A/N: I promise to write a proper author's note later, but I have to jump on a bus to the other side of the country, so all I'll say for now is HOLYBEEJEEBUS THANK YOU! Special thank yous go out to Peregrinus5Floh for her absolutely mind-boggling fanart of the Twin Vice cast (if you haven't seen it, get to the TVPD club on Devi now, it's incredible) and Spottedleafpaw for her amazing Nox cosplay. Seriously, girl, you ARE Nox. It's frightening (in an awesome way)! Remus-Chocolade has been working on an excellent multi-chaptered spin-off TVPD fanfic, "Werewolf", which you can read here on (it's in my favs, go check it out). Endless thank yous to you all!
I also managed to nab a beautiful commission of Caithion, Fred and Nox by the very talented Jubilations, which you can also see on the club. Have fun with that bag of goodies! Now on with the fic before I miss my bus…
Edit: ...I missed my bus.
Twin Vice Paranormal Detectives
On Passing Hallows
'The experience of time permeates all our lives. Indeed, the word 'time' is one of the most overused words in the English language. Time is with us all the time; it determines history and measures a structured world that we have fashioned. We assume that it is a tangible force, that it is invisible, but all around. We trust that time moves in linear fashion, but in fact that it moves in circles is evidential. For anyone who has ever had the misfortune to find themselves a part of a prophecy, it is painfully obvious that time and history like cycles.'
'The problem with historians is that they believe time can be measured. Time, in truth, is a dreadful cosmic joke.'
Edward Balthazar McRozen, Forests of Time, 1982
14th March, 2004
It began with the bodies on the Thames.
It was on that day, twenty-four hours after the meeting in the Entrees des Catacombes, when the people of London began to feel a change in the city.
Almost at the same time Fred Weasley and Detective Nox left for the House of Sometimes Intolerance, did a group of Muggle children sight the first body as it floated face-down onto the shore close to the Houses of Parliament.
Four bodies were discovered in the end. What troubled the authorities so was the victims, Hannah Heddleston, Gerald Griffiths, Simon Sedgwick and Rosmelda Roberts, had been complete strangers in life. Moreover, only one hailed from London. The other three lived far, far from the city: Mrs Roberts had been a school teacher and mother of three in a small town in the Scottish Highlands. Miss Heddleston, the youngest of the four at only fifteen, was traced back to Newport in Wales and the last, Gerald Griffiths, had been a contractor from Godric's Hollow in Cornwall.
Authorities were bewildered. The only obvious factor the four people had in common was the very nature of their deaths. Black bruises darkened their ankles, arms and necks as if many clawed fingers had dragged them down into watery graves. Worse, their pale flesh was punctured with teeth marks too big to be work of little fishes. Stories quickly flew around the city, but it was not long before talk of the four bodies on the Thames was replaced by an even stranger occurrence.
Between Tottenham Court Road and Holborn on the Central Line, a train disappeared without trace. The Central Line was shut down at once and teams of engineers and Underground officials crept into the old tunnels to investigate, but it was as if the very darkness had swallowed the train up, snuffing it out like a candle flame. The teams of investigators quickly became uneasy in the vaulted tunnels, jostling each other in tones that were only half-joking, "Betcha it disappeared at the old British Museum station. Haunted station, that is, an' make no mistake."
While Muggle authorities were still scratching their heads at the missing train and its passengers, the 'Friends of Highgate Cemetery' were standing in Swain's Lane puzzling over the gate to the old graveyard which, despite all their efforts, remained stubbornly locked. At length they each agreed that the old iron gate had simply frozen over in the cold and that they would try again tomorrow, but as they turned to leave through Waterlow Park a chill silence fell over them; nobody truly believed the gate was frozen. By the time they exited the park, each had already settled on a nice excuse to avoid work the next day.
The last sign came without warning and from nowhere. Nobody was quite sure when it appeared, though the policeman on duty swore blindly that it had not been there before midday. But sure as day it was there now. Above the North entrance of Westminster Abbey, scrawled in enormous bone-white letters, were the words:
'Lundoners – remember the old Enemy. Leave the city while you can.'
And as the crowd around Westminster Abbey grew it began to snow.
"Travelling around together, visiting your relatives." Fred sighed dramatically. "I dunno, isn't it about time we just admitted how we feel for each other? Even just for the duration of a quick snog?"
"No," said Nox. "I think we should wait."
Fred's eyes sparked. "Until when?"
"Until both of us are dead."
The House of Sometimes Intolerance seemed to give them an appraising look where they stood on its doorstep, glaring down through vaulted gables and shuttered windows strung with icicles that glittered like swords. The house had the look of someone who had once known the finer things in life and was not shy to boast of it, but now resembled a man in a deflated top hat clinging to the last vestiges of his status.
She lifted the brass knocker on the door and rapped three times.
Suddenly, the main entrance shuddered to life like a great beast and the front door, studded with crooked iron nails, opened to reveal a bulky figure silhouetted against the lanterns that lit the inner corridors.
Nox grimaced; her grandmother had been the source of many nightmares during her childhood. While it had been many years since Nox had been any sort of child (for it was commonly agreed that she had been born old), she felt a familiar shudder of fear creeping down her spine now that she was standing beneath that vast, crinkly bulk and stony grey eyes once more.
Lady Elphuna Chatterly glowered like a wax-work come to life. She was a bizarre sight to behold, her huge bulk more than adequately filling the golden, lion-footed chair that held her aloft. The old witch had a crinkly edge to her that was most unnatural and a nose that could make a crow's beak look not so beaky. The hands that fiercely gripped the arms of the golden chair were as gnarled as old tree roots. Her liver spots were caked under several layers of white concealing-powder and the generous coats of blood-red lipstick she wore made each wrinkle on her lips appear as deep as a crevasse. Her enormous veined bosom was bursting at the seams of the purple corset she boasted (Fred secretly wondered if it were the only thing holding the old witch together). But it was her left eye that drew most attention – particularly the curious ticking it made. The witch's left eye was fashioned from the inner workings of a pocket watch, but Fred and Nox had the unsettling feeling it could see them with perfect clarity.
The wax work witch stretched her alarmingly long neck towards Fred, peering suspiciously. He flinched with repulsion as the movement caused another stitch to come loose on the tight corset.
