Chapter 17. Fire and Water
“What the…?!” Harry stares. For the first time, he truly sees the wand that he’d been given to escape from the Letum Manse. The deep, dark polish and tiny clusters of carved berries are unquestionably familiar. “How did I-? Did Antioch seriously give me the Eld-?”
“NO!” Voldemort’s eyes bulge, emitting a dull red glow. “That CANNOT be the Elder Wand! This, in my HAND, is the Wand of Destiny, and I am it’s MASTER!”
“Oh?” Harry’s gaze flickers from wand to wand, then up to Voldemort’s pulsating glare. He quirks his neck for a moment, then straightens. “Then try something with it, Riddle.”
Voldemort’s vestigial eyelids are no longer adept at blinking, but they do manage to twitch irritably. “Impudent filth! Who are you tell me to… try something?!”
“Why not?” Harry shrugs. “Try your wand.”
Voldemort’s visage roils at the young man’s preternaturally calm gaze.
In struggling to grasp how Harry could seem so ‘confident’, Voldemort does not grasp that the accurate term is ‘desensitised’. In particular, both Harry and Ginny have confronted their nemesis so often in exquisitely graphic dreams — visions that seem, frankly, more realistic than this bizarre encounter. To them, battling to the death in front of a large horrified crowd of onlookers is reality; staring face to face in the confines of a dark, narrow crevasse, can surely not be the climax.
Or can it?
Harry raises a curious eyebrow for a moment but, beneath his enemy's glare of searing detestation, he does not cower or quake. He does not even blink. He and Voldemort glower at each other for a long moment that seems to draw on for aeons.
Then, at last, there is motion. Voldemort’s wand twitches, but not at Harry.
The dark wizard gestures at the sodden rucksack at Cadmus’s feet. The bag rips; a ring tears through the fabric but, instead of sailing straight to Voldemort’s hand, the Resurrection stone seems to hesitate. As if conflicted, it drifts into the space half-way between the two adversaries.
Wide-eyed, Voldemort lunges forward, not with his wand, but with empty left hand, yelling, “ACCIO STONE!”
A balance broken, the stone moves finally into Voldemort’s clasp. His long fingers wrap desperately, bonily, around it. His chest heaves, and he barks across the cleft to his ancestor. “Cadmus! Deploy the other!”
With vacant dispassion, Cadmus gestures at the hem of his pallium, and an identical stone rises to his grasp.
“Enough dallying. No more pleasantries!” Indeed, Voldemort looks far from ‘pleasant’. “Cadmus, let us teach these vile children the MAGNIFICENCE of the Master of Time! Raise now your stone, and-”
“NO!” Hettie slaps her forehead. “That’s it! Harry, I just remembered it the third thing! You need to-”
“Silencio!” Voldemort’s spell whips at Hettie, but somehow her wand has conjured a compact mirror straight into its path, bouncing the hex straight back at Voldemort’s face.
Ignoring Voldemort’s spectacular (albeit soundless) livid paroxysm as he struggles with his own powerful silencing spell, Hettie gestures urgently. “Harry, do you have a stone? Like his?” She lights up at Harry’s quick nod. “Great! Use it to disrupt the reflection between-”
A ghastly tongue of flame belches from Voldemort’s wand, targeting Hettie.
Ginny, Rob and Harry instantly thrust shields at the same instant, dousing the hellacious blast but then realise their folly. Voldemort is already moving — stepping into line with the strange vitreous boulder, brandishing his stone. “Cadmus now!”
Ice spikes in Harry’s veins.
“Upon the power of Hercules’ Forge…” Voldemort’s eyes blaze. “Let us seize…”
Harry stares blankly, uncomprehending.
The corners of Voldemort’s pallid lips curve. “… the very…”
In the tiniest fraction of a crystalline second, Harry’s eyes are still upon Voldemort’s stone, but his mind begins to resolve Hettie’s fractured admonitions.
“… essence of TIME!” Voldemort’s eyes flash putrid joy as Cadmus’s stone rises in accord.
Harry finally grasps the instruction; his hand is racing into his pocket for the Gaunt Ring. In a frightful moment of untold urgency, his fingers close around it.
Yet he knows, now, that he is too late.
Harry does not know precisely what will happen when Cadmus’s stone rises the final six inches to align with Voldemort’s, but even as Harry’s hand rips away his pocket, he is certain that there is not enough time to do whatever it is that Hettie was trying to tell him to do.
In the barest instant that still remains, Harry shifts his gaze, seeking the brother of his ancestor. Eyes connect. Many-times-great nephew looks to many-times-great uncle.
Harry’s brow furrows as his mind projects, silent, solemn, into the dark Peverell eyes.
You sought to spare the Publican!
Perhaps. But, what of it?
Harry’s eyes penetrate. You, I and Antioch are all brothers. And brothers save brothers!
But I-… I cannot break the spell. The Imperius…
And at that moment, Harry sees it all laid bare before him. He knows that the voice he hears of the many-times-great uncle contains a basic good that is human. But he knows that the struggling voice will not prevail.
Yet, finally, Harry also knows that a valiant struggle, even if fated to fail, still gives him a chance!
In Cadmus’s split second of hesitation, Harry’s hand, and stone, have surged upwards. In the instant that Cadmus’s ancient copy rotates into alignment with Voldemort’s modern incarnation, Harry’s hand alights, with ring, directly onto the vitreous boulder.
A horrible, otherworldly roar fills the world. The energy of nineteen centuries of time on the brink of full rupture screeches through the gap, focusing laser-like upon the glazed boulder…
And the might of Hercules’ forge awakes…
Harry leaps back, fingers blistered. The long-dark rock glows red, orange, golden, WHITE HOT. It begins to spark and spit.
Rob steps in front of Hettie to pull her to safety, but her heels are locked of her own volition, because she desperately needs to say one final thing…
“Harry! Your cape! It is the magic of wat-”
Glaring fire sprays up through a thousand cracks; the cleft wall shatters — falling away in molten avalanche. Aghast, gaping at Cadmus who remains dull and statuesque with Resurrection Stone still rigid in ancient hand, Voldemort winces. His dream in ruins, he Disapparates. Malfoy and the other Death Eaters desperately trigger their Portkeys, but the swirling, raging pulses of Earth power are too fearsome; and the Portkey swirl merely knocks them down like failed, broken rags.
Harry pulls Ginny into his arms. He grapples for Hettie and Rob, but molten spattering rock intervenes, and Hettie waves him off, shouting something. Despite a cacophony like all of Hell’s Furies, Harry somehow still grasps the words of Hettie's final counsel.
“Use your cape!!”
Half blinded by a backdrop of flaming stone, Harry whips out the Cape of Invisibility. In a near panic to unravel the fabric and wrap it about Ginny and himself, Harry’s left arm flails out, and his hand latches onto something.
Desperately hoping he has grabbed Hettie or Rob, he pulls hard, just as the cape closes.
In this barest final instant, Harry recalls seeing a blazing wall of lava pelt down upon them.
Against his cape…
All is fire.
But then it is not.
The magic of fire falls away to strange half-light, quenched by the cape's silent powers of water everlasting.
And then, as everything begins to swirl in a flood of darkness, Harry catches the briefest glimpse of the person that he rescued.
It is Cadmus Peverell.
Yet whatever became of the middle brother, Harry will never know. For the very next instant brings a rushing, bracing… coolness… that sweeps them away. Their eyes pressed shut, Harry and Ginny, cling to each other for dear life amidst a torrent more wild than the most turbulent river. In the chaos, Harry’s grip on the wrist of his many-times-great uncle slips, inevitably…
And Cadmus is gone.
To another place; another time.
Hold on Greeny! Hold on! Just a bit longer!
Gemina Wilsey is utterly determined. However, any use of the word ‘determined’ is to acknowledge that there is a problem. Something is really bollixed, and Gemina knows it.
Minutes ago, she was coursing with adrenaline! Another six Eaters had tried to charge the ridge, and that stunt (not remembering to angle their shield higher when fighting from lower ground) earned them all hard face-plants. Then a thrilling series of loud popping noises alerted her to the fact that reinforcements were now arriving from the castle. All was bloody excellent!
But now? Not so bloody excellent.
Gemina still holds her own. Facing her, about twelve feet down the slope, is an utterly aggro Bellatrix Lestrange, flanked by her pair of deranged, androgynous flunkies, Rodolphus and Rastaban. The three Lestranges keep trying to look past Gemina to their main target (the vaguely wraithlike, helpless form of Gemina’s favourite green-eyed boy) but the redhead keeps them honest with (still very lethal-looking) lightning bolts every ten seconds or so.
However, Gemina is in a bind. She does not dare move. Her every limb is leaden, worn, useless. She’s afraid that with a single mistep, she might well keel over.
And thus everything about this once-fierce battle — everywhere up and down the ridge — has bogged down. Wary glances dart too and fro. Shields flicker and pulse. Rivulets of sweat leak down bewildered foreheads.
Nobody speaks. Everyone waits. Watching for someone to break.
As far as Gemina is concerned, that much is okay. It gives her time to try to figure out what the hell is wrong with her. She wracks her mind, trying to think if she did anything stupid to drain her energy? Or was she hit with a strange curse?
None of that rings true.
Her initial escape from the fire had been tremendous liberation. Her body felt like a polished machine; her magic was sparking and blazing like a brand new toy. But now, straining to hold her best (worst) mean girl glare to keep Bellatrix on edge, Gemina almost wonders if… she’s dying?
On the surface of it, the sensations going through her resemble a badly botched calming draught, but she’s quite sure the problem is worse than that.
Finally, it hits her.
Gemina remembers that she does not belong in this universe. She got here; no way in hell she could be denied her right to be here; this universe damned well needs her here! But now, for some reason, it’s damned well trying to push her out.
Burning pain throbs in her joints. Her knee shudders but, through sheer perversity, she locks it and holds upright. She refuses to relinquish the glare in her eyes; the scowl on her face. Somehow she can still feel magic sparking in her hand and hear her own kvetching voice (“You’re paler than a bleached maggot, Lestrange. Eat your bleeding broccoli, will ya?”), but the visceral thrill of battle is long gone. She feels like a fraud; an illusion ready to be stripped away the moment anyone has the stones to test her. And for all she knows, that moment may be just about to-
Somehow Gemina knows he's about to arrive, even before the bang of Apparition sounds.
Everyone — roughly a hundred Death Eaters, and a much smaller band of Aurors, teachers, students and Order of Phoenix operatives — jolts in alarm at Voldemort's unexpected return.
Eyes blazing with unfathomable madness, Voldemort looms mere feet from where the frozen flame no longer exists. He glances about wildly, takes a second to gather his wits, then his gaze fixes on the three Lestranges. With a look of breath-taking hatred, he glares past them to the extraordinarily annoying redheaded witch. And then, he spots what he’s looking for.
Wand out, Voldemort stalks forward; a wolf closing on its helpless prey. “Stand back, Bella. The boy is mine.”
The Lestranges skulk to the side. Gemina’s failing strength holds long enough to turn and confront the wizard she despises more than anything alive — the monster who killed her parents... four of her brothers... most of her friends.
If Gemina regrets one thing in this horrid moment, it is not that she is certain to die.
Gemina's only regret is that she does not believe, sincerely, that she has enough strength to take the bastard with her.
She is an instant away from the closest thing to ‘panic’ she has ever felt.
But then she hears, distant as if from under water, a voice.
A welcome voice. The voice of Rob. Or Ron?
Whatever. The important thing is that the manky lovable scruff-ball is talking sense, calling out, “’Hey Mione! Over here! We’ve got to help her protect Harry!”
And then Gemina feels the reassurance of shoulders lining up next to hers.
Friendly shoulders; strong shoulders.
And that is when, despite the searing pain, Gemina’s mouth finds its way to a small smile.
Hold on Gem girl! Hold on kiddies! Just a bit longer!
For Ginny, there is a fraction of a second when everything looks, and feels, exactly as it had in the Room of Requirement. Violent flares of magical fury leap up, only to strike a bracingly cold invisible barrier and freeze into extraordinary swirls of glowing sculpture. The universe seems to hang in the balance… then…
At this point, the experience diverges.
Unlike the strange Portkey that had seemingly abducted her from the castle hours (which seem like weeks) ago, this feeling is completely different. Ginny knows that, this time, there will be no emptiness, no loneliness, no long banishment into a strangely dissociated role of a spectator to a long walk across the Roman Empire.
She knows all of this because this time she is with Harry. In his arms. As he is in hers.
Wherever their destination, they will arrive together. Together means strength. And hope.
After some time, the sensation of cascading along a torrential flood fades. There is a soft drifting, which finally subsides to silent motionless. Together, with strength and hope, they find themselves hand-in-hand, in darkness.
Their feet feel cool. In the distance is a gentle trickle of water.
“Any idea where we are?” Harry asks.
Ginny does not answer. In truth, she has no idea where they are, but she does have a strong, unexplained, sense of what they must do. She pulls his hand, moving toward the pleasant sound of water; bringing them forward so that the cool sensation ascends up past their feet to mid-ankle.
“I, er…” Harry pulls back slightly; hesitant. “Are you sure we should be, uh, doing this?”
