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SIYE Time:2:43 on 11th December 2018


Fires of Time
By GHL

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Category: Alternate Universe
Characters:Harry/Ginny, Hermione Granger, Other, Ron Weasley
Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, Romance
Warnings: Mild Language
Story is Complete
Rating: PG
Reviews: 143
Summary:

All space and time is relative. The only constant is the speed of... fire.

Victory in tatters; great deeds undone; the world is unraveling, and Ginny has vanished. Yet somehow, with the shared strengths of a cadre of highly implausible allies, Harry finds the will to persist through a bewildering tangle of centuries and realities, all hurtling toward an explosive, time-bending eruption.

An impossibly charring sequel to the utterly fractious Splinters.


Hitcount: Story Total: 12318; Chapter Total: 361
Awards: View Trophy Room




Author's Notes:

Joy of joys! Sunday morning, I finally finished the first draft of the climactic next chapter (17). That means that there actually is, finally, one person who knows how it all turns out :)

Anyway, chapter 17 will be posted on time, but I had been planning a fair bit of rewriting on chapter 18 (and I have a ton of travel coming up) so it may take me a little longer to post the wrap. We shall see.





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Chapter 16. The Wand

“But Draco is still in the castle!” Prostrate and weeping; Narcissa clutches for her sister's knees, but Bellatrix’s boot shoves her roughly to the side.

“Well, we'll be sure to blow him a kiss for you, Cissy.” Lestrange swirls her cloak dismissively and glares at the assembly. “Shut up, maggots! Battle formations! Time to bloody well storm the castle!

“Shite!” Ron turns to Hermione. “Nobody back there has any clue this is brewing. We’ve got to warn them!”

“Yes, let's— OH!” Hermione’s glances around frantically. “What just happened?! The flame suddenly weakened, and look at Harry!”

“Mother of Merlin!” Ron's gaze briefly skirts the fading flame, but locks hard onto Harry. “He's white as a sheet and- and… I can kind of see through him? Crap! Is he dead??”

“I-I don’t know.” Hermione is a bit pale too, but for no reason more mysterious than fright. “I wonder if-”

“AIIIEEE!!!” Gemina Wilsey leaps through the diminished flame, barreling straight into the crowd of Death Eaters! Gone is the pure element of surprise that she might have held five minutes ago, but the sheer audacity (and, more crucially, two fists ripping off spells that nobody there has seen before) still stops Bellatrix dead in her tracks.

Six unconscious bodies are suddenly strewn across the floor of the glade; dozens more are jostling about in pre-stampede chaos, as Gemina carves a spectacular (albeit highly strategic) path toward the ridge.

After several more Death Eaters tangle and tumble from frenzied collisions with their mates, Bellatrix belts a thunder clap from her wand. “Gormless twits!! Set your heads and raise your SHIELDS!”

It takes a few seconds for the Death Eaters to figure out how to stop stumbling and tripping over themselves, but the panic staunches, and a dischordant chorus of 'Protego' spells fills the clearing.

This interlude is all Gemina needs to attain her initial goal of breaking away from the centre of action and finding higher ground. Although she cannot yet see Harry, Hermione and Ron, she is instinctively and unerringly making her way toward them. Dodging several random curses, she pauses to level the offending thugs, then sprints the final twenty feet over the crest, letting the remaining Death Eaters coalesce around Bellatrix to set a phalanx of overlapping shields.

Given the stress and distractions, Hermione has neglected to renew her privacy wards and, by chance, they choose that very moment to fall away. Gemina slams on the brakes, suddenly finding herself face to face with …

“Gravener? Rob?” Gemina does a double-take at a pair of faces that are familiar enough, and different enough, to puzzle her. “Er, whoever the hell you are, we need a bit of help, yeah? You got some mates you can send a Patsy to?”

“Patsy?” Hermione squints in confusion.

“’Patronus’ please? I’d do it myself but…” Gemina looks around uncertainly. “Well, I reckon this isn't my world, so I doubt I have any of my own yobs to buzz. And besides…” She twists left, her fist pounding out a crushing pulse just in time to block a screeching Lestrange Reductor hex not ten feet away. “Rather looks like I’m the one doing the shielding, yeah?”

“Bloody bob!” Ron gapes at the sizzling power. Wide-eyed, he nods dumbly to this girl who seems very nearly identical to Ginny, other than the sleek black tights and an arsenal of wandless magic that would have soiled Snape’s shorts. After an awkward moment, he realises that she is issuing a distinctly Ginny-like ‘hurry-the-f***-up’ hand signal, and he snaps back to task. “Uh, a patsy. Ah. Uh… Expecto Patronum!”