"Hullo Gran," said Nox, in a world weary voice. "You look…different."
"And you look remarkably disappointing," the witch remarked, looking her up and down severely. Then she tapped a long painted nail against her clockwork eye. "You are also late. We expected you a week ago."
Nox was surprised. "I didn't know you were expecting me."
"Of course we were expecting you. One is always expecting relatives, despite never desiring their presence." Lady Elphuna glanced cautiously over their shoulders at the snowy wood down the hill. A sound, like the clinking of a horse's harness, made Fred and Nox turn around, but the witch clicked her tongue sharply.
"Don't look. And don't say anything. The wood is full of movement; we are being watched," she said brusquely. "Come in. The days are short and it is becoming dangerous to travel by dark. We have much to discuss with you before the sun sets."
The lion-footed chair began to turn and stagger back into the house with immense effort, heaving and creaking under Lady Elphuna's immense weight. "This way please. Don't dawdle. The Hob shall make up some tea, though we don't desire you should take that as an extended invitation. We've had a terrible attack of the vapours, you understand. And we don't like people. Particularly dead ones."
Fred bristled and made a very rude gesture at the witch's back.
"Your Gran's a right treat," he whispered in Nox's ear, very sarcastically. "All the charm of a broken broomstick, she has. What's this flipping royal 'we' all about?"
Nox looked for a moment as if she were forming a retort, but instead shrugged her shoulders with a jaded sigh and followed Lady Elphuna inside. She wasn't entirely sure what an attack of the vapours was herself. Nox had always suspected it involved damsels in distress who swooned to the floor with much crumpling of the dress. No one had attacks of the vapours these days. People just swore instead, which she thought was much more satisfactory. Her grandmother had always seemed stuck in a Jane Austen age of vapours and smelling salts and not for the first time Nox questioned whether she really was related to anyone in her eccentric family.
"Come along, Gertrude," Lady Elphuna ordered shortly from deeper down the murky hallway. "You may drag that dead thing along if you must, but you should not keep a Hob waiting. They are very touchy about slothfulness."
Nox raised her eyebrows questioningly at Fred. "A Hob?"
Fred fumed. "A dead thing?"
"You didn't have to come," she said with a lightly mocking smirk. "You could have stayed at home and finished the accounts like I asked you four weeks ago."
"I did finish with the accounts," Fred retorted, "I turned them into a casual but stylish jacket."
"Cheers. That'll come in dead handy," she bit back. "So what is a Hob?"
"They're a bit like House-elves, only they're shape shifters and work out of free will for bed and board," Fred explained, swinging his pale arms behind his head. "They'll attach themselves to a family or place and work for them as long as they please, but they're really rare now."
"Hush!" Lady Elphuna snapped, her long, turtle-like neck stretching around the back of her chair to glower at them. "We do not tolerate mumblers in our house. Articulate, boy. It is the least the dead can do."
Nox couldn't help but smile at the mulish expression on Fred's face. He looked as though he was holding back a barrage of very unflattering invectives.
"Hold your temper," she warned. "This is her on a good day."
"I can't help being angry when I'm furious," Fred grunted, then waved a hand in the air, coolly. "But I choose not to retort, thwarted only by my indefatigable good form."
"Swallow that thesaurus again?"
He grinned. "I hear they count as one of your five a day."
As they followed Lady Elphuna through the once grand hall that was now grim and unwelcoming, Nox became aware of a strange energy in the air and a hollow kind of whispering that she felt rather than heard in her very bone marrow. There was something of Blackwater Hall in her grandmother's house – something that spoke of deadly danger and distant drums. What illumination the oil lamps along the walls provided only served to deepen the ancient blackness of the shadows.
The crinkly-edged Lady Elphuna stopped at the end of the main hall by an oak door adorned by a simple plaque and turned to Fred and Nox with an expression that seemed to declare her disapproval with their presence in her home.
"You will wait inside," she said curtly. "We shall join you shortly." And with that, Lady Elphuna's chair staggered off into the depths of the house.
Without the old witch the house suddenly felt icy cold. Suddenly Nox became startlingly aware of a smell of chill salt water creeping into her nostrils. She quickened her pace towards the oak door where Fred, who had not bothered waiting for her to open it, had slipped through as easily as water through a sieve. After a painful bump on the head, Nox remembered that she could not pass through doors or walls like he could.
"You'll want to open that thing first, Mug-a-lug," Fred called out in a mocking tone. Then he turned to take in his new surroundings and whistled appreciatively. "Blimey, look at this!"
"Fred," Nox began questioningly, opening the door wide and tripping into the room, "the plaque on this door reads 'Department of Magical Antiquities'. I thought all magical departments were situated in the Ministry of Magic."
Fred could only shake his head dumbly and point. "Not this one. Not unless it fancied a holiday."
His words echoed faintly around the huge room. There in front of them were two enormous glass orbs of water, each at least twenty feet in height and half the width of a Quidditch pitch. The tanks were braced like old Victorian globes with girders of green-gray copper, along which several golden plaques were attached, framed by ornate fish tails and coiling sea serpents. Above the aquarium was a spherical skylight covered in moss. What little musty light it allowed dimly illuminated a long metal gantry, which joined the two tanks at their pinnacle. In front of each tank were two signs. The right hand sign read 'Placid' and the left, in bold red script, read 'Carnivorous'.
Walking alongside the tanks they realised what they were looking at was a gigantic seawater aquarium, though not, as Nox had come to expect, the kind you would find in a Muggle tourist attraction. She began to run her hand over the ornate plaques secured to the tank marked, 'Placid', reading aloud, "Sea-Monks, Ashrays, Hippocampus…" She paused at the Hippocampus plaque showing an embossed image of a composite sea-creature with the head and forearms of a horse and the serpentine tail of a fish.
Fred poked his head through the thick pane of glass and into the dark water. "Godric be damned, can't see a bleeding thing in here."
"Maybe whatever was in here has been moved?" she offered hopefully. They may not have been lurking beside the tank full of Carnivorous creatures, but all the same Nox was quite happy to see nothing moving in the deep blue waters. She turned her attention to the next plaque and read out loud, "Piscis Humanis."
Before she could read any further there was a sudden sharp tap on the glass above her head. Nox jumped, tripping gracelessly with wind milling arms straight through Fred's ghostly body. He swore and wrenched his head out of the tank, scowling at her.
