A.N.: Okay, this is the first and last time I will address such a subject here; regarding the tardiness of my latest chapters; guys, I'm updating weekly. I will keep doing that, I promise, but do understand I have responsibilities other than fanfiction. As much as typing relaxes me, receiving private messages demanding new chapters and accusing me of purposefully dragging on the suspense to gain more reviews does the exact opposite. If I'm late in posting, that means I'm having a hectic week; this is my last semester of college; hectic is all I get.
Enough with that. I don't mind getting reviews from readers wishing for the next chapter -these I honestly find flattering- but accusations as those mentioned above are not welcome. The schedule I have, posting every week, is self imposed; I get the anticipation when waiting for a new chapter, trust me. I have been waiting for over half a year for some stories I love to be updated. But I don't think I have shown signs of not updating regularly. This story will be completed, as all my stories have been, simply because I do not like doing things in half and because I enjoy writing it. I just believe in delivering good chapters and not hasty or badly written ones just to make a deadline.
Now that I got that out of my system, let me thank all of you for your amazing support! You guys rock! Here's the latest chapter of my story; there's a lot of plot going on and things are moving forward at full speed as you will realize. There's Orbein, more goblins, and a special someone that will be making an appearance in this chapter; it was high time, I think!
I hope you'll enjoy this chapter too and don't forget to review!
P.S.: Twenty-three pages long chapter, people. Twenty-three.
Disclaimer; I own nothing but the obscene quantity of chocolate I consumed while typing this chapter.
RITES OF PASSAGE
"This item… this pendant, is priceless, Mr. Potter!" Gudur exclaimed, a hand placed over his heart. He was looking at the young wizard in front of him with something akin to awe. Or maybe it was hyperventilation taking roots, he couldn't tell.
"And yet," Harry said, "here I am, ready to talk prices." The two goblins turned to face him immediately and the green eyed wizard realised he had their undivided attention; Harry could tell, he had just gotten that much closer to Orbein's gates.
The green eyed wizard leaned back on his chair and waited for the goblin across the table to collect his scattered thoughts, a soft smile permanent on his face. Gudur had -after taking a few silent moments to prevent hyperventilation- led the group of wizards and Nagnok to the president's office. Harry had been in the room once before of course, last summer when he had taken his emancipation ritual, but back then the president's presence had been a mere typicality. President Melvoz, a greying, respectable looking goblin, with the pointiest nose Harry had ever seen on one of his race, hadn't spared the younger Potter twin a second thought after he had left his office. Now, he was regretting that decision.
Melvoz could easily recall and name all mithril-made objects in Gringotts' possession. There where not many, after all, and he had devoted years of his life in locating more. Up to that moment, he had been unsuccessful. And suddenly, completely out of the blue, there came a wizard -only a little older than a boy- that held one of those priceless objects in his possession and was willing to let it go. The pendant shone right in front of him, perched on rich cloth, the metal's pull magnetic. At that very moment, Melvoz knew he would give as much gold as the boy asked for. There was no price Harry Potter could name that would be too high.
"Name your price, Mr. Potter." The goblin president said, his voice trembling, his eyes feverish. "Gringotts is ready to part with a handsome amount of gold for this pendant you have brought us." Melvoz added, his lips curling in distaste; only a wizard would be crash enough to put a price in gold for such a masterpiece!
"Gold?" The green eyed wizard in front of him asked, clearly insulted. "You think I would part from this pendant for gold, Melvoz-nûr?" The goblin in question looked at Harry with renewed surprise and just a trace of respect, slowly replaced by curiosity. It seemed he had misjudged the boy, he thought.
"If not gold, then what?" The goblin asked, suddenly wary of the answer he would receive. The boy's companions did not seem surprised, something that Melvoz knew meant Harry Potter had come prepared to bargain for something much more important that gold from the very beginning.
"First of all, your discretion; if you truly wish to acquire this pendant, you will breathe no word of the transaction ever taking place. All three of you," Harry said, looking at the tree goblins in the room, "will sign a magical contract that will bind you to keep my identity as the previous owner of the pendant, as well as the price I will ask to part from it, a secret."
"This pendant," the president said cautiously, "is not stolen, is it?"
"It is not, as I have already informed Gudur- nûr and Nagnok-nûr. Rest assured that no wizard or witch will come to claim it after you have acquired it." Harry stated once more.