“Cheers.” Gemina gives a snappy thumbs-up. After making a quick scan to ensure that Lestrange isn’t clever enough to send anyone circling across to angle past the shield, Gemina permits herself a two second glance back at the people she's protecting.

Her eyes land on the faded form of Harry.

“Greeny? Is that you?” She bites her lip. Though still flushed from the heat of combat, even Gemina blanches a bit. “Dammit, Potter. How the hell are we supposed to Apparate you out of here if… if you’re hardly even here?”


***


A long, low rumbling sound trembles the stone beneath Hettie's face but, despite her own trembles, she is listening intently to the druid’s aethereal voice.

“Gaze into the vapour, young sorceress. Tell me what you see.”

Hettie focuses on the odd glowing mist that the Druid has conjured. It seems to dance in front of her face, resolving itself slowly into familiar shapes. “Those are… They’re both…” She squints. “It’s two copies of that stone — the one from the clunky ring Rob brought from England.”

Unthinking, she reaches around for the rucksack, but immediately remembers that it is no longer slung over her shoulder. “Pigeon-pox! That pasty ponce stole it!”

For a moment, the druid’s eyes flicker toward a pair of feet — the only visible portion of the unconscious Cadmus Peverell who is otherwise obscured by the large vitreous boulder.

“You are correct, yes. Thus, he now has the stone twice over — one incarnation from his time, and one from your own.” The Druid’s eyes close again, as if this fact were not a great concern. “Now, please study again the vapours.”

Hettie nods and attempts to focus her eyes on the phantasmic swirls, concentrating as the Letum engraving of each stone begin to glow and spread, iridescent, across the full face of the gem. She quirks her neck to get a better look at the nearest stone, then she sees, faintly, the reflection of her own face. “Huh! The stones… they’re like mirrors?”

“Good.” The ancient mouth curls into the hint of a smile. “But whereas a mirror reflects an image of space, this stone inverts an image of time.”

Hettie pulls closer yet to the image of the polished stone but after several seconds, oddly, her reflected image draws backward, pulling out of the frame. She frowns for a long moment then her eyes light up. “A time reflection!”

“Yes?”

Hettie grins. “My reflection in the stone just pulled away, even though I stayed in place. So, that was the opposite motion of me approaching it a minute ago?”

“Ah verily. That is a simple trick of the stone, albeit not an especially helpful one.” The Druid’s pale face goes solemn. “More complicated usage can involve projecting back scenes, or people, from more deeply within the past.”

“For, say, reminiscences or historical accounts?”

“Perhaps, yes.” The smile lines about the Druid’s eyes liven slightly, then fall sombre. “More dramatically, and less cheerily, the stone is also well suited to project back from the instant before a person’s death.”

“Oh, how morbid!” Hettie pulls back from the mist, alarmed.

“For many people, yes.” A hint of pain crosses the Druid’s face as he continues. “Yet it was for this capacity that the stone was commissioned.”

“Whatever for?” She raises an eyebrow.

“Allow me to explain.” The Druid opens a placid, clouded eye for a moment, then closes it. “Upon the cusp of the great unknown, a person’s soul is in perfect balance. If you, young sorceress, were to race headlong over a sharply crested hill, chances are fair that your forward motion would carry you past, and downward to the descending side. Yet, if you slowed upon your ascent and paused perfectly still upon the summit, you would stand there in perfect balance.”

Hettie nods.

“From your perfect balance, the slightest breath of breeze or deliberation could tip you forward and down. Equally well, it could push you back from whence you came.”

She nods again, a frown beginning to crease her forehead. “And, at the instant before a person’s death…?”

“The stone may capture the balance point.” The Druid sighs. “Then if someone wills the stone, it may push a projection of a person back from the brink of the dark nether.”

“Mercy me!” Hettie’s crease deepens. “Any philosopher I’ve ever read would say that’s a bad idea.”

“I tend to agree.” The old man gives that facial equivalent of a shrug. “Long ago, my forefathers taught me that to deny death is to forfeit the promise of the next rebirth. They believed that any attempt to delay the predetermined moment of passing would inflict deep pain and sorrow. And I now confirm from my own experience that they did speak the truth.” He sighs. “Yet there are wizards who would not heed my wise forefathers, or listen to you, or accede to your friends the… Philosophs.”

“So, it that what this is all about?” Hettie’s face creases in confusion. “That poser on the ground over there and, er, V-Mo, are trying to bring people back to life??”

“Not currently, no.”

“No?” She taps her lip. “But you just said…?”

“At one time, your unconscious adversary did so desire.” The Druid gestures back toward Cadmus, then continues, seemingly in growing pain. “He it was who commissioned the stone from me. A wife he lost once… and then a mistress. He had grown rather damaged and despondent, so I took pity on him.” The Druid exhales softly. “Yet, unbeknownst to me, the stakes grew far more audacious. Some other sorcerer from some of time of turmoil and iniquity… your 'V-Mo' presumably … became aware of the stone and conceived of a magical prospect that is far more terrible.”

Hettie’s mouth moves, poised to query, yet dreading the answer.

The wraith-like old man sighs again — the sound of a winter wind through leafless trees.

Hettie stares at him, still unable to articulate her query, hoping that he will show mercy on her faltering throat and somehow answer it anyway. After a moment of hearing no response, Hettie glances back to the conjured mist, and sees that that the vision has changed!

Staring, she notices now that the two stones — one from the past; one from the present; have rotated slowly about so that they nearly face each other. The mirror-like facet on each is swinging slowly into alignment with the other. As for the juxtaposition of two normal mirrors, the image of a tunnel begins to form — a reflection of a reflection of a reflection, ad infinitum.

Hettie’s breath finally comes through, as a gasp. “Would this do what I think it does?”

“I presume you have recognised correctly.” The old wraith nods slowly. “It is an endless channel through time. It provides unfettered access to all events — past, present or future. When I designed the stone, I never conceived of such a power. The implications are… quite stunning.”

“Oh god! I must get the ring back!”

“Neither of us can do so easily.” The Druid sighs. “There are many elaborate protections woven throughout this chamber.”

“But- but-” Hettie rings her hands. “He’s knocked out! My bag is just lying there next to him! This could be my only chance to get the ring back, and prevent him from… from… Oh no…” Her throat quivers.

“Do not despair yet, young sorceress. Allow me a moment of thought…”

Hettie nods eagerly.

She waits.

The moment drones on for long enough that she is concerned that the Druid may have drifted off. But, finally, a soft whisper ensues. “Are you, dear sorceress, blessed of good fortune?”

“Good fortune? Me?!” Hettie hardly feels like laughing. So she shrugs.

“Good fortune it will require. Or, better still, exceptional timing. But there is a chance.”

Hettie nods fervently.

The druid finally opens his eyes. He fixes her with a gaze more intensely blue than ever. “I believe that the bearer of our possible salvation may be due to visit us soon. Now, let me caution you that there are spells within this chamber that may tend to occlude clear thought at precisely the wrong moment, so you must listen very very carefully…”


***


As the ground below launches into another hideous groan, Ginny’s hand finds Harry’s.

They can sense magic on this mountain — there is power whose sheer dumbfounding magnitude exceeds anything they have ever experienced. Fortunately, rather than stiffen in paralytic fear, this is a pair who can always find the requisite strength. In each other. In the security that comes when they hold each other close.

For any teen, there is a joy or a comfort in the right embrace. However, for those with magical powers, a touch can mean far more. With Harry and Ginny, there is the reassurance that, however strong each one is alone, they are far stronger together.

Admittedly, there is also reassurance in knowing that, when holding each other, they're ready to Disapparate together the instant the cliffs start crashing down.

But fortunately, the stones quieten once again.

Recovering their breath, Ginny and Harry resume their careful progress into the chasm. Hand-in-hand; wands out.

Their approach to danger is well-practised; second nature. Far from being merely sentimental, the hand-holding has become their mode of silent communication — a tool so useful that Ginny has learned left-handed magic to keep her right hand available for her partner.

Most witches and wizards never learn to cast spells with their off hand (just as they'd never use it to write with a quill), but Ginny has actually come to find her left side magic quicker and more precise. She still has plenty of power on her right side, but after the incident at Malfoy Manor (even she was shocked at the damage), she now tends to keep that hand off the wand unless there’s no alternative.

Fortunately, right now there is an alternative, and her right hand is back serving its usual role, clasped with Harry's left, as the pair edges together along a rough stone wall, pressed to one another, so close each can feel the other’s heartbeat.