"Oi! Watch it! Next time you want to get that close you can buy me dinner first."
Nox ignored him, gawking in silence at the shoal of Piscis Humanis swimming just above Fred's head. He followed her gaze and scrambled beside her, open mouthed. Each fish was the size of a great white shark, their long tails swishing in the darkness of the water, and the shimmering coral scales along their backs were studded with iridescent red and blue dots, which bathed the waters in a ghostly flickering light. But what frightened Nox and chilled Fred to his very core were their distinctly human faces. Worse, they were not the faces of grown men and women, but of mournful children.
"We do not look them in the eye," Lady Elphuna's voice echoed around the Aquarium. "Just because a creature is not classed as carnivorous does not mean it cannot do you harm."
The witch was sitting at a silver table between the two tanks, watching them impassively through her one grey eye. The black cat who had led them to the house was sitting by her lion-footed chair, licking the underside of one paw and running it over its whiskered face. Two cups, a pot of tea and a bowl of dubious looking hard-boiled Brighton candy sat on the table.
Nox readily joined her grandmother, eager to get away from the disturbingly human faces of the Piscis Humanis.
"They look so sad," she said quietly, while Fred drifted down beside her, his eyes on the floor. He looked quite shaken. She took a cup of tea in her hands and sipped, grateful for the comforting hot liquid. "Is there anything you can do for them, Gran?"
"For them? No. We have done all we can," replied Lady Elphuna sombrely. "The Piscis Humanis were made, not born. They are not living creatures. They exist, but they do not live." She gave them a hard stare. "We are sure you know who is responsible for their making."
"Gudrun," said Fred, spitting the name out like acid. Nox gave him a sidelong look.
Lady Elphuna nodded her head tartly. "Correct. Gudrun created many things to fulfil her dark wish. In her endeavours to stop death she worked very old and very terrible magic. Many of the things she left in this world were far too dangerous to keep locked away inside the Ministry and so they came here, though I have often pondered the wisdom of that decision. But we will get to that shortly. First you might tell me how you found your way into the wizarding world, Gertrude." She looked at Fred's pearly white ghost and wrinkled her beaky nose in distaste. "And why you are keeping company with the deceased."
For a moment George couldn't believe where he was. From the Un-Door they had emerged into an immense room that seemed to function as a library, though it was unlike any library George had ever set foot in. It was a great forest of trees, books piled neatly along the boughs and branches of chestnuts, willows and oaks. The walls of the library were built from rough ancient looking bricks that arched into a seemingly endless green canopy above their heads, giving the whole room (if it could be called a room, for it came to him that he could not see the other three walls) a distinctly medieval feel. Rogue pages escaped their bindings and flitted silently through the leaves, perching on branches like small oriental birds to preen great plumes of coiling words, and the whole place was lit by a perpetual green glow by ornate gas lamps stationed at regular intervals along the avenues of trees.
George and Luna stood on a short flight of narrow stone steps that glistened with algae, looking like a wet snake in the eerie green light. Above their heads an enormous gas lamp grasped in a huge iron dragon's claw spat and bubbled behind thick panes of green glass.
"Blimey," George whistled. "If Hogwarts' library looked anything like this me and Fred might have bagged ourselves some more OWLs."
"Look down there. What do you think it is?" said Luna. "I can almost make it out, but not quite and there's nothing more exasperating. It's like not finishing what you started out to say."
George peered as well. "Mouse," he decided. "Definitely that mouse."
And indeed, sitting on the bottom step was the skeleton of the mouse, preening itself nimbly and happily unaware of its audience. George was about to march after it when Luna grasped his arm at pointed further on towards the trees. Adjusting his eyes to the green gloom of the library, he saw that there were thousands of skeletal mice creeping over the trees and books, pulling them from their shelves and organising them into their rightful places.
"What are they?" he asked in a low voice.
"Librarians, I suppose." Luna began to rock on her heels, her round moon-ish eyes drinking in the peculiar sight quite happily. "Every library needs them. Books would get quite lost without them. It's difficult to put yourself in order when you haven't any arms or legs."
"So what you're saying is that this place is just a great big stinking magical library?" George muttered, and with an audible sniff of contempt.
"A magical library?" she echoed.
Luna stared at him, unblinking. "Magic how?"
"How many libraries have you been in where the librarians are undead rodents?"
She tapped her wand against her chin thoughtfully. "I still don't see how that makes it especially magic."
"Well it's a kind of magic."
"What kind of magic?"
"A…A magicky kind of magic," he finished, weakly.
The skeleton mouse no longer seemed afraid of them. It sat on its haunches listening and watching them carefully through empty sockets, head cocked to one side. Then, with a tiny jolt, it turned and moved off into the trees, pausing at the edge of the wood to look round at them, then skittered on ahead. Without a moment's hesitation, Luna began to follow.
George snatched her arm. "Where do you think you're going?"
"I'm following the librarian," she answered simply.
He gawked. "Yeah, but why?"
"Librarians lead you to the place you want to be, don't they?" said Luna, serenely. "We don't know where we are, let alone why. That's worse than rolling downhill backwards in the dark."
George responded with a grin, "Look, Luna, it's not that I want to go. It's more like I don't want to stay here. At all. Y'know? I'm a renegade, a prankster – a dashing maverick, if you will. Libraries don't sit well with my sort."
She laughed at him in a strangely lilting way and the light sound swelled in his chest until he felt fit to burst. Then she took a step back, her round eyes locking with his as, smiling, she held out her small pale hand to him. Sometimes that was all it took; the slightest of gestures and suddenly you're opening a door with a whole new insight into a person you thought you knew so well. Often, when he looked at Luna, he saw more of her Patronus than her face. There always had been something very animal-like about her mannerisms; something straightforward and accepting of the people and things around her, despite being set apart. Maybe that was why he could breathe so easily around her? She never did expect anything from anyone. Sometimes it took being close to someone so full of knowing and marvellous understanding that words of wisdom and advice weren't needed. At that moment, George knew he was in love with Luna Lovegood.
He grasped her hand and squeezed it tightly, winking at her.
"Don't want to get lost in there."
She smiled shyly back and together they walked into the narrow pathway between the trees where the skeleton mouse was waiting twitchily on the leafy forest floor.
