Chapter 9. Thimble and Block
Hettie collapses diagonally across Rob’s small bed, groaning in exhaustion.
Rob looks at her a moment, then thoughtfully picks up her discarded rucksack, placing it on a chair.
After a moment, Hettie lifts her head high enough to notice him hovering uncomfortably.
How endearingly shy!
She pulls her legs in to make room, and pats the free space invitingly.
Rob sits slowly, carefully. He is scratching his chin. “Er, Hett, what did you make of that, uh, peaked house?”
“The one with the gable shaped like this signet?” She pulls the ring out of her pocket and gazes into the odd stone.
“Well… It seemed as though…” Hettie goes silent and thoughtful for a moment. “It was a little like deja vu. As long as I was touching the ring, I felt a connection to the place but… well, the longer we explored in and around the ruin, the more I felt, uhh… hmmm…” She pauses. “Rob, have you ever played that parlour game with the singing thimble?”
“Huh?” Rob blinks. “Er, you mean the one where you charm a hidden thimble to sing, and it gets louder as you get closer to-”
“You wizards are impossible!” Hettie pokes him. “Real people playing the real game get a real person to do the singing. That’s half the fun.”
“Er, okay.” Rob grins sheepishly. “You don’t want to hear me sing, though.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” Hettie smirks. “But your way makes it easier to explain because, as I think back, the ring did almost seem to be singing to me.”
“Really? That’s odd.” Rob reaches over, and Hettie hands him the ring. Frowning, he examines it.
“I’m not sure what it meant.” Hettie rests her chin in her hands. “The longer we explored, the quieter… and cooler… the ‘singing’ seemed to get. It was as though the ring felt like we had come to the right place, but at the wrong time.”
“Ah.” Disappointment is evident in Rob’s face. “Do you reckon we missed something? Got there too late?”
“No idea.” She shrugs and turns enough to peer out the window toward the darkening eastern sky. “Maybe we’ll fare better tomorrow up on the mountain.”
“Yeah, I, er, hope so.” Rob frowns.
Hettie’s eyes narrow. “That hardly sounds enthusiastic, Rob. What’s the matter?”
Rob’s chin lowers into his steepled hands for a moment. “Hett, I’m concerned about the attack this morning. That probably wasn’t a random mugging — petty crooks don’t have an emergency Portkey at the ready. And that might mean-”
“Of course it wasn’t a random mugging.” Hettie rolls her eyes. “We’re targets, Rob. After this morning, my best guess is that your V-Mo fellow is onto us. As far as I can surmise, he may have a far better idea what we’re up to than we do. If so, then the more trouble he sends our way, the better.”
“Errr…??” Rob blinks. “Oh! You mean, the tetchier he gets, the more likely it is that we’re closing on something important?”
“Partly, yes.” Hettie stares out the window again. “I’d also like to think we’re distracting him from worse devilry. If he keeps fussing over us here in Italy, it may take him longer to carry out his plot to sack your safe house in Islington.”
“Grimmauld??” Rob gasps. “He’s going to break in?! You know that from your dream… thing… or whatever it was?”
“Damn!” His face has gone deathly white. “When? When does he do it??”
“Well, by the old time line, it would have been Christmas eve, but things may already have shifted a bit.”
“We’ve got to tell someone!” Rob’s fists clench the quilt. “But… but all the owls up there are getting intercepted, and there’s no way I can send a Patronus all the way from Italy, and there’s no Floo connection here, and… and…”
“Take a deep breath, Rob.” Following her own advice, Hettie exhales slowly. “We may not know what we’re doing yet, but things are moving very quickly and we seem to be keeping pace. I think we still have time — weeks perhaps — and maybe we can buy a bit more by keeping him off balance. And, with a little luck, we’ll surely find some way to get a message though to Dunbar.”
“Oi, I hope you’re right!” Rob releases the bedding. “I mean, I know what you’re saying makes sense, and it’s pointless to flap, but it’s hell being stuck so far away, knowing that something terrible could happen back home.”
“We’re better off where we are, Rob.” She takes his hand. “Up there, we’d have no idea what to do. Start a panic, and we could play straight into V-Mo’s hands, right? But down here we know we have some crucial role to play. That gives us hope, and hopefully even a bit of time. Hope and time.”
Hettie’s optimism is momentarily lost on Rob. He stares vacantly.
Since arriving at St. Cuthbert’s College in Auckland several days ago, he has been exposed to strange concepts that baffle and flummox. He’s been meaning to try to come to grips with the most perplexing issues, but he’s not found the right time to ask.
“Hett?” He fixes his eyes on the faded checkers of his bed spread. “How did it all end?”
“End? You mean, the other time line?”
“Annihilation.” Hettie stares out the window, pondering the darkening sky. “I was given a chance to destroy it. So I did.”
The only part of Rob to move is an eyebrow.
Without looking, Hettie reaches our her hand. Silently, Rob places the old ring onto her palm and she closes her fingers around it.
"It was the right choice." She sighs. “It was a choice you helped me to make.”
“In erasing your world — my world — we repaired another one.” Her lips part as she watches the first few winter stars appearing. “Somewhere out there, Rob, is a world where you don’t have to lose your family. Where Gemina… or Ginny, perhaps… can have her green-eyed boy. Everyone out there in that other world — Ginny, Harry, the other you, the other me — everyone has hope. And time.”
“But, so do we. Don't we?”
Hettie blinks, realising that he truly was listening!
She turns to him; her wide eyes caress his face, study his rapt, expectant look. She nods slowly. “Yes Rob. So do we.”
“So, it could all be worth it?” His face remains expressionless. “Destroy one world, but save another? Destroy one future that didn’t work, but make another one better?”
“Rob, it’s like…” Hettie trails off. She opens her hand to look at the odd stone again for a moment, then closes her fingers. “You and I, Rob — we’re like little children playing with blocks. The big tower we tried to prop has collapsed. Now we're fretting that we’ll get called up to bed before we can fix it back to how it should be, but… well, you know what?”
Rob nods, open-mouthed, questioning.
“Nobody has called us to bed.” A smile spreads across her face. “So we keep working. I hand you a block; you hand me a block, and we just keep building, fixing, hoping.”
Rob stares for a long moment; his eyes lock with hers. Time stands still.
For all the ‘old’ Rob (the one from Spring 1998) seemed mysterious, Hettie has always felt that she could read the December 1997 version. Yet in this moment, he is a blank slate. Watching him now, she finds herself every bit the breathless ‘Muggle’ that she once was on that chilly voyage over the grey North Atlantic.
Fascinated, she see Rob’s hand begin moving. It has reached into a pocket, and is withdrawing something.
Something dark. A wand.
It is the wand he confiscated from this morning’s assailant. “For you.” He extends it toward her, handle first.
There, in the space between them, it seems to levitate. It is hope. And it is time.
Struck dumb, Hettie's free hand reaches blindly to accept.
“Knowing you, Hett…” Rob smiles. “You'll fix more with a wand than with a block.”