“Yes.” Ginny squeezes his hand reassuringly. She does not know why, but for some reason she understands that what they are about to do (whatever that may be) will be far more difficult for Harry than for her.
She nonetheless has a powerful conviction that, difficult or not, they must proceed; they must walk together down into a pool of bracingly cold water.
As Ginny leads them down, Harry follows. For Ginny, the sensation of wetness closing about them is fresh, exhilarating. For Harry, his fingers tighten around her hand, tenser with every step.
“What do you feel?” Ginny’s whisper has an almost hypnotic timbre, as sounding above crystal-still water. “Does this hurt.”
Harry nods; his eyes buried in deep crevasses of pain.
“Where?” Ginny reaches a hand to touch his cheek. “Where does it hurt?”
“My… forehead?” Harry’s voice is confused.
A flash of panic races through Ginny’s veins for an instant, then it’s gone… replaced by certitude. “I don’t know what’s happening, Harry, but this is not a trap. It isn’t evil.”
“I know.” Harry gives a stiff nod. Yet he is also shivering from some pain or fear that, even to him, seems irrational and unknowable.
Ginny moves to wrap her arms about his quaking shoulders, guiding his chattering jaw to rest on her shoulder. She closes her eyes, holding him close, trying to will away his pain…
And in that moment, about them, they both have the strange sensation that they are not alone. There is an odd illusion of invisible arms enjoining theirs… and they find themselves descending again, deeper down the final few steps toward a total immersion as cleansing as any fresh brook on a hot August day.
Striving to suppress a current of angry electricity tearing at his forehead, Harry concentrates on the gentle strength in Ginny’s arms; reaches his mind out to feel the presence of others. In the utter darkness behind his eyelids on this dim predawn morning, he begins to see… illuminations. At first, the images are mere mist, but slowly the vapours resolve… to people.
The Publican and Princess are standing by the moonlit river, turning to face him with eyes benevolent and wise…
Professor Dumbledore awakens him some June morning all those years ago, from a bed in the Hospital Wing.
Ignotus and Annisgwyl lead them down from the shallows into a pool, whose surface glimmers beneath the light of a thousand stars…
But then, at the moment when waters fully enclose them, it seems to be Harry’s parents there to take his hand, and Ginny’s hand beside him… And Lily is reaching up to gently brush away the matted hair from Harry’s forehead, and Harry gasps, bracing for the excruciating pain he feels when anything brushes the agitated scar…
But this time it does not hurt. And it is no longer his mother whose gentle hand is upon his face, but rather the powerful Princess Lanossëa, whose curved, cupped hand bears a thin stream of sparkling cold water from the Lake and lets it trickle down Harry’s bare forehead…
And though the water runs down full across his brow, Harry's eyes are open, and wide.
And the princess smiles. “Water and stars.” The princess is fading now, but her voice drifts away softly over the Lake. “They heal you. They are your strength.”
And then there is only Ginny, holding him close.
And although an incredible weight seems to be lifted from Harry’s heart, a weight he has borne for so many years, and although in this lifting there is great relief, for unknown cause the liberation is accompanied by intense, inexplicable sadness that surges up from his chest… and Harry convulses in a wracking series of sobs that build and burst within him…
And then that too is gone, and he buries his face in the curve of the shoulder that is waiting for him.
And as quiet falls about them, there is the sound only of two heartbeats and soft breaths. And, as one, they raise their faces to each other and rediscover (at long last) the soft comfort of each others’ lips.
How long they remained that way is not recorded, yet when finally they open their eyes, the northeastern skies have burnished to a deep copper that plays on Ginny’s hair. They are standing chest-deep in some quiet country lake that Ginny recalls from some long ago sunny summer family picnic.
“Dozmary Pool.” She laughs. “We’re in Cornwall!”
“It’s beautiful.” Harry stares; eyes as wide as a newborn just learning to see.
“It is.” Ginny smiles.
“We’ll come back here sometime?” He meets her gaze.
“Let’s!” Ginny nods, then her smile fades. “Harry…?” Squinting in the low light, she reaches a tentative finger toward Harry’s forehead. “Harry, your scar…?”
“Er, yes?” Harry reaches his fingers to touch hers.
“It is??” He blinks, rubs his temple, then stares are her. “Wow! That must mean… something.”
“Yeah. Do you suppose…?” Wide-eyed, she studies his face for another long moment, then shakes her head, never completing the question.
“I think…” Harry gazes to the northeast, where a red-glowing clouds drape down to paint the hills. “I think it means we’re ready to finish what must be finished.”