Around them, the woods were dark and whispering, but George's heart was drumming deafeningly loud in his ears. Luna's hand was small but strong in his own; absolutely perfect. It was while he was studying the infinite characteristics of her hand in his that the book in his pocket – the very book Nox had taken from Ditchwater Nam's shop – hummed to life and began leaking words, scrawls of black spidery handwriting trickling from pages like rainwater onto the leafy path behind them.
Fred and Nox proceeded to tell Lady Elphuna all that had happened since they had met the previous summer, taking turns to explain about Fred's Curse, Salazar Slytherin's house, their first case together in Rosewood, the water nymph in Aber Duafe, the wolves, the shards, Ditchwater Nam, Viktor Lestrade's mirrors, and the old man who called himself Merlin.
While they talked, the black cat curled itself on Nox's lap and began to purr. The witch did not interrupt or show a single expression of surprise as they explained everything they could remember of the last eight months, only picked at a blotchy red scab from her heavily powdered chin, peeled it off and popped it her mouth with a stomach churning crunch. Fred gagged, his transparent cheeks turning a shade more opaque.
"So, you have made a contract, Gertrude," said Lady Elphuna when they had finished their tale. "One with the dead and living twins …and a second contract with…" She paused. "Ah, it seems that is not for us to know."
"The wolf in the Black Forest told me the same thing," Nox recalled, "but I don't know anything about a second contract. One was quite enough," she added ruefully, looking askance at Fred who grinned guilelessly.
"We cannot tell you anything of this second contract," Lady Elphuna admitted, peering at her granddaughter through the clockwork eye. "True this contract is written all over you clear as day, but the words are misty, undefined." She gave Fred a fierce, but questioning look. "No Muggle should be able to see ghosts or enter my house without being born the seventh child of a seventh child or gifted with Second Sight as Edward was. In both cases it is obvious you are neither, Gertrude. You are as plain as a toad," she said, her upper lip curling in a faint disgust. "So we wonder that this second contract is not responsible for these new eyes of yours. We find it difficult to believe a mere confectionary responsible."
Fred gave Nox a rather inscrutable look, his eyebrows pulling closer in deep thought. "You don't think Edward could have something to do with this other contract?"
Nox shrugged at him miserably. The last thing she needed was another riddle to solve. She turned to her grandmother beseechingly. "We were hoping you might shed some light on how Dad could have known we'd wind up meeting Ditchwater Nam on Scrum."
Lady Elphuna shook her head weightily. "All we know is your father was a master of many traits. Being a Squib never stopped him in his endeavours for he never saw his Squib status as a curse. To Edward it was a blessing – an outlook few others in the Wizarding World share, including our self," she added pompously, with a pointed look at Nox. "Indeed, his high opinion of Muggles was equally unusual. They were even the subject of his first published academic work, Of Muggles and More. We were sent a signed copy, but we have never had the stomach to read it. One has always found it impossible to converse with Muggles in rational ways. Their eyes are as dull as ditch water."
"That's rich coming from someone who looks like a face trapped in a haunted mirror," Fred remarked coolly. "Maybe you haven't noticed, but your great granddaughter here happens to be a Muggle. There isn't an ounce of magic in her entire flipping body and you know what? She doesn't need it! She's bloody marvellous just the way she is."
Nox jerked her head towards him, her skin prickling with sudden heat. Fred had never defended her so fiercely before. In fact, he was normally the first to tease her about being a Muggle. She felt the blood rush to her cheeks and quickly shifted her gaze to the floor.
Lady Elphuna did not appear as impressed by the ghost's outburst.
"We are well aware what our great granddaughter is, thank you. You will hold your tongue, grave-walker. Politeness is the poetry of conduct," she said crisply, plucking a hair from her left nostril. "You mistake my concern for my granddaughter's well-being for dislike, boy. Gertrude is my last living relative. We would be most aggrieved if we had to bury her too. Funerals are such tedious affairs after all."
Nox flinched at this remark, but was quick to gather herself. "If you can't tell us about Dad, maybe you can tell us more about Gudrun. He must have known something about her. Did he write any books? Leave any notes behind?"
"Anything is useful at this point," Fred admitted, though he was glowering at the old witch.
The black cat in Nox's lap twitched its ears and sprang to the floor, its golden-yellow eyes watching the Humanis Picis warily. The shoal of fish were swimming back and forwards in an agitated manner, their round mouths opening and closing as if in warning. Lady Elphuna did not seem to notice their frantic movements, however, and settled her vast bulk deeper into the lion-footed chair.
"Very well. We can tell you all your father knew of Gudrun. You might as well know what you are dealing with before it murders you horribly. But it is dangerous to talk of her so close to the ley lines. We will not have long." The witch took a deep rattling breath, fanned herself with a conjured paper doily, and began.
"In Scotland she is known as Nicnivin who rode on the storm and marshalled the rambling Host of wanderers under her grim banner. Across the continent she is known as the Shadow Queen or Snow Witch, except in Germany where she is better known as Berchta of the Wild Hunt. In Spain, she is the Queen of Estantigua who warns all she meets to travel by day, for the night belongs to her. Those in the wizarding world knew her more personally as Gudrun, mother of the twins Sol and Salazar, who set the latter to slaughter the first."
Nox looked up, her lips parting with a sudden sharp intake of breathe. "It's possible the curse Salazar Slytherin's house placed on you is really just a means of piecing Gudrun's mirror back together and bringing her back."
Fred gave her a pained look. "Cheers, pile on the guilt why don't you."
"Perhaps," Lady Elphuna consented, "but we are not convinced. No, in fact we do not believe that Salazar wished his mother to return to power at all after Godric Gryffindor sealed her away in the mirror Ouroboros."
"Of course he would," Fred argued. "The slimy git killed his twin brother on her orders. If he was willing to do that there's not much else he wouldn't stretch to, is there?"
"Then why did he build a house on the very site he murdered his twin? A site which, like my own house, sits on crossing ley lines," said Lady Elphuna, her narrow eyes sparking with something close to amusement. "No, Salazar was not just showing remorse for the blood crime he committed."
"He was building a prison," Nox concluded, her eyes widening. "Weasley Manor isn't a trap to lure Gudrun back. It's a prison to keep her locked in forever."
Lady Elphuna gazed at Nox with something resembling admiration. "We are pleased to see you are not as dim-witted as your looks suggest."
Fred and Nox exchanged wearisome glances.
"Eh, thanks, Gran," said Nox, forcing a smile. "You mentioned ley lines. What are they exactly?"
But it was Fred who answered her this time. "They're ancient lines of power, but no one knows much else about them. Lots of theories, but no hard facts. I mean it's not like you can dig them up and have a prod at them – they're just sort of… there." He shrugged. "The Knight Bus uses the ley lines to get about the country and the Demon Parade is supposed to follow a different ley line each year. Witches and wizards used to build important structures on sites called Passing Hallows, where loads of ley lines intersect."
"Like Hogwarts?" Nox asked, and Fred nodded with a broad grin, full of pride.
"Exactly like Hogwarts."
"This house is built on a particularly strong Passing Hallows," Lady Elphuna added, "which is why the Ministry opted to keep Gudrun's foul creations here. They believed there was no safer place for them and no witch or wizard more suited to look after them, for we are a collector of fine and unusual artefacts. Indeed, we are the head of the Department of Antiquities. The things I keep are too old, too dangerous, too odd for the Ministry. But here has become a bad place for such things." She pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes at the Humanis Piscis.
"Why's that?" asked Nox.
"Because the Knight Bus and the Demon Parade are not the only things to travel along ley lines these days," the witch replied, her red lips setting in a grim line. "We have been concerned for the state of the ley lines and Passing Hallows since the Last War. Voldemort did a lot more damage than is visible and the ley lines have been warped by baddened magic. We fear the dark is rising and Gudrun and her followers are taking advantage of it. Those on Passing Hallows are most at risk."
Nox stammered, "Merlin said Salazar constructed tunnels underneath London. I'd hazard a guess they run along ley lines too." Her face turned pale as she looked at Fred who swore loudly.
"Blimey, then there must be loads of lines cutting underneath the city," he exclaimed. "If they turn bad, the whole city will…" he trailed off, his thoughts turning to Diagon Alley, to the Ministry, to George. He gripped his knees, his knuckles turning opaque.
Lady Elphuna nodded her head sombrely, though she seemed distracted by something beyond the walls of the Aquarium. "Shortly before you arrived, the Hob learned of signs in London. Four bodies were discovered on the Thames." She stared at the shoal of Humanis Piscis, whose human eyes stared mournfully into her clockwork eye. The witch's voice grew distant as she murmured, "The blackness of the water whispers in our ears a tale of death. It is a city of shadows and layers. London is doomed. That is the tale the Thames tells. London is at War." Suddenly her head jolted up and she fixed Nox with a stony stare. "The deaths on the Thames should lead you to your next shard. Hurry now."
"But we still have so much to ask you," Nox protested, but the golden lion-footed chair had risen and was already blundering towards the door with Lady Elphuna astride.
Before she left the Department for Magical Antiquities, Fred shot a fleeting last glance at the tank where the Humanis Piscis dwelled, but the waters were deep and dark, and empty once more.
At the threshold of the House of Sometimes Intolerance, Nox stood in front of her great grandmother's chair awkwardly. She thought of the way Mrs Weasley would squeeze the life out of her children whenever they visited or left The Burrow, but Lady Elphuna was not like Mrs Weasley. Not every mother loved their child.
The witch cast Nox a cool, appraising look, the clockwork eye ticking louder than ever, and said, "You may not have noticed, but the winter has lasted far long than is natural. We believe the Winter Solstice never came. Gudrun is slowing time and when it has come to a complete stop, she will have her wish."
"She'll have conquered death," Fred finished, darkly. "Cheery business, really."
Nox remained quiet, recalling the warning Merlin had left her: "You must remember that most important law of nature, little knight. Your friend, George Weasley, will try to break that law. You cannot let that happen…"
As Fred turned to leave, Nox leant towards her grandmother awkwardly as if she were going to hug her, but lost nerve at the last minute under the witch's clockwork gaze. She jerked away, her face flushed, and muttered gruffly, "Are you sure you'll you be safe here, Gran? Maybe… Maybe you'd be better off staying with us for a while?" she said, promptly ignoring Fred's angry squawk.
But Lady Elphuna straightened her back and sniffed haughtily. "So long as the Hob can hold back the dark, we will be fine," she said and nodded her beaky head towards the gate where an oddly familiar black raven was sitting, cleaning its feathers with almost catlike elegance.
Nox took this as her grandmother's way of saying goodbye, so she set off down the icy garden path where Fred was floating palely against the old mossy wall, prodding at the Hob with a mischievous grin. Something jolted through her, prickling her cheeks. Even though her head was swimming with information, their situation worse than ever and the air felt so cold that every breath stung like a hundred needles in her chest, she still felt the impact of Fred's words, '…bloody marvellous… just the way she is.'
Then Lady Elphuna's crisp voice cut through the cold towards her like a knife, slashing the words from her thoughts. "You do know your father is dead, Gertrude. We feel it is time you stopped chasing ghosts."
Nox stopped in her tracks, the breath freezing in her lungs. The little colour remaining in her face drained from it. She looked for a moment as though she would quite like to hit Lady Elphuna. Then she nodded silently, slipped her hands into the pockets of her navy blue great coat, and hurried on. She did not meet Fred's eyes when she rejoined him at the gate.
"We'd better hurry if we're going to catch that bus," she interrupted quickly, cutting him off in a voice of determined calm. "It's a long walk back to London."
Further into the forest of books, the wood was made of black columns rising from a frosty white carpet. The more they walked, the larger the library became. The old stone walls and ceiling were nowhere to be seen; instead, above their heads dark snow clouds gathered. George shivered as the first snowflakes began to trickle down, and blew hot breath onto his knuckles.
"It's even snowing here," he muttered as they crossed a stream of frozen words, the icy letters splintering underfoot.
"Can you hear the books whispering?" asked Luna.
George nodded darkly. When he first heard the voices he thought they might have belonged to the mice skittering amongst the trees. But when he listened – really listened – he could hear other things amongst those voices: the groan of ghost ships crossing stormy seas, the clinking of harnesses, the whistle of a steam train. All met in the woods in a strange haunting cacophony; a wood between the worlds between the pages of books.
