Chapter 6. Voices
A bit more shy and tentative than usual, Gemina touches the girl’s shoulder. “Hey there, sweets. You okay?”
“Huh??” Caught by surprise, the girl jolts at the feel of a warm hand. She stares wide-eyed. “Who are…?”
“Gemina Wilsey, luv! But you can call me, ‘Hey you’! That’s what the blokes in the Order call me. Charming lot, eh?”
“Gemina Wilsey?!” The pretty eyes are even wider now. “But… that’s impossible!”
Gemina blinks. She's not sure what to make of the incredulity, but she laughs it off. “Impossible? Nah nah, try ‘Bloody Impossible’. That’s what they call me when they’re tired of ‘Hey you’.”
Ginny stares at the brash, courageous, near-copy of herself. Her mind races, attempting to rationalise this unexpected development.
Shouldn’t this only happen with a Cupla? But the coupled Cuplae collapsed years ago, didn't they? How did the alternate reality come back?
By every version of events Ginny knows, the faltering, doomed, Potter-less world of Wilseys, Graveners and Dunbar should no longer really exist. Or at least it should have been permanently divorced from the one she and Harry had helped to restore.
Then again, things DID go rather haywire for us, yeah? Is time and reality all muddled, then?
This is rather a lot to take in, especially for someone who’s been thrown for a bit of a loop. Being thrust back into a lover’s embrace, then torn away just as suddenly, is quite disorienting. Yet, for all bewildering shocks and turmoils that Ginny has faced in the past while, one thing is clear.
The dense, cold void around her is warming. The world in front of Ginny's eyes is brightening… and there is a pair of arms opening up before her, offering comfort.
In a way, Ginny Weasley is still ‘all by herself’. But she is no longer alone, and she stumbles into the awaiting arms, offering a lame smile. “It’s good to see you, yeah? So, you’ve come to help, then?”
“Er, sure.” Smiling, Gemina shrugs. “What’s the plan, cap’n? Knock a few coconuts? Rescue some knight in shining armor?”
Ginny can't help but smirk. “The latter, I'd reckon. Or at least find him.”
“Brill.” Gemina returns the smirk. “Your errant knight got a name?”
“He does.” Ginny exhales. “We need to find Harry Potter.”
Gasping from their sprint back to the castle, Harry and Hermione still find a burst of energy to race extra quickly past the Entrance Hall, lest anyone try to flag them down.
It feels awkward to consciously bypass friends and mourners, but time now seems beyond precious. From Harry's and Hermione's perspective, every moment not spent trying to unravel Voldemort's inscrutable scheme is one moment closer to a disaster that could imperil everyone and everything they cherish.
Knowing that Voldemort is prepared to launch another brutal assault in barely half an hour, they have yet to plan how to derail his odious manifesto. The choice he offers is untenable — sacrifice Harry, and thus extinguish the last hope of The Light, or doom the entire castle to flaming death and devastation far beyond anything ever written in 'Hogwarts: A History'.
This why they must find a third way, and both Harry and Hermione have concluded, independently, that this third way begins with finding Ginny.
They have also both concluded that the path to finding Ginny probably does not lead through the stark cloying misery of the Great Hall, so they race madly off in the opposite direction, up the Grand Staircase, desperately hoping that Seventh Floor will yield something helpful — even a bare shred of good news to break the ghastly toll of endless misfortune.
As they climb, Hermione half-hears someone call. For a moment she considers stopping to respond, but Harry is already nearly a flight ahead of her, so she forges on. A minute later, they clear the top landing, and clatter their way through the debris-strewn upper corridor.
Harry lights a Lumos charm, and Hermione summons a breeze to clear the lingering acrid haze. They stare.
“Wow.” Hermione gestures blankly at lumps of blackened brass that had once formed the hinges and knocker to the Room of Requirement’s magical door.
The room’s magic appears to have been completely obliterated, along with the vast portion of its exotic content. A few cracked, scorched statues remain, but everything else is blackened slag or foul soot.
The pair walk dazedly through the ruin.
Harry would take no joy right now in pointing out that Hermione was wrong. There is nothing here. No Ginny. No clues. No memories. Nothing.
Hermione does not need to be told. She is the first to turn her back on the calamity and head back toward the stairs.
Harry joins her, and they walk together in brisk silence.
“Sorry.” Hermione reaches for his hand, and gently pulls him to a stop on the landing. “That didn't go quite as planned.”
“True.” Harry's shoulders sag; he has no energy for wit or sarcasm. “Back to square one, then. Damn.”
Hermione stares into the darkness. “I do still believe she’s alive.”
“And we may still have enough time to find her… if we're smart.” Hermione frowns. “Think, think think. Where do we look next, and wh-”
“Harry! 'Mione! Hey!”