With every step closer to their goal, the intensity of Ginny’s face grows as she scans back down the path for any sign of followers. Harry’s expression become the epitome of focus as his ears evaluate every crackle or murmur for clues to what might lie around the next corner.

After a breathless interval of looking and listening, the pair reaches a silent consensus. Harry’s thumb presses the back of Ginny’s hand, an inch back of the third knuckle. She reciprocates.

Harry’s index finger taps. Once… twice… thrice…

They leap!

“Ai ai ai ai!” Wide-eyed, Hettie tries to leap too, but her feet are still stuck. “Timely taikos — it’s you two! How on Earth did you find us?! Wait, don’t answer that because there are three things I really really must tell you before my brain fogs. They're- No, no wait! First things first, THIS IS A TRAP!”

“A trap. Yes, of course.” Harry resists chuckling as he lights a Lumos. He doesn’t doubt the girl, but any trap that features one single Death Eater saturated face-down in goo that smells oddly like a hair salon, plus one obvious non-Death-Eater hopping up and down like a tethered gazelle warning them that this is a trap, does not quite crack his list of top ten most terrifying traps.

“Thank you! You’re Hettie Gravener, aren’t you?” Ginny gives her a look that she hopes conveys the right balance of due concern and gratitude. “Now, what were those three things you wanted to tell us, and what do you know about this trap?”

“Uh, three things?”

The word ‘trap’ still really wants to roll off Hettie’s tongue in triplicate, so she needs a moment to subdue the impulse and assimilate the request. “Yes yes! First, those feet way over there — you see the Roman-looking sandals? Those belong some Roman dark wizard who has two stones and is planning to use them with V-Mo to, er, become the master of time or something? And second, can someone please help Rob? He’s over there, and… Oh, I feel so awful because I didn’t watch the entrance, and I’m stuck in place, and-”

“Gin’, how about you help the Wilsey bloke, and I’ll see about freeing Hettie?” Harry kneels by the girl and begins patting the ground near her feet. “I feel the curse. Give me a minute, and I should be able to beat it. Now, what was the third thing you were to tell us?”

“Third??” Hettie goes pale. “Oh bligh! Duff, what was it again? Duff??” She stares, aghast at the empty space above the vitreous boulder, and chokes. “Oh no! He’s gone.”

Looking up, Harry blinks in confusion at Hettie’s distraught face. “I’m, er, sorry.” He extends a conciliatory hand which she accepts, although it does not stop her from softly keening as she tries to recover her shaken composure and blurry memory.

They remain that way for a moment, listening as Ginny’s Rennervate spell seems to elicit some moans from the other side of the chamber. Harry attempts a smile. “I think your friend is okay. Now, would you mind lighting your wand for a moment? I’ll need mine to free your feet.”

“Light my…” Hettie’s stare finally breaks free of the place where the Druid has vanished and looks down at Harry. “Light my wand. Like you’re doing with yours?”

Harry nods.

Hettie squints at her wand for a moment, the tip seems to flicker, then bursts with a stark blinding magnesium flare!

“OII!” The sudden voice of Rob Wilsey is accompanied by the sound of head thunking on stone, followed by a groan. “That’s got to be Hettie, yeah? Gem, could you please please ask her to turn it down?”

Ignoring the fact that her alt-brother just called her by the wrong name, Ginny shades his face and sighs. “Rob, please stop fidgeting until I’ve finished treating your wounds.” Squinting at the brightness, she briefly turns toward Hettie, shielding her eyes. “Hettie, would you be able lower the light? Rob has a bit of a concussion.”

“Uh? Ah?” Hettie’s voice is a guilty whimper as she tries to focus on her wand. “Oh, that’s got it.”

Several breaths of relief sound as the chamber subsides to normal ambience.

“Thank you, Hettie.” Harry gives her an encouraging smile. “Now, I plan to banish about six inches of stone immediately beneath your feet. Would you please hold tightly onto my shoulder so you don’t stumble?”

Hettie clutches him fiercely then lurches into him as the ward stone disappears. A bit wobbly, she and Harry help each other to their feet.

Meanwhile, Rob sits up, rubbing his head, and Ginny rises. The four teens find themselves staring curiously at each other beneath the pleasant incandescence of Hettie’s Lumos. Nobody knows quite where to begin, until…

“So, you mentioned something about a trap?” / “Okay, what exactly is a ‘V-Mo’?”

"Sorry." Harry and Ginny give each other a sheepish shrug over their simultaneous queries.