"…Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice…"
The skeleton mouse skittered onwards through the snow, leaving a trail of tiny footprints in its wake.
"People walk by and they don't know the truth... That the house is a fake. It's a façade, an enclosure with no room, no interior."
"…all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick…"
The snow began to fall faster and George began to worry that they were blundering further and further into an endless forest. The mouse seemed to know where it was going, but he was hopelessly lost. Worst of all was the quiet. With the snow came an unbroken winter silence, muffling their footsteps. Talking somehow felt forbidden. Even the whispering books seemed to lower their voices to an even softer whisper.
"…Don't you think it right I should go and see my mother, whom I left on her own in the wood called the Waste Forest?"
They followed the mouse, twisting into new avenues with more trees and branches packed and lined with books. Everything was black and white, high trees and falling snow. And then one whispering voice caught his attention.
"A breeze ruffled the neat hedges of Privet Drive, which lay silent and tidy under the inky sky, the very last place you would expect astonishing things to happen. Harry Potter rolled up inside his blankets without waking up. One small hand closed on the letter beside him and he slept on, not knowing he was special…"
"Harry," George breathed and he paused to touch the copper coloured leather binding of the whispering book, but the moment his fingers brushed the spine the book fell silent, as if it knew it was being eavesdropped on. He looked around at the neighbouring books along the branches of the Elder tree where Harry's life was being written and retold. Was his life here somewhere? Was Fred's still being written or had it stopped when he died?
Luna watched him carefully, tilting her head slowly, before breaking the tense silence. "I wonder if these books write down everything that happens or if everything that is written down happens instead."
"Maybe it's both," George replied quietly, stroking the spine of Harry Potter's written life.
Luna rocked on her heels and smiled serenely. "I wonder if my book is writing down what I'm saying right now. And whether someplace else someone is reading it in another library, with even more books."
"Blimey, Luna, you'll give me a headache if you continue on like that." He dropped his hand from the book and turned to grin at her, and almost jumped at the look on her face. "What is it?" he asked urgently.
"Something's not right," she said. The mouse had stopped too, cocking its skull head from side to side as if listening for something. Then it turned, looked at them and froze; or no, George thought, horrified; not at them, but at him.
There was a noise like chattering teeth behind them, like a thousand bones rattling against the wind. Before George and Luna could turn, hundreds of mice skeletons dashed past their feet as if the hounds of hell were on their tails and George realised with a sickening horror that whatever they were running from was on the path behind them.
"What in Merlin's-"
"George, look!" Luna pointed at his pocket. There was a tiny hole in his bottle green jacket. He yanked the book from his pocket and held it towards her for inspection. Inky words were unravelling and trickling like muddy water, but instead of forming a puddle of sentences on the white forest floor, they came to life, slithering back down the path they had come; forming together, gathering strength to strike like a snake.
"Any idea what it is?" George asked, and Luna nodded.
"A book wyrm. They burrow into books and chew up all the words so they go all funny, and-"
"Eh, that's all I need to know," he said, pulling a face.
George felt the skeleton's tiny claws digging into him as it ran up his trouser leg and onto his shoulder where it perched, twitching nervously. Back down the path they had come, something was moving. The branches creaked and swished in nervous anticipation above their heads. An evil-seeming wind gushed towards them, whipping up snow and loose pages.
"Get in front of me, Luna," George said quietly, and Luna obeyed, keeping her eyes on the dark, slithering mass on the path. "When I tell you to run, run. Head back to the Un-door."
Luna nodded silently and they began to back away, but the enormous book wyrm reared the thick trunk of its body high in the air, its skin glistening with scaly words. Its tongue flickered, tasting the air, dripping fangs bared. Then it lunged.
"Come on!" Grabbing her elbow, George fired a spell at the creature and pulled Luna deeper into the woods. They darted between the trees, trying to evade the wyrm by dodging from tree to tree, floundering rather than running in the deep snow drifts. The shadow of the book wyrm wheeled over them, lunging at their heels as they plunged deeper into the forest, firing spells wildly over their shoulders. A stunning spell hit the beast dead centre and shrieking it toppled back into the woods, but George didn't stop.
"I don't much fancy sticking around to see if the great ugly bugger's still moving," he said grimly, pulling Luna on. "Let's move while we can!"
Finally they came to the end of the trees and stumbled into an open clearing. The clearing was perfectly circular and marked by seven gaunt, misshapen fingers of stone. Runes, Pagan rings and characters from alphabets long forgotten to human memory adorned the megaliths, but something else drew George's attention. In the centre of the stone circle, a bleeding spear stood on its tip, perfectly balanced. There were words written down its length and as he stared, they seemed to reform before his eyes to read in shining letters: 'Do as you wish.'
There was something otherworldly about the spear, something that spoke of old magic, much older than anything George had encountered before.
The woods crashed behind them. Suddenly, Luna shoved him hard just as the enormous book wyrm emerged from the trees and launched towards them. Surprised, George stumbled and fell his length in the wet snow. He felt the ground shudder as the huge serpent landed in the stone circle, but it did not come after him. He watched in horror as Luna, pinned against one of the stone megaliths, raised her trembling wand hand to the beast. At the same moment, the mouse skeleton, still clinging to his shoulder, nipped at his remaining ear. George turned and grit his teeth; he knew in an instant what he had to do and his hand was wrapped around the spear before he'd even ordered his legs to move. The book wyrm sprang. The spear flew through the air. It struck the back of the beast's head and at once the stone circle was aflame with an astounding golden brilliance. The book wyrm exploded and letters began to rain down in a golden shower, swivelling to form images both familiar and new.
"Winter. A night of frost and hard moon… Salazar made no attempt at hiding himself as he crossed the fens towards the man he was going to kill," the words whispered and as they did, the scene formed around them, visible as day. George could see the marshy fens – no, he thought, Islington. This was Islington in London, the place of Weasley Manor, over one thousand years ago.
This was the night Salazar Slytherin murdered his twin.
As George came to this conclusion, Salazar's twin whispered into view. Sol was sitting on the trunk of an upturned tree. He wore a simple tunic and trousers, and carried a small seax at his hip and an easy smile on his face. In the silver moonlight, he almost looked like a ghost.
"I thought you might show," Sol greeted him, standing. "Have you come to kill me then, brother?"
