Author's Responses at the end:
Chapter Two: Ghosts
"Are we there yet?" Mary asked.
Katherine blew a strand of blonde hair from her eyes. "Good grief Mary, we've only been hiking for couple of hours."
Mary gave the older girl an uncouth salute. "Not all of us are athletes, you know."
Behind Mary, Diana snorted. "My feet hurt."
"My head hurts," Mary said, almost moaning.
"Why didn't you take a pill?" Diana asked.
"I don't like pills," Mary groaned. "Where's a hypo when you need one?"
Diana grinned, dug into her pack and pulled out a small tube. She opened it and tossed a tablet to her friend. "Here."
Mary snatched it out of the air and swallowed it dry. Just moments later she visibly relaxed. "Better."
"Got any extra?" Katherine asked, a little bleary-eyed.
"God, you girls are silly," Diana said, even as she tossed another pill. "You didn't think to pack hangover meds when you heard Susan was going to have whiskey?"
"Never had whiskey before," Mary muttered.
"Me neither," Diana admitted with a grin. "My mom gave me these. She has a lot."
"Still don't know why we just didn't use the transporter," Mary said.
"It's a black out site," Susan explained for the second time that morning since the trolley had dropped them off for their hike into the moors. "Residual radioactive isotopes in the soil make beaming into it marginally unsafe. Like one in a million chance of a malfunction. So naturally you can't do it at all. Couldn't actually take a chance on anything, now, could we?"
"Good thing we liked your Grams," Mary said.
"The woman gave us her liquor cabinet," Katherine said. "You're the historian. You think about what some of that stuff was worth. I don't think we could even get some of that stuff. Did you see that brandy from 2102? As far as I'm concerned, we owe her now." She adjusted her pack as she sat down. "Still, I'd like to see the book again if I could."
Susan nodded, her face coming alight as she pulled the book out of her backpack. The other girls gathered around. They paged through it, careful of the scorched pages. They caught titillating hints of words and pictures and diagrams, but nothing legible enough to be fully understood. That is, except for the one page with the diagram of the ritual. A ritual that required four girls with "pure" souls.
"Alright," Susan finally said as she put the book up. "Break's over. My tracker says it's only another ten miles."
The trek continued. Sometimes they would sing; most often they talked about boys or other girls in their classes. Though none of them ever spoke about it aloud, each realized that they had formed a clique with each other because none other would accept them. Though they were all pretty enough, evidently they were never popular enough. They were…different.
When they crested one last stony mountain and stared down at the remnants of the castle, their watches told them it was nearly eight in the evening despite the sun still shining over the horizon.
The lake sparkled under the sunlight. This far north in June, the sun would not even set until close to ten that evening, and would rise before five the following morning. "Look," Mary said, pointing at the wide swath of ground between them and the lake. "You can see stumps still. Even after three hundred years. There was a forest there."
Indeed, they could see a few stumps and even one or two long mounds that looked like they were ancient tree trunks that were so large they had not fully rotted away even after several centuries. They started down the slopes of the mountain and walked through the charred remnants of what had to have been a large forest. Ahead they could see a slight rise next to the lake, and atop that rise was a pile of rocks that was their destination.
"No vegetation at all," Mary noted. "You sure this place was scrubbed after the war?"
Katherine, though, gave a fake cough and held up a radiation sensor. "My mom. She read about Hogwarts and said that the whole 'haunted' thing was nonsense and probably just lingering radiation. But it's clear—I'm not reading anything close to dangerous levels."
They kept walking. There was very little breeze in the valley. In fact, the air felt oddly cold compared to the pleasant breeze that had accompanied them through their hike across the Moors. Diana even pulled a sweater from her back, though after she put it on she confessed it didn't help very much.
Susan shrugged and they continued toward their goal.
When they arrived at Hogwarts, it seemed clear just from the stone foundation that it had been a large building. "Mary, going to do any scans?" Diana asked with a smirk.
Mary's eyes widened. "Of course!" She reached into her back and removed her 'corder. It was a specialized tricorder for archeological research. She turned it on, but then grimaced. "Urrggh!"
"What's wrong?" Susan asked.
"Blasted thing is on the fritz again."
"I thought you got it fixed last term," Diana said.
"Can I see?" Susan took the tricorder and ran a diagnostic. She looked up at the girls, then around the ruins. "It's not the code or the system. It's getting interference."
Katherine blanched. "You mean like radiation interference? The scanner doesn't get everything. There might be some type of exotic isotope. You said this place was within safe limits!"
"It is!" Susan said. "At least that's what the Demo file said. It was hit three hundred years ago. The soil and atmo scrubbers cleaned it up. It shouldn't still be dangerous."
Katherine removed her com. "Mom, can you hear me?"
