think so.” Gemina unconsciously mimics his action. “Pretty sure both places are threatened. Uh, maybe we may need to split up?”
“Split up?” Harry sighs. “Yes, I reckon.”
“Right.” Gemina fidgets. “Me too.”
“Right.” Harry looks away.
As awkward as it felt to be left alone in the void with a person he knows has waited a lifetime to meet him, Harry suddenly finds it even more awkward to leave.
Perhaps it is because he knows that he left once before in such a situation. He knows that then, as now, he had to walk away with the understanding that she and he might never see one another again, and although they belong in different universes and ought never to have met in the first place, it is still very difficult to- “HuhhwffFF!”
“Luv ya, Green-eyes!” Gemina releases him from an embrace so thunderous it would have rattled Molly. She meets his (slightly wobbly) gaze for a moment and grins. “Go knock some heads! See ya around!”
Then she’s gone — stepping away into the darkness; vanishing from the void.
“Hey, where…?” Harry suddenly realises he doesn’t know which emergency she’s chosen to intercept, or which venue he should thus target first. He stares into the vacant darkness for a moment, then recalls Gemina’s recitation from her curmudgeonly aunt.
‘Just do something.’
With a resigned shrug, he turns toward the spot of nothingness into which Gemina disappeared. He takes several steps, then… “Ow!”
The sudden sharp, cold pinch in his wrists and ankles does not have pleasant associations.
It is the sensation of tightly clamped shackles.
In the two seconds that it takes Ginny’s blood pressure to level down, a number of realisations race through her mind.
1) The infernal klaxon racket may have felt like forever, but in reality it was probably closer to 30 seconds.
2) Infernal klaxons are somewhat unexpected up in the mountain wilderness of first century Latium.
3) Even more unexpected is a bright sunny afternoon turning black as night.
4) The darkness is apparently not Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder, since she can see starlight above.
5) The summer heat is largely gone, but fortunately:
6) She seems to be dressed for the occasion — Annisgwyl’s light summer tunic has been replaced by what seems rather like the same jumper and jeans that she (Ginny) last recalls wearing in the Room of Requirement in May 1998.
7) From the twinges of a wonky Quidditch shoulder, Ginny suspects she now has the rest of her body back, too.
Ginny decides that she could spend hours trying to figure out what has just happened… or she could be a sensible survivalist and cast preemptive concealment charms.
This proves to be a good choice as, no sooner has she finished, four glowing vortices swirl into place about twenty feet down the trail, leading to the shuffle and clatter of booted feet landing on the uneven ground.
“Where in the name o’ Slytherin’s snakes are we?!” The whinging voice is recognisable as Vincent Crabbe Sr. whom Ginny can faintly see glancing bewilderedly about in the darkness.
“Lumos.” The face of Lucius Malfoy appears beneath the light of his wand. He glances around, then fixes upon the rock fissure ahead up the path. His face seems to indicate that he knows where they are, but is perhaps a bit thin on specific instructions for what to do next. His face is just knotting into a scowl, when-
The ground heaves and drops nearly a foot, thrusting stomachs half way up everyone's throats. Malfoy teeters off balance for a moment, but catches a low juniper and remains upright until the mountain quiets.
The scowl, however, is etched all the deeper in his face as he turns back to reply to the terrified Crabbe. “Mount Vesuvius. Welcome to Hercules’ Forge.”
“Duaff?” The voice is weak and uneven, yet somehow manages to be heard above roar of the earthquake. “You called me ‘Duaff’. That is not my name, but I have heard it before.”
Amidst trying to shelter her head from the small stones clattering down from the cliff, Hettie realises that the ragged old man, levitating above the dark vitreous boulder, is glowing faintly, bathing them in an eerie, cold light. Although otherwise motionless, he is also slowly rotating around to look upon them. And indeed he can look at them, because their disillusionment charms seem to have fallen away.
The old man studies Hettie in painful focus for a moment… then his clouded, ancient blue pupils go diffuse. “You sound almost like the Icenian princess who once called me Duaff. Almost, but not quite.” He sighs. “Nonetheless, whoever you are I assume it means I shall die.”
“Die?!” Hettie blinks to attention. “You shan’t die! We’ll save you!” She takes a quick step forward… then realises she hasn’t gone anywhere.
“Hmmm? Regrets, my dear?” The old man’s eyes come briefly into focus once again. The look he gives her is vaguely amused. “You, my dear maiden, should not regret my death, for death is my right, and my body sought it moons ago.” A note of sadness creeps into his tone. “Yet even if I do not regret my death, sweet child, I should regret yours, for surely it is far too soon.”
“Too soon? For my death??” Hettie blinks. “What do you mea-”
Interrupted by Rob’s subtle elbow, Hettie’s eyes slide away from the levitating figure and land upon the dark outline of a tall, spindly wizard standing diagonally across the chamber near the far side of the rock cleft. He is pointing a long menacing wand at them.