George's eyes fell to the dagger in Salazar's hand, its silver blade glimmering red, highlighting the goblin craftsmanship: a serpent forming an "S" with an apple in its mouth, its body pierced by an arrow. The Slytherin crest. Salazar crept nearer and the golden words rained faster. The smile on Sol's face waned.
"My fear for you outweighs my fear of the knife in your hand. I see it in your eye, brother. All your unhappiness to come, all the tears, all the heartbreak and the bloodshed. I may die tonight, but your death will last a great deal longer than mine."
George could do nothing but stand and watch as Salazar moved like a snake towards his twin. Raising his right hand, the hand that held the serpent knife now lying on George's own desk, the wizard cut Sol's throat, drawing his life out like a poison. Blood splashed against the white snow lying on the stone circle and the scene dissolved as Sol's body crumpled to the ground.
Another memory reformed around the stone circle. George was now standing half in the snowy library and half on a hillside overgrown with purple heather. Hogwarts castle stood tall and proud in the distance, but not as he knew it; it seemed both old and new at the same time, as if it had just been made. To his left he could see Luna crouching by the megalith, her round eyes wide with wonder. To his right sat Salazar Slytherin, thin, sallow-faced with a neatly trimmed beard. He was hunched over an easel, his brush hand working fastidiously.
"Wouldn't you rather paint something more interesting?" came Helga Hufflepuff's voice, a mocking lilt to it. "Like a landscape or… I don't know, even a sodding tulip?"
He paused and for a moment Helga thought he had ignored her. Then he said quietly, "I'd rather paint something more real."
A smirk graced her lips. "Is that another way of calling me fat?" Salazar looked quite flustered by this comment, but Helga only laughed; it was a loud, good natured laugh, straight from the belly. "Put that silly face away, I'm only joking. I know fine well I'm beautiful. Obviously I'm your only option." Helga grinned as she said it, as if she knew she was too plain, too plump, too strong to ever be considered beautiful. She twiddled her thumbs and tried to get comfortable on the boulder Salazar had instructed her to sit on. Behind her the lake glittered in the bright sunshine. "It's not like you to come out of your hole in the day," she said, smiling serenely. "Maybe we can find you a nice wood nymph to paint-"
"Wood nymphs are native to Rome."
"A Veela, then-"
"Norway." He put down his brush and narrowed his dark eyes at her. "And you call yourself a witch. Stop moving."
Helga made a rude gesture at him while he wasn't looking, then settled into a comfortable pose with her hands clasped lightly in her lap. A gentle smile came upon her face as she watched him work.
"Did you know that when a Veela woman falls in love with a man she is bound to him until he dies?"
"Damned if I know." Helga leaned her chin on her hand and watched the water lap against the shore at the bottom of the hill. "But it's sort of a nice idea, isn't it? Being together forever."
"You're too romantic," he said. "Quiet. I'm concentrating."
She glanced at him askance, then looked at her feet, feeling suddenly self-conscious, too aware of herself. "Helena is more suited to this sort of thing, you know. She has a better respect for the arts and is a much greater beauty. Perhaps you should have asked her."
"If I wanted to paint her, I would have asked," he said tightly.
"But you wanted to paint me because I'm 'real'," she repeated, tapping her chin thoughtfully. "Funny sort of thing to say."
Salazar's brush paused. "It is?"
Helga seemed to catch the note of self-consciousness in his tone. Her expression softened and she watched him, and continued to watch him even as the scene dissolved and disappeared as the golden letters that strung it together fell apart and reformed into another image, then another and another. They swam in and out existence as the golden letters swirled around the stone circle, gathering speed. George helped Luna to her feet as the foundations of Hogwarts were laid down around them and the Founders Wars against Gudrun raged, and Salazar Slytherin fell in love with Helga Hufflepuff, and her brother Puck lost his soul to the Snow Witch; all these were swept around in a golden whirlwind around the stone circle, gathering speed with no where else to go. Suddenly, Luna pulled the book from George's pocket and threw it to the ground. The binding burst open and the golden words poured into their rightful pages.
Before the last few sentences trickled away, one last image formed in the air. Two figures: the first, Helga Hufflepuff, her face drawn and impossibly sad, the second, an aged wizard with wolfish features. Both were speaking, but the words were lost as the last fragments of Salazar's life trickled back into his pages.
For a moment they could only stare in muted silence at the book. Then George fell to his knees, panting for breath.
"B-Blimey…" he wheezed. "How'd you know to do that?"
Luna blinked, puzzled. "Do what?"
"Throw the book down like that."
She gave him an odd look as if the answer was obvious. "Every written word needs a home. They can't very well hang around for us to gawk at them all day."
He grinned. "Well it's a damn good thing your mind works the way it does, Lu." He bent over and picked up the book, blowing flecks of snow from its coppery front cover. It was a strange thing knowing he held Salazar Slytherin's life in his hands.
"They really did love each other, Salazar and Helga," Luna said wistfully, setting the bleeding spear back on its end in the centre of the stone circle. "I wonder what went wrong."
George raised his eyebrows. "How'd you mean?"
"Salazar and Helga must have had children separately," Luna explained, dreamily. "Tom Riddle was Slytherin's descendant and Hepzibah Smith was Hufflepuff's." She looked at the book in his hands and smiled sadly. "Sad, isn't it? It's like being shown the ending of a story when you've just started reading the beginning."
George peered at the leather bound book in his hands. He couldn't help but wonder if the war had been responsible for separating Salazar and Helga. Even so, this book was their best chance of defeating the White Witch.
"Come on," he said, getting stiffly to his feet. "We've found what we came here for. Let's get back."
Suddenly Luna gasped and her hand flew up to her mouth. "I remember!"
He started. "Remember what?"
"It was in the Ministry, years ago in the Hall of Prophecy. I only heard a very little. You see, we were attacked by Bellatrix back when she was alive and some other of Voldemort's followers. I think Draco's father might have been there actually," she said conversationally. "There were lots of glass orbs containing prophecies all around us. Bellatrix smashed one and two figures emerged: an old man and a young woman. I think it could have been the same people we saw in that last image. No," she added, nodding firmly. "I'm sure it was them."
"Can you remember what they said?" George asked eagerly.