Harry and Hermione jump at the familiar yet unexpected voice.
Ron is racing up to meet them. His tone is still a bit shaken, but vastly improved. “Saw you two bolt up the stairs. Figured you might need a hand?”
Harry angles his Lumos forward so that his friend won’t stumble on the shattered masonry.
Hermione bites her lip, struggling to anticipate how Ron might respond to vague (and potentially over-optimistic) speculation that his sister may be still alive.
"Sure." Harry lacks the time and patience for tact. “We could use your chess brain, Ron. We need help finding Ginny.“
Harry knows Ron's failings and his strengths; he knows his mate often rises to the occasion when the stakes are highest. He levels a steely gaze at the red head and is rewarded by two wide (and ever-so-slightly hopeful) eyes.
“We last saw her about an hour ago.” Harry turns his gaze toward a high arched window above. “Ginny vanished up here in the Fiend Fyre that the idiot Goyle started. 'Mione and I couldn't have been more than twenty feet away; neither of us saw her disappear, but we’re both convinced she’s still alive. Magically abducted, maybe? If so, we need to figure out where she went, and get her back. Fast! ”
Ron blinks in momentary confusion, but he quickly forces an analytical frown. “Abducted? From up here?”
Harry nods; Hermione equivocates.
"Uhhh…" Rob massages his head as though thinking is painful. “Uh, not abducted by ordinary magic, right? For starters, the castle is warded up tighter than Snape's potions cabinet, and secondly, Fiend Fyre scrambles magic — it would mess with apparition or Portkeys, even within the castle.”
Harry and Hermione both deflate. To Hermione, this is unhappy evidence that her brain is worn and weary; otherwise she ought to have deduced that herself. To Harry, he remains flummoxed as to why he's been unable to get a read on where Ginny is, and every added uncertainty makes her seem further and further away. Or does it? He tilts his head, gazing through the window at the tiny flecks of light sprinkling the night sky.
Ron, clearly, does not deflate. Nothing will bring back his lost brother, but learning there's may be a sister left to find has lit a spark. “Yeah, well she's alive, right? Then we'll figure it out! Where do we look next?”
“That’s the problem.” Hermione wrings her hands. “We’d hoped to find some clues up here, but the whole level is obliterated, and now we really have no…” She trails off; her eyes seek out Harry, desperate for the strength of his convictions.
Harry, however, has left the conversation. He is staring up through the ancient panes, seemingly captivated by an astonishingly clear view of the Milky Way.
Hermione and Ron fall dead silent, watching as their friend slowly angles his ear upward.
For all the world, Harry looks as though he is enchanted by Ptolemy's mystical music of the spheres. But it is no celestial harmony that has captivated Harry. Rather, it is the half-imagined sound of his own name; as if, somehow, the stars above are whispering to him; whispering… ‘find Harry Potter.’
The cabin lights have dimmed, but there is the usual background din of engines, of turbulence rattling tray tables, not to mention diffuse fragments of conversations, coughing and fidgeting of fellow passengers.
Hettie knows that she should be trying to sleep so that she can wake up in Naples, ready to pretend that whatever time of day she lands into will seem normal. Unfortunately, there is a big difference between ‘trying to sleep’ and ‘really sleeping’, so Hettie gives up and lets her mind wander.
Disengaging her hand from Rob’s loose grasp, she basks in a glowing moment as she listens to the sound of his restful breathing. It is not the most beautiful sound in the world, but it sings to her, proclaiming how her very presence comforts him; relaxes him so much that he’s overcome his deep fear of flying.
Helped along by a few pints, perhaps.
Yes, they had whiled away the first few hours of the flight quaffing a few of Qantas’s complementary beverages, and meandering through a long, lighthearted chat about lots of pleasantly irrelevant things.
The banter had fun at the time, but unfortunately it now reminds Hettie of her many serious (potentially crucial) issues that they have not broached; questions that she realises are beyond Rob's current ability to answer.
Hettie would love to be parsing every tiny quirk of Dunbar’s explanation of the Allesley implications, and Rob’s subsequent assignment. But forget parsing little quirks when Rob doesn’t even remember the middling-sized quirks, or the big ones, or key points, or a general summary, or… anything.
Hettie wonders if Gemina might know of a spell that might bring his memories back.
Probably, but knowing a spell is not the same as casting one. Hettie doubts whether Rob could magically restore his own memory, and she knows that Gemina, stuck behind the pages of a photo album, is not in a position to do much. Hettie, herself, would be more than happy to try, but…
Well, that’s a rather sore spot.
Hettie wishes she could help Rob. She would love to be doing magic. It is her blessed right to be doing magic, but that blessed right was… stolen!!
Stolen by that presumptuous arse, Dunbar!
Hettie takes a deep breath and wills a cool zephyr of calmness up through her chest, then out to her limbs and mind.
Dunbar made a decision that he thought was wise. And maybe it saved my life. Perhaps.
At the very least, Dunbar gave her a chance to grow up in a beautiful city, in a pleasant home, with wonderful parents, attending fine schools in which she excelled. Many would be grateful for all that. Is it ‘petty’ to complain?
Yet to have spent all these years so sheltered — living a life where her gravest fears revolved around maths exams; her greatest heroism was taking centre stage as Cordelia in King Lear… her feistiest moments were fending off over-eager St. Peter’s boys down by the green. Such a life — now that seems the very definition of ‘petty’.
Hettie does not like 'petty'.
Hettie does not like the fact that she and her family were spirited away (kidnapped?) seven years ago; depriving her of a world in which she would have stood beside Rob and Gemina; would have fought for justice and decency; might have seen good people murdered on the way, but could also have saved some of those good people!
Yes, Hettie is confident she would have made a difference. Maybe things would have turned out better for the Wilseys and Lawnbartons and other fine wizards and witches who lost so much? Hettie tries not to delude herself with arrogance, but she's aware that she's succeeded in everything she’s ever set her mind to.
Well, except perhaps for that bit about trying to sing like Olivia Newton John.
Yes, that was arguably a poor choice (especially in her first year at a new school), however, a) she (being only twelve at the time) didn't know any better, b) nobody (not even Olivia Newton John) has ever saved the world by trying to sing like Olivia Newton John, whereas c) she, Henrietta Jane Gravener…
…has saved a world.
Now, admittedly, the world she saved was not her own. This world she inhabits is still pretty fouled up. And that, more than anything, is why Hettie feels an almost panicky compulsion to realise her heritage. Her magical heritage.
My heritage, as a witch.
A witch. Witch = me. Witchy. 'H.J. Gravener, Witch First Class'.
Hettie has begun repeating phrases like that in her mind; trying them on for size and, well, they fit like a glove. A sleek black satin glove — exciting, sexy, wicked, dangerous, tantalising…
And oh so frustrating!
It stings to know that Rob and Gemina, and others their age, have been using magic all the while — practising, perfecting, increasingly challenging skills. Even if Hettie was to make a go of witchcraft right now, she would be sooo far behind!
But maybe it’s not too late to start catching up?
Now that she’s aware of her magic, she truly does feel the power coursing through her veins, but she hasn’t a clue how to use it. In her other magical adventure, Rob did pledge to begin teaching her some spells… but in the current timeline, that adventure hasn’t actually happened yet, and it’s increasingly unlikely it ever will happen, given how differently everything is turning out now.
It also doesn’t help that this rather confused version of Rob is much less perceptive than the one she befriended in the other timeline. She has no way of knowing if he’ll clue in to her needs and make the same offer.
Could always ask him…
True. Unfortunately her mother always tried to teach her to be a ‘good girl’… which, seemingly, was a euphemism for ‘not pushy’.
But… maybe there is no 'good girl'? Maybe, instead, there's an utterly wicked little witch sitting in seat 28A, peeking over at her sleeping boyfriend, realising that she could probably slide her hand carefully into his pocket, borrow his wand, and…
Dodo — we’re at 31,000 feet. You’re liable to blow a hole in the plane!
… Pathetic little priss.
The wicked little witch in seat 28A scrunches her nose in one last whinge, then wilts, replaced by a not-so-wicked little witch who takes another one of her deep, calming breaths, and turns her mind back to less frustrating pursuits. Such as pondering how much more of this caper she might be able to crack by herself. Without help from Dunbar's lost instructions.
It does intrigue Hettie how far her intuition has already progressed, and how accurately. This bit about how Gemina Wilsey may have gotten trapped in a strange first century limbo by some peculiar coupling between magical fires — how on Earth did she come by that wild notion? And what else can she guess by equally obscure means?
If Gemina’s death (or near death?) in a modern magical fire does somehow relate to the deadly Vesuvius eruption of A.D. 79 (a supposition Hettie believes was confirmed by Dunbar having procured their flight to Italy), then how would they go about breaking that connection? Or do they break the connection at all? Maybe they use the connection; perhaps there's important merit to Gemina's ability to observe some first century Celtic girl wandering down into Italy for a date with A.D. 79 cataclysm?
Those, of course, are tricky questions, and they're hardly the only conundrums. For that matter, Hettie doesn’t even know why any of this involves her? Dunbar clearly didn’t want her around before, so why should he enlist her now??
Over the past 24 hours, she has devoted quite a bit of thought to this, trying to guess whether any of the lessons learned from their last temporal adventure might still apply. She hasn’t found much to go on. She's tried asking both Gemina and Rob about all kinds of potentially useful things. Did Dunbar ever talk about her (Hettie)? Did he ever mention anything about a Roman brooch?