Nothing. The other girls tried their coms with the same effect. Finally, Susan said, "Calm down! It's probably just local interference. You all called home at lunch before we got on the tram, and we've only walked twenty kilometers since then. It's probably just an effect of the lingering isotopes and the shape of the valley. It's nothing to go insane over. Besides, we have the emergency beacon. Come on, let's take care of business."
The cold breeze had picked up. They made it to the shore of the lake. Susan looked at her friends, who smiled back sadly. With a sigh, she removed the urn from her backpack. "Well, Grams, here you go. I hope you finally get to rest. Love you."
She up-ended the urn, expecting the ashes to drift gently into the water. However, at that precise moment a breeze blew in from across the lake. The ashes actually drifted over their heads and floated gently toward the hill in the distance where the castle ruins stood.
"That was weird," Diana said.
"Haunted, remember?" Mary said.
Without another word, they gathered their belongings and started up the hill until they reached the ruins. The castle must have been very impressive, Susan thought. The floor plan alone was huge. The hill was not so much a rise as a plateau. Nothing grew up between the stonework, so the foundation was exactly as it was when the castle still stood. Some parts weathered the destruction better than others. There was a partial stairwell that gave the girls an opportunity to look over the grounds around the castle.
Though the moors themselves were brilliantly green with the short growing season, Hogwarts valley was utterly desolate. "This was supposed to be ground zero for the last nuke fired during the war," Mary said. "Don't see how, though. There's no impact crater. I mean, sure the castle blew apart, but conventional explosives of the time could have done that. And look at the debris field."
They could see stonework and masonry in rings spreading out from their position. "It looks like the castle blew up from the inside. Don't know of many nukes that do that. In fact, there shouldn't be anything that big left it this was ground zero."
Diana shivered and pulled out her own sweater. "Why is it so bloody cold here?" She pulled the tie from her strawberry blonde hair and let if fall around her neck in the hopes of providing some warmth.
"I don't know," Susan finally admitted. She herself shivered. "Seems like a good time to set up our camp, though."
"Hope the heater works," Mary said.
"Should," Katherine told them. "It's a chemical heater, so no electronics for the isotopes to jam up."
The four girls made their way back down the remnant of the stairs until they came across a depression in the center of the castle that seemed warmer to them that the rest. They set up the heater, which true to Katherine's predictions soon started pouring out glorious heat and light to the girls.
"Figure this was a Jacuzzi?" Susan asked, pointing at the slightly sunken circle that took up the center of the depression. "Looks like the circle from the book."
"Maybe, but more likely it was a well," Mary explained. It was still light, but getting late. Each removed their meal packs and soon were laughing and talking about their hopes and dreams over their meals; or about the fact none of them had had a satisfactory date despite the bevy of boys in their classes. Katherine's experience with Edward was the farthest any of them had gone, and it did not look hopeful.
"Well, ladies, since we know Diana here has the antidote, I feel it's time to toast Grams." Susan removed the bottle of whiskey her parents bought. Each girl removed their travel cups, and in moments they were full.
All four stood. "To Grams," Susan said. "Who was a lot stranger than even we realized, but who I loved anyway. May she rest in peace."
"Here here!" the others said, before downing their shots.
By the bottom of the bottle, all were feeling more than just a little tipsy. Katherine, after her third cup, stood up. "I'd like to make an…er." She stopped and swayed a little in confusion.
"Announcement?" Susan asked helpfully.
"That's right!" Katherine nodded firmly. "Decided not to go to Starfleet."
The three other girls stared at her, flabbergasted. Finally, Mary started laughing. "You're having us on. You've wanted into Starfleet since that time you met Captain Riker!"
"Loved his beard," Katherine confirmed. She sat down with a giggle. "Can you believe he married that Betazed woman? She was sooo ugly!"
"I thought she was pretty," Mary said.
"You're pretty," Katherine corrected. "She was ugly."
"Why, though?" Susan asked, curious. "I mean about Starfleet. You've been talking about the Academy for months. You designed your whole class schedule to prepare for it. And what about your mom? What will she say?"
Katherine sunk in on herself. "Don't know," she admitted, suddenly on the verge of sobbing. "Just doesn't feel right. Nothing feels right."
Mary scooted around the lip of the circular depression and put her left arm around her friend's shoulders. Susan studied the two best friends, so radically different in appearance and yet closer than anyone else in the quartet. Both were stunningly beautiful in their own way, and Susan couldn't help but feel a little jealous.
"What about you, Mary?" Susan asked. "Still going to join the Terran Archeological Society?
"What else is there?" Mary said even as she kept an arm around Katherine. She motioned the castle around them. "As strange as this place is, it's places like this where I feel at home most. I can't stand the cities. Never could."
Susan turned to petite Diana. "And you?"
Diana shrugged and finished her shot of whiskey. She smacked her lips and giggled. It was an oddly sad sound. "Grams was right. I have no idea. Don't even like to think about it. Without you three…." She sniffed. The whiskey had gotten to her as well. "Never really had friends before, not like you three. And after this next term, we probably won't ever be like this again. Susan, you'll be at the Daystrom Institute, Mary will be off digging somewhere and Katherine—Kate—with your grades and looks you can go anywhere you want. I'll probably just take over the flower shop for mother."
Susan smiled and scooted to the younger girl's side to give her a long hug. As she did so, she felt their eyes on her. "What about you?" Mary asked.
"I'm supposed to meet with the Daystrom people next month." Susan let her arm drop from Diana's shoulders, shivered and wrapped her own shawl tightly around her shoulders. "I know I should go. It's an incredible opportunity. There are only twenty- three candidates across the entire Federation and most are Vulcan. Seven of Nine is there, and she's famous. I'm just not sure I want to. Stupid, I know."
The other girls nodded in understanding.
Susan finished off the last of the whiskey straight from the bottle and with a sudden grin she pulled out her book. The sky overhead was dark and had been so for well over an hour and a half as the girls talked. "Are we ready to start the ritual for Grams, then?"
Everyone gathered around once more to examine the book in the orange light of the heater. Diana looked up in confusion. "What are these strange names for? Hufflepuff? Ravenclaw? What kind of names are those?"
"Probably local deities," Mary surmised. "See how the wording is? It's an invocation, asking for the local deities to help raise the Lord of Light. Sounds almost like some type of Arthurian legend. It does make sense, though, if this really is a ritual to help the end of the bloodline. Maybe the Lord of Light is an old name for the Judeo-Christian God to come and guide the ancestors of the terminated family line to heaven. See the incantation? 'I would die for him' has very Christian overtones to it. I wonder if Grams was religious."
"She never cursed," Susan said. "At least nothing we'd think was normal. She did say 'Merlin' once, which was strange. She had a copy of La Morte de Arthur."
"Guess that explains the cross too," Katherine said as they examined the object.
Mary, however, had picked up the cross and was fingering the large melted weight on one end. "You know, I don't think this is a cross after all. I think this is a pommel."
"A what?" Diana asked.
"A sword," Mary said with certainty. "A broken sword that has been exposed to great heat."
"Kind of short for a sword," Katherine said. She blinked and swayed even while sitting from the whiskey.
"That makes sense though," Susan said. "The blade is broken, but it's still sharp. We're supposed to nick our palms to summon the Lord of Light so he can come take Grams to heaven."
"My mom is Catholic," Diana asked. "I've gone to Sunday school. Blood sacrifice doesn't sound very Christian."
Mary shrugged. "She might have been part of some sect or cult. Like the LSD* or Scientificologists. And Jesus gave his blood, didn't he?"
"Oh, that makes sense, I guess," Diana said. "What's LSD*?"
"I think it was a religious sect in Utah a couple of centuries ago. Went away after the Vulcans arrived for some reason."
Suddenly Katherine straightened her head. "I'll do it," she said, still flushed from the drink she wasn't handling quiet as well as her friends. "For Grams!"
"For the brandy she let us drink last night," Diana added.
Everyone turned to Mary. "Fine," the last girl said. "But if the cut hurts too bad, I'm going to kick your ass."
Susan smiled, her eyes a little moist. "Thank you," she whispered.
"We should wait until midnight," Mary said. "The witching hour."
"It almost is midnight," Susan pointed out.
Mary looked down at her watch and frowned. "Oh, right. Well, we better do it quick then."
"Okay, everyone sit around the circle," Susan said as she once more took charge. "Don't know if this is the right place, but it's the only circle like what's in the book. Each of you are supposed to pick one of these deities. And we might as well go in order. Katherine, since you volunteered first, you can go first. You'll get to be Gryffindor. Diana, you can be Hufflepuff. I'll be Slytherin, and Mary, you can be Ravenclaw. Read the invocation and memorize it. Then when you've said the invocation, you're supposed to cut your hand on the sword and let the blood drip into the circle. When we're done I'll get the dermgen patches in our first aid kit."
"Susan," Diana said suddenly, "I know we all love Grams, but what if she was lying? What if this is more than just a ritual to see her family off into heaven? That book is two hundred pages long and we can only read one of them. What if the rest of the book says the Lord of Light was the worst monster ever?"
"That'll be fun too," Susan said as she handed the broken sword to Katherine. She resumed her place, but then shook her head. "Grams was many things, Diana, but she was never cruel. She despised shows of cruelness. It was the only time I ever saw her get truly angry. I can't imagine she would do anything to harm us."
She blinked, and then looked at Mary. "You know, I actually think I should go last."
Mary stared. "Why?"
"Honestly, I have no idea," Susan confessed. "The order says Slytherin was supposed to go last. Since I'm Slytherin, I should be last."
"But why are you Slytherin in the first place? Does it even matter who gets what god?"
"Mary," Diana said, "you know how Susan gets. Even if you're right, she'll win in the end anyway. Just switch and let's get on with it. I'm tired."
With a sigh, Mary got up and she and Susan changed places. Susan smiled at them all and then placed the book open by her knee. "Okay, it's about midnight. I guess we're ready."
"Fine," Katherine said. Her words were still a little slurred from the drink, but not as much as before. She picked up the broken sword and stared at it for the longest time. "This is stupid," she muttered. Then, strongly, she said, "In the name of Lady Gryffindor, I would die for him!"
Katherine daintily ran her hand over the broken edge and winced at the cut. The blood dripped down the blade, where three drops fell into the dusty circle. She handed the blade over to Diana. "I want my dermgen patch now," she said to Susan.
Susan flicked the patch over and Katherine put it on her cut palm. She sighed in relief as the patch immediately sealed and healed the cut. Next to her, Diana handled the sword gingerly. "In the name of Lady Hufflepuff, I would die for him," she said, though not quite as firmly. She too ran a hand along the blade and made a half-whimper at the cut. "That does not feel good," she muttered.
"Baby," Katherine teased.
Susan merely flicked another patch at the younger girl.
Mary accepted the sword and then glared at Susan. "Just for the record, if you back out after all of us have done this, we are so kicking your behind."
"I won't, I promise," Susan said.
"Fine. In the name of Lady Ravenclaw, I would die for him." She ran her hand along the blade and let her blood drop into the circle with the rest. As she was handing the blade to Susan, Diana screamed.
All four of them spun around and stared at what had terrified the girl. Immediately they froze as a figure stepped toward them. It was a woman with a kind expression dressed in long, flowing robes. She was beautiful, if not for the fact that she was glowing a bright silver that lit the air around her, and was absolutely transparent.
"Susan, is this one of your tricks?" Katherine whispered.
Susan shook her head mutely, too terrified to speak. The ghost drifted toward them, still with that gentle, kind expression. Across from her, Diana squeaked in terror. None of them made any effort to move as the ghost passed between Susan and Mary and stopped in the center of the circle.
Diana's squeak turned to a moan of terror as more shades appeared. Not one or two, but hundreds of glowing silver figures seemed to emerge from the air around them. More. Thousands. The air was filled with them, forming a dome around them with tens of thousands of ghostly silver eyes staring at them.
The first figure made a gesture and Susan turned her attention back to the circle. The matronly ghost was moving closer to Susan, until a silver hand reached up and cupped her cheek. The touch was icy cold. "Complete the ceremony, my dear Susan," the ghost said. Its voice was a whispered breeze across distant treetops. It was the waves of the lake lapping violently down at the shore. It was a breath of cold air that somehow formed words with Grams' voice. "Let my beloved Grandpapa live again."
"Susan," Diana gasped, shivering. "Please don't."
"Do not fear," the ghost whispered again, smiling. "Let your love call him. For he is a being of purist love."
Despite the cold touch; despite the cold ghostly eyes staring at her, Susan smiled. "Grams," Susan breathed. The ghost nodded. "This is magic, isn't it?" she whispered. "Real magic. Just like you used to talk about when I was a kid."
The ghost smiled back at her and nodded again, then drifted to the center of the circle. Susan raised the sword she grabbed from Mary. "In the name of Lady Slytherin, I would die for him." She slashed her own hand, hardly even wincing at the pain.
The ghost watched the blood falling on the stone, then held up both hands. In a suddenly loud, human-sounding voice, she cried, "And we, the last children of magic, give our souls for him, so all that we were and all that we could be shall not pass forever into the night!"
The circular depression suddenly lit up just as the ghostly woman sank into it. Other ghosts joined her, singularly at first, then by twos and threes until it became a solid silvery stream reaching into the sky and pouring into the circle with a strange building roar, like a distant hover tram.
The four terrified girls clambered back from the glowing circle as the last ghost disappeared. With the last flicker of silver, the circle started to pulse. A shadow appeared in the center of it, growing larger and larger until a shape breached the inexplicably viscous surface. As soon as the shape was clear, the pulsing eased and the circular depression lost all color until, in the shadows caused by the heater lamp, it became stone again.
The girls climbed to their feet and inched forward cautiously. The Lord of Light appeared to be a very naked teenage boy.
"Huh," Diana muttered.
*Unfortunately, a lot of people just didn't get this joke, so I'm making this post to let you know that the spelling of LSD v LDS was intentional, and if you want to know why, go watch Star Trek IV.