Luna's expression lost its dreamy quality then, turning troubled. "I remember them because their words frightened me." Luna screwed up her face in a thoughtful expression, then carefully repeated what she had heard the night she had accompanied Harry Potter to the Ministry. "'At the solstice will come a new...and none will come after.'"
Fred and Nox hadn't talked much on the way back to London, and the silence between them was heavy. By the time they entered Weasley Manor's garden, Nox was nearly overjoyed to see a light on in the living room window. With any luck Luna would still be around. Nox would have given anything for the young witch's endless prattle to ease the awkward quiet that had settled over her and Fred.
She pulled out an old fashioned key for the front door and was about to slot it into the lock when she felt an icy touch on her shoulder. She jerked away harder than she meant to and saw the brief hurt on Fred's face.
He pulled his hand back, scratching the back of his neck instead. "Here, Nox... Look..."
She almost stopped breathing. Her heart hurt. Words choked in her mouth. Suddenly she wanted to cry; to sob as unselfconsciously and heartbreakingly as a little girl. She looked desperately at Fred who was still fumbling for words, but she knew there was nothing he could say, nothing he could do that would make everything okay again. Her shoulders drooped and she ran a hand through her hair, as if giving up.
"I couldn't tell you," she said, and the emotion in her words surprised him. "I couldn't, Fred. Of course I know he's dead. My dad would never have left me because of some stupid debt. He was a lot of things but he was never a coward and he loved me. But I was supposed to protect him. I was supposed to be the one looking out for him." A shudder went through her, and she sniffed and rubbed her wet nose on the cuff of her great coat. "I couldn't admit it. If I said it out loud to you or George, it'd make it real, you know? Final. But he's dead and it's my fault. I should have... I-I don't even know…" Tears began to roll freely now. Her nose prickled painfully, but this time she didn't wipe it. Her hands were balled into tight fists at her sides, shoulders heaving.
Fred didn't move. He'd never been much use around crying girls and something about crying Nox was ten times worse. He fidgeted uneasily and took a step towards her, but he couldn't bring himself to reach out and touch her. It felt wrong some how, as if that contact would be a step too far. Besides, he thought grimly, that mushy stuff - that wasn't them. If he held her, what good would that do? There was no sweet warm blood running through his veins. What she needed was George who was warmer and friendlier, and talked to everyone equally in a way that made you feel good about yourself, even if you were a right rat. All Fred could do was gape stupidly as she grit her teeth and berated herself for sobbing quietly into the collar of her coat.
And suddenly, Fred felt angry with her. And he knew it was a selfish kind of anger because crying was fine, but this silent sobbing caused something in him to hurt and punctured the bubble of unchanging safety he had imagined around Weasley Manor. His hands shot towards her shoulders and held them as firmly as he could, trying to imagine and remember what it was like to hold something and really feel it. When she raised her chin, he looked at her sternly.
"If you're going to cry, you're going to do it properly," he said, his bright eyes fixed firmly on her own. "None of this crummy snivelling. I mean blimey, you cry like a girl. Even Percy could do better than that."
Nox muffled something between a laugh and a sob in her collar, then wiped at her nose. Her face was turning an ugly blotchy red and her eyes were swollen, but her gaze was clear as she looked at him. "Fred, listen, I tried... I tried to get the police involved, but they couldn't help. Couldn't or wouldn't. No one would. Everyone said Edward just up and legged the country due to financial problems - too many debts, too many angry lenders. And there was proof to back it up, but it was all too easy. All too tidy. I knew something had gone badly wrong. I knew he was-" she stopped shortly, a faint gasp coming from her throat, then shook her head firmly and steeled her jaw. "I started looking for some trace of him. Caithion came with me. We went everywhere… And then-"
"You found the wrong ghost," Fred supplied, with a wry smile. "Look here, if you're trying to convince me you only agreed to work here in the hope you'd find a lead or something, think again. I've got you sussed. I know fine well you only wanted to look upon my spiffing good looks."
"Spiffing in that I can see through them?" she muttered. "Shouldn't you be making me feel better right now?"
"I am making you feel better," Fred defended.
Nox put a hand to her forehead with an exasperated sigh. "You really are bloody awful at this stuff, aren't you?"
"Yes alright, alright-"
"I mean God knows how you dealt with all the weeping girls whose hearts you broke."
"Here, don't get snarky with me just because you look like you just fell out of a tree," Fred retorted with a roll of his eyes. "And besides, this is different. I let George deal with the others."
Nox shook her head, smiling lightly, and her shoulders relaxed a little bit. She looked at Fred, his pearly white body fluid as smoke, and her breath seemed to catch in her throat. Somehow she was glad it was him and not George or Luna, even if Fred was completely rubbish when it came to comforting people. After all, she wasn't sure what she needed was a shoulder to cry on, or someone to hold her. Just having someone to listen was enough.
She leaned away from him, clearing her throat. "I thought that if I couldn't find out what happened to Edward, I'd continue his life's work, even if I didn't believe in it." She looked at him, her expression wry. "Funny, isn't it? I mean I've been chasing ghosts for years, but I never expected to find a real one."
"Guess you got lucky," he chuckled and pinched her cheeks, and almost flinched when one of her hands covered his.
"Guess I did." Their eyes locked and the smile that had started to show on her face disappeared.
He smiled weakly. "You know Nox, if I didn't know any better I'd say you were making a declaration of-"
He stopped as Nox let go of his hand, tilted her chin and, to both their surprise, kissed him full on the lips.
A small voice in the back of her head told her they must have looked ridiculous. Her face was red and blotchy with salty tears, and she'd closed her eyes before she kissed him so she could not even tell if she'd kissed his lips for Fred was so cold and insubstantial, like icy water, but Nox could not care a damn. It took a moment before she realised he had not kissed her back.
She jolted away, swaying unsteadily. Her head pounded and she tried to look somewhere, anywhere, but at the look on Fred's face; the look of surprise, confusion and worst of all guilt. Nox knew at that moment that whatever she had felt in that split second, he had not felt the same.
"Nox," he began, his voice sullen and low.
Before he could say anything else, Nox opened the door and walked inside.
A/N: Hurr! Cheap cliffhanger. Couldn't resist it. Hey, it's about time I got some romance down. Heck, I think that chapter should tide everyone's demands for romance in TVPD for a while (sorry if it was too fluffy, I'm rubbish at writing romance).