Unfortunately, neither of the Wilseys had the foggiest clue. Neither had ever heard the name ‘Achaius Duff’. No mention from Dunbar about more general aspects of Cupla magic, or any plots to meddle with time. Nothing.
So, just like last time, Hettie is left in the unsettling predicament of watching a caper spread like some sort of strange fog, offering the occasional faint whisper, but otherwise remaining every bit as impenetrable as the cottony blanket of troposphere she occasionally glimpses outside the window.
Yet, for all Hettie feels utterly clueless about this strange mess, she suspects that she may know more than everyone else.
Everyone, except for some unknown bad guy.
And that seems just a little bit scary!
All roads lead to Rome.
Of course, Annisgwyl and the Legio XX will traverse well beyond Rome (nearly one hundred leagues further down the Italian coast) but that can wait. For here in the Imperial capital, a day of paid furlough has been scheduled.
This leisure is a perk for the loyal soldiers who have marched back and forth across the empire many times, but it is also an opportunity for Traianius to visit the Forum, where he will invest a day discussing matters of state with his mentor, Senator Nerva.
Prior to leaving camp, Traianius had given Annisgwyl brotherly counsel, telling her that the city is glorious, vibrant, but also has many risks for the uninitiated. He has not forbidden her from wandering (a wise choice, since she would likely just defy him), but he has recommended precautions. Thus, around mid-morning, Annisgwyl dons her ‘disguise’ (a simple tunic, adorned with conservative white palla over head and shoulders) and makes her way from the encampment.
Apparently, the disguise is not the only precaution. A short distance from the barracks, Annisgwyl’s hunter instincts detect a shadow. Her keen peripheral vision discovers, not surprisingly, that Traianius has assigned a scout to discreetly follow her.
She laughs to herself; she will decide later whether to tolerate the ‘escort’ or discard him like the pit of a plum.
For the time being, however, Annisgwyl hastens to a quick pace. Although she has never seen a city so magnificent as Rome, today she will not stand and gape at the tall edifices and monuments. Rather, she has a goal; a vague notion to honour her father and family.
What sets Annisgwyl out today are some recollected words from her dying father.
… should you venture to Palatine Hill, you may be noted by your half-brothers. Seek them out. They are not friends, but I believe they will help you. For they should be aware, more than anyone, of Ffodion’s whereabouts.
The advice has resonated with Annisgwyl.
She understands her father’s ambivalence; she knows that her older half brothers were acolytes in the Order of Letum, and once tried to kill her father. Yet she is also aware that Antioch, although dangerous and dark, now owes her father a life debt. Furthermore, her father always believed that the younger one, Cadmus, possessed a genuine heart somewhere beneath his damaged exterior.
By mid-morning, with lingering trepidations, she is ascending the narrow, shaded alleys leading up to the wealthy dwellings ringing the crown of the hill. Every so often, she raises her bronze mirror, not so much to check cosmetics, but rather to spy on Traianius’s scout.
She has not lost him. That is just as well. She has decided that having a witness may be useful — someone who can report back to Traianius if she encounters… difficulties.
Still curious as to how her brothers might find her, Annisgwyl stops at a fountain to fill her cup, when…
She startles at the harsh sound, splashing her water. Looking about, she spies the beady eyes of a magpie, perched close by, eyeing her with interest.
Blessed with her mother’s instincts, Annisgwyl can feel a familiar throb of magic in the air. She smiles at the bird. “Well met, master magpie. How do you do?”
Perplexed, the bird shifts his feet. He studies Annisgwyl for another long moment, then takes flight, alighting on a window across the courtyard, and disappearing within.
Annisgwyl pauses, deliberating.
To enter a strange villa in an unknown neighbourhood is very likely one of those impetuous behaviours that would wither Traianius’s hair, but it is nonetheless precisely what she plans to do.
There is only the matter of the scout. Will he tolerate such foolishness?
Annisgwyl, fortunately, has a compromise. She reaches into a fold of her stola where she has hidden her wand. An instant later, and she has magically modified the scout’s attitude. Now he should accept her questionable action with no more than a lazy shrug… yet will still keep an eye on the villa. Just in case.
Thus covered, she strides purposefully across the flagstones, up a series of polished steps and into the shady interior…
And lurches to the side — a man’s strong hand clamped forcibly over her mouth; wiry arm pinning her to his chest.
Breathless, she stands there, uncertain whether to be amused or afraid.
Like lightning, the hands shift, whirling her around to reveal… a face incredibly similar to her father’s.
Except for the eyes and voice.
Those are cold. Dark and cold.
“By the black banners of Hekate…” Antioch Peuerellius glares at her. “Mus told me he’d seen the old wretch’s daughter wandering in the provinces, but I would never have believed! What madness brings you here??”