Harry chuckles. “Okay, those are both good questions. Take your pick.”

Hettie nods. “Sure. Well, the trap is that V-Mo is likely coming, and V-Mo is-

“BEST known as ‘The Dark Lord’.” The narrow cleft fills with an aura of coldness; a charnel stench. Everyone turns, slowly, painfully, toward the voice that had approached them from behind and is continuing to drone. “As for any historic icon, there are those who accord titles of worth, such as 'His Eminence', or 'Defender of the Pure', while others seek to belittle with empty slurs such as the unfortunate term I just…”

The lecture, frankly, is lost on its intended audience. Hettie is far more focused on trying not to wretch at sight of the abominable semi-reptilian face. Rob's mind is racing with thoughts of friends and family members who once looked upon this menace and then, abruptly, ceased to be. Harry and Ginny are examining other things entirely — the width of the passageway around the lead intruder, the strength and height of the rock surfaces on either side, a slow-spreading glow from the sky far above … and not to mention the presence of a quintet of Death Eaters (pale, shaky, but apparently now revived) on hand to back their leader.

Malfoy creeps forward to Rennervate the soggy form of Mulciber. Meanwhile, without requiring any assistance, a rustle in the furthest end of the chamber alerts everyone to the rising form of Cadmus Peverell.

A brief silence falls about the gathering. Eyes dart about the cleft; looking for strengths and vulnerabilities.

“So…” Ginny glances at Hettie. “This is V-Mo, apparently.”

“And thus also the trap you were trying to warn about?” Harry gives Hettie a sheepish grimmace. “Sorry for putting you off. It’s just that Ginny and I have some very set notions for how and where this big confrontation is likely to-”

“Silence!” Voldemort is less than thrilled with the chatty exchange. He signals to engage Cadmus’s eyes, stares with a sudden, deep intensity, then disengages and turns his wand on Harry. “So here we have the famous young Potter boy. A moment so delicious, for us all, isn’t it? How long have I desired to kill you.”

The explicit belligerence, seemingly, is all it takes for the four teens to suddenly remember that they are holding wands. Harry, Ginny and Rob all point theirs toward Voldemort, while Hettie (not quick to forgive) brandishes her illuminated wand at Cadmus who, this time, prudently raises a shield.

“Childish defiance.” Voldemort’s face, not suited for grinning, twists into a malformed sneer. “How long have I sought your death, young Potter, but perhaps no longer? Perhaps not tonight?”

Voldemort waits for a reaction. Receiving nothing more gratifying than puzzled eyebrows, he scowls. “Addled tots! I just suggested that I may not kill you! There is ample space on the ground for grovelling!”

“Yeah, right.” Ginny frowns. “You'd love to kill us, but not like this; not here. I'm sure you were hoping for something far more public. The Great Hall, yeah?”

Ginny and Harry exchange nods, as they both are recalling their shared visions of the final duel. The dreams themselves have not recurred in years, so it takes Ginny a second to revisit the details. Her eyes go nearly trancelike for a moment. “Okay, it’s all coming back to me now. May 1998; Hogwarts is trashed; the roof is half caved it, but there are still hundreds of people watching you and Harry circle about like a pair of prize fighters. Harry has just explained how you're not the master of the Elder Wand. Then, he’ll say, ‘So it all comes down to this-’”

“SILENCE!” Voldemort’s bellow peels like thunder. For two ghastly seconds, the discomported mountain beneath seems about to roar in response… but once again it settles. Voldemort eyes the quivering walls warily, then he hones his fiery glare back onto Ginny. “Insolent brat — what did you just babble about the Elder Wand?”

Her concentration broken, Ginny blinks. “Er, that you’re not the master?”

“Uh, Gem?” Rob shifts uneasily. “I wouldn’t provoke-”

“Quiet, fool! I wished to hear the girl's petty delusions, not yours!” Voldemort takes a breath then, with every movement exaggerated for drama, he reaches slowly into his cloak, withdrawing his wand. Sneering horridly, he trains the tip on Ginny’s forehead. “Perhaps the little witch desires a demonstration of my MASTERY of the-.”

“Back off, Tom!” Harry surges forward; the polish from his ornate wand gleaming in a beam from Hettie's Lumos.

“Harry! How…??” Ginny gasps, her gaze darting between Harry and Voldemort; from hand to hand; weapon to weapon... “Harry, how did you get the Elder Wand?!”

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