In the moment Hettie spends staring in shock, she fails to realise that the wizard’s target is not them, but rather the ruck sack on her shoulder. Without warning, it jerks free and, despite her desperate lunge, it sails across the chamber and into their adversary’s claw-like grasp.
“Give that back!” Hettie gestures wildly. “It has Rob’s family album, and our hotel keys, and plane tickets… and…”
From his cold glare, it is not clear whether he understands what she just said, but it’s obvious he does not much care. Rather, he turns his gaze impassively toward the entrance to the cleft, saying only, “Et venerunt. Et exspectabo nos.”
Hettie’s wide eyes gradually process the fact that the dark wizard is clothed in the classical Pallium of a Roman noble. After a second, her whirring mind has translated his unexpectedly ‘Latin’ statement.
‘You have come. And now we shall wait.’
In many centuries, this place where Annisgwyl's toes press cold and wet into the peat will be known as Bodwin Moor. She stands at the edge of a natural trough where the waters called 'Dozmary Pool' trickle down into 'Colliford Lake'. But all such names are meaningless since, to her, this can only ever be known as ‘Heddwch y Fam’. The Mother’s Peace.
She does not question how she came to be delivered here; how she forsook a hot Latium day for a cool Dumnonian night. Rather, beneath the flickery moonlight, she finds herself stepping lightly across the marshy ground until the bracing waters kiss her feet, and admit her ankles.
Beneath a full sweep of stars whose clarity is so sharp it prickles her very pores, Annisgwyl finds her senses more honed and focused than she can recall at any time since she and Traianius descended from the high, windswept ridge of Raetia.
The memory reminds her how she misses Traianius dearly, but tonight's still air seems to whisper how there are others she has pined for longer
She misses her father, who was ever so gentle and wise. She can never forget her twin, who walked an entire childhood with her through field and forest, always the perfect brother until Amaethon drew them apart.
Yet more than anyone upon the green hills or sparkling waters, she longs for her mother.
To see Annisgwyl gazing across the lake is to understand that this young Celtic woman believes not in irony, but rather in providence. Thus, despite lacking any reasonable explanation, even within the corpus of powerful Druidic magic, she knows exactly where she has found herself, and whom she has come to see.
It barely even matters that her extraordinary quest has somehow led her all the way back to the place it began. For Annisgwyl can still recall last spring, in the grief-filled moments after her father spoke his final farewell, how she rose from their dying fire, and walked alone through the darkness, her blind feet carrying her without fail to this very place. Heddwch y Fam.
And on that night, upon arriving here, she had whispered softly across the waters.
“Mother, I seek your wisdom.”
And on that spring night which seems so long ago, no response had come, so she had departed from Dumnonia, and walked league after league across the cold stones of the Empire, doing as her father has sought, searching for her lost twin. Seeking the last remnant of the only family she has ever known.
And somehow, her search has led her back to this place. And somehow, for the first time ever, she sees the providential summer stars arrayed not only about the sky, but also scattered like gems upon the perfect sheen of the lake. And this seems to proclaim how it is no ordinary night in the eyes of Amaethon, and so, once again, she speaks softly across the waters.
“Mother, I seek your wisdom.”
And just as her words so long ago had been met with silence, so too are these, but this silence is different. For this silence is accompanied by silent ripples across the starlit pool, which makes the gems pirouette with anticipation. And from the centre of this flickering dance there emerges a silent hand… and an arm… and, silhouetted against the silvery glow of Rhiannon, there emerges the form of a woman.
And Annigwyl steps forward into the deepening water. Pace by pace, the cool surface of the lake closes about her legs and waist. Yet soon it is not just the waters that accept her, for she finds herself within the embrace of one whom she has missed more than any other. And a tear runs down her cheek.
“Mother?” Annisgwyl’s words are but the faint brush of the finest harp string. “Is this the end? Have I failed my quest? Shall I never find him? Shall we — you and I — pass without Ffodion upon the fated final journey across the great western sea?”
There is a long silence, but for the trickling of the nearby stream over rocks and logs.
A finger traces Annisgwyl’s cheek, gently touching away the teardrop. The words come, soft as the waters.
“Your quest, and mine, are not yet complete; Ffodion Ignotus we still seek. And once you find him then together, you and he, may yet walk many more leagues together upon this Earth, and climb many mountains.”
The finger leaves Annisgwyl’s cheek and traces a path slowly upward. “Look to the stars.”
Annisgwyl raises her eyes and beholds the complex flow of the Milky Way, and the simple child-like patterns of the Owl, the Dragon, the Thestral. She exhales in wonder to look beyond the mere points of light to find also that which is so familiar as to be nearly forgotten. “Mother… these are the stars of Britannia summer. I truly am home, am I not?”
“Yes, you are.” A silent smile is exchanged. “And so too shall soon be Ffodion. But for now let us rest here together, and let the stars watch over us.”