"In that case, we will accept signing the contract." Melvoz declared, not giving the request a second thought; he would have likely heard if any mithril-made jewellery had been stolen. Even if the jewellery had been re-forged, the news of such a quantity of the precious metal being turn into a pendant would have reached some of the many ears he had at ready.
"Good." Harry stated, nodding once decisively. In all truth, he had known the goblin would accept this first term all along. "If you wouldn't mind, I would like you to sign that first contract now; even if you do not agree to my terms, I would prefer this conversation never left this office." Melvoz regarded the teen cautiously before his eyes trailed back to the pendant; Harry had made no move to close the lid of the box in which it rested or hide it from his view and the goblin couldn't help but think it might have been intentional. For the pendant was there, the pull of the mithril held true, and if a simple contract that had no other ramifications but their discretion was required, well, none of the three goblins would be adverse to signing it; a contract like that wasn't a novelty when concerning transactions of such magnitude after all, even if Melvoz hadn't had the need to sigh one since he had been elected president.
"Very well." The goblin conceded and swiftly, the standard contract Gringotts had pre-drawn for situations like this was brought up. It was carefully proofread by the potions master and signed by the three goblins under his watchful gaze. Severus Snape was still young, Melvoz thought, but the wizard had a very intimidating aura about him should he so choose. And once the contract was signed, Harry smiled once again, looking at the president with eyes sparkling almost mischievously.
"And now, back to business." The green eyed wizard said, relaxing back into his chair. "I wonder, would you allow me to be honest, Melvoz-nûr?"
"Considering we're about to discuss business, Mr. Potter, I would encourage it." Harry's smile widened and he nodded once in agreement; he greatly appreciated the straightforwardness of goblins compared to the Ministry's ineffective bureaucracy.
"As you wish." Harry agreed; he glanced briefly towards his father before continuing. They had spent the last night talking, exchanging opinions on what Harry should ask from the goblins; Orbein in itself was as a great prize as any, but the goblins had already admitted the pendant was priceless. Harry had been counting on that, wishing he could use it as a base for the rest of his demands; he would ask for no gold. He would demand no jewels. "Melvoz-nûr, I know you have heard of the Dark Lord's return." The goblin opposite him startled and froze, not having expected such a statement.
"Mr. Potter…" He began numbly, being swiftly interrupted by the teen in question.
"Let's not hide behind our fingers, master goblin." Harry said, his voice calm and his smile still in place. Melvoz would have, perhaps, felt insulted being addressed in such a way by a teen wizard, if it wasn't for the icy undertone in Harry's words. The wizard across the table knew what he was talking about and wasn't going to accept half sentences and excuses for answers. "There is no way you would miss such a thing, Mr. president. You have eyes everywhere, I'm sure you have more trust in Dumbledore's words than the Ministry's and even if goblins have chosen not to get involved in wizards' affairs, you are well aware Voldemort will not return the courtesy. I know you to be much more competent than Minister Fudge, Melvoz-nûr, and I would appreciate it if you didn't treat me as a child. The Minister does, of course," Harry continued, shrugging once, "but I suppose that can't be helped."
"Continue, Mr. Potter." Melvoz offered, after a moment of contemplation. No, he decided, it wouldn't do to treat Harry Potter as a child; he feared he wouldn't like the results if he underestimated the green eyed wizard.
"So, we agree on not pretending Voldemort is still hiding in a dark hole, somewhere in the corners of the earth?" Harry asked, slight sarcasm colouring his question.
"We agree, Mr. Potter." Melvoz answered; the goblins knew of the Dark Lord's return. Melvoz himself had been convinced the moment Dumbledore had confirmed the whispers that had been circulating since the night Voldemort had returned. The Ministry's swift repudiation of his return ever happening and the immediate witch hunt Fudge had issued against Dumbledore had only served to solidify his belief. The Dark Lord was back and, no matter how much the Ministry denied it, he would soon be on the move again; that wouldn't bode well for anyone in the country -or the continent- and goblins would be no exception.
"Good." Harry said, nodding once. "I know of your conviction not to get involved in wizards' plights, Mr. president, and I shall respect that, even if we both know the Dark Lord will not." He added, repeating his former statement.
"Then, if not our open support, what will you ask, Mr. Potter?" Melvoz asked, a voice in his mind whispering that this was a type of a conversation that hadn't taken place in centuries between wizards and goblins; this was a war conference, disguised as an economical transaction. It was a move one would expect from the goblin side -the side that historically had started such conversations, when they had occurred- and not from a wizard. Especially not a teenaged one that was completely unrelated to the Ministry. And Melvoz couldn't help but feel intrigued.
"I will ask for three things, master goblin." Harry stated, regarding Melvoz carefully; he had thought and thought of how he'd word his requests. He had talked his arguments through with his father and he had brainstormed for hours. He had rehearsed his speech in front of his bathroom mirror through the night, he hadn't managed get more than an hour's worth of sleep last night, wording and rewording his requests until the words fit. It would have to be just right, for goblins were easy to anger and hard to forgive. He would have to show no fear even if he trembled on the inside; this moment right here could make a great difference in the coming war, he knew.
"Name your requests, Mr. Potter." Melvoz prompted, waiting for Harry to elaborate. Harry, taking solace of his family's presence but knowing that this was something he would have to do alone, breathed in deeply and spoke;
"One," he said, looking at the goblin in the eyes, knowing that his first request would be the most difficult for Melvoz to stomach "I am sure you will retain your neutrality during the war. My request however, is this; should things come to it, should Voldemort's plans succeed to the point where he can influence even Gringotts, I would like to be informed of the comings and goings of his Death Eaters in the bank. The Dark Lord, in the height of his power, has used his followers' overflowing vaults to finance his campaign. My first request, Melvoz-nûr, is this; if we reach a point where Voldemort openly uses Gringotts to finance his side again, I want clearance to oversee all transactions that involve the vaults he will use."
"Unacceptable!" Mevloz exclaimed, rising from his seat, his face turning deep red in anger. Gudur and Nagnok had a similar reaction, the later admittedly acting with more restrain, having worked with Harry the longest. "No wizard has such power over Gringotts! Not for over a century! This bank is run solely by goblins and we accept no outward involvement!"
"I understand, Mr. president." Harry agreed, his face completely controlled even if he was cursing inwardly. He had expected Melvoz would react like that, of course, but he just wished the goblin would stop and think first. Well, he would just have to make him understand.
"I do not think you do!" The goblin exclaimed, fist connecting with his desk in anger. "If you did, you would not have dared to make such a request!"
"I'm afraid you did not listen to what I said, master goblin." Harry retorted, bringing his left hand to his temple, rubbing softly in circles with his fingers, trying to fight of the first inklings of a headache. He wished the goblin could stop yelling. He wished he could take a break and grab his sword to slash some of the training dummies back home into oblivion before he continued with this conversation. All he could do however was wait for the goblin to stop speaking so he could explain.
"Oh, I heard you very well, wizard!" The president yelled. "What you ask is unheard off, no wizard…"
"No wizard can get involved in running Gringotts, I know." Harry interrupted him, his gaze steely as he stared the goblin down, his voice as commanding as he could make it. His heart beat like crazy inside his chest and his stomach was clenching but he persevered. He couldn't back down now.
"Than you understand why I will have to politely refuse, wizard!" Melvoz stated, nothing polite in the way he spoke. Severus regarded the fuming goblin in distaste, resisting the urge to curse him with a spell that would cause lasting damage. Draco openly sneered, trying to come up with a way to support his brother without making things worse while Neville simply tried to swallow his words and not verbally abuse the goblin president, possibly kicking him afterwards. Harry, knowing how important this conversation was, took a leaf out of his father's book and looked at the goblin in apathy.
"No, I do not. As I said, you did not listen to what I asked for, master goblin." Harry stated, forcing himself to remain polite. "I said that I wanted clearance over the vaults Voldemort might openly use to finance his efforts only -only- if things get to a point where he has already managed control over Gringotts. This has happened before, Mr. president, during the First War, you can not deny it. Last time our side had no idea what he did with the gold he had acquired, which officials he was paying off; we can't afford that again." Melvoz still looked against the idea but had at least stopped screaming; he was only vice-president during the First War, only rising to his current position after the death of the previous president, eight years ago, but that didn't mean he did not remember those days.
"What are you saying then, Mr. Potter?"
"I thought I had made myself clear, Melvoz-nûr." Harry stated, looking at the goblin intently; he wouldn't lose his temper. He would repeat his request as many times as needed until he had made himself clear. "If things get so bad that Voldemort manages to control Gringotts, I want access to the vaults you know he uses. No other vault." The green eyed wizard intoned. "I'm not asking clearance for the accounts he used during the previous war. I'm not asking clearance for the accounts he will use while moving in the shadows, even if you know he's using them. But if he moves out in the open and exerts control over Gringotts as he did in the last war -making that a time when a wizard already runs Gringotts, master goblin- only then do I request clearance for the vaults he uses. I know goblin magic is woven tightly in each and every ward and, even when in control, Voldemort will be unable to bring these wards now. He's not stupid. He knows that would make Gringotts utterly defenceless, make the bank lose its true worth. And he well knows Gringotts' worth as he did during the last war. That means you will still have access to each and every vault even in the event when he takes control; I expect you would rather work with me in making sure he falls from power, losing such control over your bank in the process, than aid him in retaining it. Was I wrong?"
Melvoz regarded the green eyed wizard with caution. His request was almost unheard off, but his argument was solid. Last time Voldemort had managed to take over Gringotts the goblins had almost been pushed out of it completely. If the Dark Lord had remained in power for a few more months, he would have driven the whole race out of the bank and established his Death Eaters in all the important posts in Gringotts. Even if the war had been won after that, the goblins would have had to fight tooth and nail to regain any semblance of control over the bank.
"Mr. Potter… does raise a valid point." Nagnok muttered, looking at the president, his tone careful. Harry already pictured the huge bonus his financial advisor would receive. Next to him, Gudur nodded in agreement, even if he seemed apprehensive.
"Even if I do accept this request of yours," Melvoz said, his voice low, his expression stern, "it will have to be done quietly. You will sign a contract that will state the exact circumstances under which you will gain access to those vaults. Once the war is over, you will lose any such privileges. All four of you," the goblin continued, looking at the three wizards by Harry, "will sign magical contracts that will ensure no word of this leaves this agreement room. Is that clear, Mr. Potter?"
"I would never dream of keeping such privileges, Melvoz-nûr, nor breathing a word of this conversation. I accept your terms." Harry stated, not allowing his elation shine through his calm façade. The conversation wasn't over yet.
"Agreed, then." The goblin said, hoping he wouldn't come to regret his decision; still he knew, if the Dark Lord ever did manage to take over Gringotts he would welcome any chance he had to overthrow him. And in the off chance Voldemort succeeded where he had failed during the last war, he could always site the contract he would sign as proof of the goblin race's help after the war was won. Should the war be lost, it would not matter; Gringotts would be lost too. And since the Ministry didn't seem keen on making a move towards acknowledging the coming war, young Mr. Potter and what he offered would have to do.
"Agreed." Harry acquiesced, allowing himself a soft smile, knowing that the first and largest hurdle had been overcome.
"If I remember correctly, Mr. Potter, you have yet two more requests to make, though I see not what more you could ask." Melvoz stated, his eyes falling on the ever tempting pendant on his desk.
"The remaining two requests are much simpler, I assure you." Harry offered, breathing deeply before he continued. "During the last war, Muggleborns were targeted by Voldemort and his supporters. Many goblins suffered a similar fate, as you well know." The green eyed teen added, observing Melvoz carefully; judging from the way the goblin's face contorted in anger, the president had not forgotten.
"I'm aware of the fact." He said, voice steely.
"My second request, master goblin, is… a vault." Harry said, causing Melvoz's eyes to widen in confusion.
"What does a vault have to do with anything? You can open a new vault any given day, you know that, Mr. Potter." The goblin stated.
"Not the type of vault I'm talking about." Harry said. "This vault -which I will pay for as if it was any normal vault- will only contain one single thing; a fireplace."
"A fireplace, Mr Potter?" Melvoz asked.
"Yes." The emerald eyed wizard supplied. "Gringotts -as you already know- is the only building in the country than uses its own floo network." Harry reminded the president; it had been one of the things the goblins hade demanded when they took control over the bank; complete separation from the Ministry. "Should the witch hunts recommence, I would like to provide Muggleborns with a safe measure of transport to a safe location. The connection between the fireplaces will not be activated till the time is nigh. The vault containing the fireplace will be guarded with added wards I will place myself to make certain no Death Eater can tread its doors. The goblins of Gringotts will be free to use the fireplace as an escape route too, should the circumstances call for it, of course." Harry added, making sure Melvoz understood how his request would aid his race too.
"On the terms of you providing with a way to ensure Gringotts will not be blamed for aiding fugitives, I will ground you your request." Melvoz offered, seeing the benefits of such a venture. The wizard must have put some serious thought into this conversation, he realized. Still, part of him was confused; wasn't the other Potter twin the one supposed to be taking such measures? Harry Potter wasn't the Boy Who Lived, the president thought, yet there he was, giving up a priceless artefact in preparation for the war.
"I accept your terms." Harry stated, feeling like dancing in joy. He hadn't expected the president to simply agree, yet it was a rational term he had demanded.
"And you can assure me the location the fireplace will lead to will truly be safe?" Melvoz inquired. "If goblins are to use it, I must be sure."
"And that brings us to my third and final request." Harry said, glad that the goblin had brought the subject up on his own. He opened his briefcase to take out the documents Nagnok had collected for him regarding Orbein and passed them to the president. "There is a certain magical property I have set my eyes on; a castle Gringotts acquired centuries ago, by the name of Orbein."
"Isn't this pushing it, Mr. Potter?" Melvoz asked, looking over the documents in his hands. Orbein was one of the largest magical properties Gringotts owned and had been in goblin possession for centuries. "I understand the value of the pendant, but what you have already requested…" Harry interrupted the goblin by raising his hand, smiling softly. He had guessed that, by the time he broached the subject of Orbein, Melvoz would have been reluctant to give the deeds to the castle up. So -unable to sleep anyway- he had spent the morning in his lab, shaping the remaining shards of the fire diamond he had cut for the pendant into three small, separate gems; they would be enough. He would need a few shards of mithril more, of course, but labouring a little more didn't bother him one bit at this point.
"Tell me, Melvoz-nûr, what would you say if I told you this pendant has a matching ring to go with it?" Judging from the sudden clenching of the goblin's long fingers and his sudden intake of breath, Harry figured he had nothing to fear. He sincerely hoped the roof of Orbein hadn't caved in; he was liable to start hexing people right and left if it had.
It was two days later, after Harry had finished forging the ring he had promised Melvoz that the actual transaction took place. Harry had lost count of how many forms and documents he had signed, his eyes just as tired as Severus' who had gone over each and every one of them before they reached his son. Draco and Neville had been there too, refusing to leave Harry's side especially after witnessing the president's reaction two days before.
After they had left the bank and returned to Silbreith. Harry had literally started jumping up and down in joy, even if he knew sleep would be sparse the next few nights. He had done it. He had actually made the goblin president see things his way!
"You were amazing back there!" Neville exclaimed, reaching for his brother the same time Draco did, effectively tackling him, all three teens ending up in a heap on the floor, laughing maniacally.
"I was this close to hexing him, I swear!" Harry offered, trying to untangle himself from his brothers.
"You weren't the only one." Severus offered, helping his son up. "And Neville is right. You did great Harry." He was regarding his son proudly; Harry was a born leader and as he grew up that trait of his only showed more and more. "You don't need me to tell you how great what you accomplished today is."
"I thought Melvoz was about to combust." Draco said.
"There was a point when I wished he would." Neville added, causing one more round of laughter.
Severus had felt that a round of butterbeers would benefit all four of them. Harry had half a mind to run for his broadsword -maybe even try out a claymore, he was certain he had seen one in the armoury- and imagine all practice dummies in the room where either Melvoz or Voldemort; although he couldn't blame the goblin for wanting the best for his bank, after a week and almost a moth of working non stop, on top of the Triwizard Tournament, he would have rather Melvoz had seen reason before the shouting match. The truth however was, that things could have turned out much worse.
And as it was, just two days before Harry's fifteenth birthday, all documents had been signed and the green eyed teen found himself the owner of a castle. It was just before noon and Harry along his father and brothers had ridden all the way to the part of Silbreith's borders that connected with Orbein's grounds. The wards around the castle were as subtle as they were powerful, Harry realised; he had passed through the same spot hundreds of times, whether it was riding Ghaith or Ares, yet he had always felt the urge to turn around and ride towards the lake every single time he had approached the borders.
"And I had never even realised it was because of magic! