Chapter Thirteen- Going Underground May 1997 Part I
This time, they chose not to drive to Tal y Cafn. Verity could see the benefits of apparition over a long car journey and since Justine insisted she was proficient in side along apparition there seemed no need to worry about transport. With Justine's help she made it to Tal y Cafn, all of Verity's limbs still intact even if, judging by the light bleeding on her arms, she'd left a couple of scabs in London.
They apparated into the beer garden of Jan's pub. Head still spinning a little Verity had found herself squashed between something plastic and something soft and Justine shaped.
"Well this is cosy," she mumbled into the jacket of Justine's coat while both of the girls struggled against each other.
"This isn't it is it?" came the muffled response.
"What are you talking about? It's perfect… you could hide at least twelve people in here."
Hearing the usual faint pop of apparating magnified, both of the girls squealed as something heavy fell on them, the shabby toe of Earnest's boot now poking into Verity's eye.
"Oi," Bryn's head poked through a gap in the plastic and grinned. "Stop messing around in there." She realised then that all three of them had somehow managed to apparate directly inside of the old kid's play set at the bottom of the pub garden.
Untangling limbs, Verity managed to pull herself out of the window, the thing more than a little tight around that paunch in her middle. Now out in the garden, she saw Bryn grinning and Simon fighting the urge to laugh. Justine opted for the slide while Earnest struggled to retain at least a little dignity while springing from the top of the play set which was shaped like a the turrets of a garish plastic castle.
"I don't think anyone is taking this as seriously as we should be," he announced addressing them as though he were the king of the castle. In between snickers, Justine clearly remembered her aunt and Verity remembered what they were undertaking. They needed to grow up now, and grow up fast.
Since he'd been doing the repairs, Hannah had given the keys to Bryn after he'd been there the first time and as he pulled them out of his jeans the familiar door appeared in the wall opened to reveal the short walk to The Sett.
Verity was relieved to see that the swirling mist around the small Welsh village was not as thick as it had been the first. All the same, there was a creeping sense of trepidation and fear that could have been attributed to dementors- or was perhaps her own consciousness since Justine and Bryn seemed totally unbothered and feverish with determination.
Once inside, Justine and Earnest who had never seen The Sett before swept a critical eye over the torn wall paper and thick dusty bare floor boards. "And this will be safe?" asked Justine. Verity had to admit that the house didn't even look structurally safe, let alone safe from attack.
"I thought we'd set up a parameter outside. Anti apparition and anti jinx that sort of thing- it'll be harder to get to but that would be the point," said Simon. Verity always privately thought he could get very sexy when he acted competent. "You've done that sort of thing before right Bryn?"
"Yup, funnily enough people when people want houses built they don't want random guests apparating in the middle of their living room. But can you get started on that? I have some portal stuff to sort out."
"What portal stuff….you said it was fixed?" asked Justine.
"It is, it is…for the most part…but I uh…I need Verity for something."
"What on earth do you need Verity for?" it was Earnest's turn to look deeply scandalised while Verity pretended to be more offended than she was. Honestly, she was thinking the same thing- of everyone assembled she was definitely the crappest at magic.
"Yes but the nature of the portal means there's some runes you gotta read, isn't that right Vez?" Verity nodded. "My pronunciation is crap and she's the only one of us with a NEWT in ancient runes so that's why on earth I need her." Again Verity was very proud for her choice in NEWTs.
"Right, well what do you need us to do?"
"Tine would you help Simon? You were always a neat little charm student- I remember your cheering charms, best I ever saw," smiled Bryn at Justine who nodded and took her wand from her pocket.
"What about me?" demanded Earnest.
"Oh," Bryn looked at him dismissively. "I dunno, you can…tidy up or something. Try and sweep some of the crap off the floor."
Once inside the kitchen, Bryn pulled the carpeting aside to reveal Vester's secret hatch and Verity read the runic inscription easily. Again the blue light filtered through and she was disappointed that there was still only darkness. As though reading her mind Bryn reached forward and muttered 'Lumos', an orb of light streaming from his wand and into the darkness below.
The smell of earth and mould was thick and below she could see crude steps into earth and mud.
"You never found out where this led to did you?" asked Bryn and Verity shook her head.
"I always assumed it would just be another house in Eastern Europe like you said it would be."
"I didn't know Eastern Europe was this dark… and muddy," she said venturing out against her better judgement to touch the stone step. Thankfully the bones in her hand didn't explode. It was dry and a thin layer of dirt came off in her hand. "I guess we should go down there and have a look."
"I guess," said Bryn reluctantly. But Verity edged forward. On the scale of recklessness what they were already undertaking to do was a big jump so what was another leap into the abyss. Quite literally. Both of them descended, letting the light from their wands guide their way onto the stone steps.
There were fifteen steps in total and when they reached the bottom Verity found herself in what could only have been an underground cave, like a burrow or a badger sett carved into the earth. It was hollow and deserted, the narrow walls and low roof made from stone but reinforced with wooden pylons like a mine shaft.
Waving her wand around, she spotted a couple of crates and the entrance to a dark tunnel that stretched onwards. Bryn put his hand to one of the pylons and pressed his vast weight against it. He declared it probably structurally sound. The 'probably' didn't exactly fill her with confidence.
"We're going to go through this tunnel aren't we?" she asked him and he pulled a clear 'do we have to?' face but nodded.
What she noticed first were large cobwebs on the other side of the pylon through the tunnel, when she tried to brush them aside she found they were remarkably thick and sticky. No doubt this underground passage was just crawling with insects and rats and other vile things. She hoped they hadn't wandered into the underground home of a troll or something. While Verity busied herself with thoughts of creepy crawlies, Bryn spotted the torches that had been driven into the tunnel walls and lit one, filling the start of the tunnel with an ethereal blue glow.
Moisture from the walls glistened while a few stalactites hung from the tunnel ceilings and they walked a little way forward, stopping to light the torches that they found.
"Vester must have been using an underground cave system to transport people," said Verity, thinking aloud. "God only knows where the tunnels lead to." The ceiling of the tunnel began to get smaller, the air got a lot chillier. For the next few steps they had to duck their heads. Feeling something scuttle past her ankle Verity let out a shriek as she cast her light onto a spider the size of her fist crawling by her.
"Reducto," she shouted, more out of instinct than anything and at once the spider exploded into a horrible sticky mess.
"Jeez Vez, that's a little excessive isn't it?"
"Spiders are icky," she shrugged.
"Just don't go blowing up any poor defenceless rats or anything you blooming psychopath." Verity told him she couldn't promise anything.
Further on by the wall of the cave they found a huddled blanket and Bryn reached out to grab it. For a wild, fearful moment Verity had been expecting a skeleton to be lurking underneath but there was nothing like that. Just an old doll, presumably belonging to a child. This in itself to Verity was beyond creepy anyway, it's dress caked in mud, the hair tangled and it's porcelain face half shattered.
A little way on, the tunnel turned a corner and Verity realised that it had become a rudimentary corridor; there were doorways carved into the rock. She stepped through the first one and gasped.
"Merlin's saggy scrotum!"
Here was another cave, roughly the same size and shape as the one at the foot of the stone staircase leading from the basement portal but it appeared as though someone had tried to give this place a homely quality. The floor was covered in woven matting, and rugs, there were tattered armchairs and even some old newspapers strewn across them. In a way it reminded Verity of a shabby version of the Hufflepuff common room. In the corner two three crates had been arranged into a sort of table like set up and there was a chessboard all laid out on one of them, a game still half played.
She picked up a paper, browned with time and saw it was written in a language that looked Slavic dating from 1944- right around the time Grindlewald would have been at large.
"No way," Bryn echoed as she held up the paper for him to peruse. "You don't think…people were living down here?"
"How desperate must things have been for people to willingly live in caves? And why didn't Vester just let them go through the portal and into England?"
Bryn frowned, "I think the portal must be newer than the caves. They must have been hiding down here a long time before Vester could make it work."
"Until 1944 I guess," murmured Verity. "I'm going to look at the other rooms."
The other caves only served to reinforce the idea that people had been living in the caves, for it made up a secret underground house. Next to the common room cave, Verity found what must have been a bedroom judging by the mattresses spread out on the floor and then another beside it. Verity to wondered just how many people had taken to these caves to hide from Grindlewald. There was even a kitchen complete with a stove, a large dining table in the middle of it and a big wooden pantry.
Running her fingers along the edges of the wooden table, she found that someone had gotten bored and carved words into it, all in the same Slavic language as well as a few crude pictures, a stick figure on a broom, a smiling face and a galaxy of stars. She then became aware of a rustling in the pantry.
Rats. Verity shuddered. It would probably be worthwhile to see just how many rats they were up against since it would be an idea to clean this place up should the worst come to the worst. Bracing herself she opened the door.
And backed away as quick as she dared, mouth open and her heart beating. There in the pantry, Verity didn't know how or why was something that sent a cold sweat through her body.
Trembling, she raised her wand and roared 'expelliarmus' the way she had practised with Hannah. And then 'reducto' over and over.
Cloaked in darkness wearing a thick black hood, slits cut for the eyes like a sinister snake, the Death Eater stepped towards her, wand raised. Her spells were useless, bouncing off the Death Eater, misfiring and exploding a fifty year old box of cereal in the pantry behind it. Cornflakes spilled onto the floor and Verity was glued to the spot, could do nothing but whimper.
And then Bryn was behind her, "It's a boggart, Verity! Verity it's fine," he yelled anguished but Verity could only blink. It was a Death Eater, clear as day and they were going to die. She found herself being pushed aside as Bryn stepped forwards to face it.
With a crack, the Death Eater changed into something completely different. In the place of the figure in its ominous white mask was a woman in a white dress. To Verity there was nothing scary about it at all, it was just Justine. She held a bouquet of white flowers in her arms and a veil above her head. From the ether Earnest appeared wearing dress robes. He lifted the veil as Justine turned to look at him and they kissed.
Verity hardly seemed to have time to process what she was seeing before the Boggart Earnest suddenly lost all of his hair. "Riddikulous," said Bryn with a flicker of his wand and the Boggart vanished in a puff of smoke.
"You okay?" he asked Verity.
Was she okay? Verity looked down at her hands, which were still shaking and tried to steady her breathing. She was not okay at all…pulled at a chair around the table and sat on it heavily. Bryn sidled up to her and put a hand on her shoulder.
She could still taste her own fear, and felt a fresh wave of grief for her mother, trying to shake off the tears which pricked her eyes. Tears for her Mum and also tears of frustration, at how quickly she had fallen to pieces when faced with the real thing. How exactly would she ever be able to defend herself from Death Eaters if she seized up like that? Maybe Simon had been right not to want to get dragged into all of this.
But she looked up at Bryn who hardly seemed to look much better than she felt as she began to process that what she'd just seen was Bryn's biggest fear.
"We should go back," said Bryn gruffly. "I doubt we'll get through the whole system tonight. God knows where the other exit is. I'd put money on the fact that its miles and miles away- it doesn't seem like your Aunt cut any corners."
Verity nodded, shaken enough that she could definitely see the benefits of a hot cup of tea. Silently they made their way back through the tunnel system. Not one of them spoke for a good while, until Verity, stopped him by holding his arm and started,
"Do you wanna talk about-"
"Not really no," said Bryn putting all his attention on the light at the end of his wand, trying to make his voice seem light and airy but instead simply coming across as bitter. Verity wondered how long he had felt the way he did, felt her heart ache for her friend .
"You know, if you're so afraid of that happening you could just…"
"I could just tell her that I'm in love with her?" asked Bryn dryly. "I'm pretty sure I've gotten drunk and told her twice a year, every year since we were fifteen. Believe me she knows…and it doesn't make a lick of difference."
Since they were fifteen- how had she not even guessed? How had she not seen any signs before today? "I never knew…neither of you ever told me,"
"I imagine she didn't tell you because she just wants all of us to stay friends and she knows I feel like an idiot about the whole bloody mess," said Bryn and he gave a bitter little chuckle. "I barely knew that'd be my boggart either, honestly Vez…You'd think I didn't know there was a war on or something."
"Yeah," she replied weakly, thinking of the Death Eaters again.
"You know, back there? You've got the right idea, honestly. So don't beat yourself up about it- fear is what we need even though we might seem confident. Fear is going to keep us on our toes. Stop us making dumb mistakes. We'll be fine. I promise."
Verity wasn't sure Bryn should be going around making promises he didn't know he could keep.
The trap door had shut behind them, but it had not locked and was pushed easily open. Verity and Bryn blinked at the natural light and Simon was waiting at the top of the stairs with his hand out. Verity clutched it tight and stepped into his arms.
"It works then? What was down there?" Simon asked her.
To their captive audience, Bryn and Verity relayed the story of the underground cave system and the home that Muggleborn refugees had made underground before Bryn finished, by way of explaining the way Verity clung to Simon, with "and then we had a bit of a run in with a boggart, but we got it. Might be something to watch out for though, the conditions are pretty much perfect for the damn things down there."
Weaving his arms around her body and holding her close, Simon asked Verity what she had seen and Verity shot Bryn a warning look that clearly said 'I won't tell them yours if you don't tell them mine'. The way she saw it, they probably didn't need to be reminded of Death Eaters.
"You were making out with my dad, it was horrifying."
Pulling a face Simon pulled away, "You're a sick, sick woman Verity Abbott."
"How did the charms come along?" asked Bryn to Justine and Verity found herself watching the way they were around each other a little more closely. She found nothing out of the ordinary, no subtle clues at all.
"Pretty much all done," said Simon. "We made it so no one could apparate within a two mile radius of the place and fired our best hexes at the house. They bounce right off," Simon raised his hand and Justine high fived him.
"So we're all ready for tonight then?"
"Ready as we'll ever be," said Justine. "Though I did neglect to tell my Aunty she and her husband would have to live in a cave."
"The cave is just a back up Tine. In case Death Eaters do come…even then, I bet we'll find the exit before then."
"Germany is just as bad as a cave," shrugged Justine, "I guess there is nothing we can do until tonight now"
"Except walk two bloody miles so we can apparate out of here," said Earnest.
"Everyone knows the plan, everyone knows what they are doing?" said Simon and they all nodded, as the weight of what they were undertaking finally began to sink in. Verity grabbed Simon by the arm.
"Actually…if it's all the same with everyone else, I think there's someone else that would like to know about all of this and I can vouch for them." She fished into her pocket for whatever change she had left and said to Simon, "Do you think you could help me with something else before it all goes down tonight?"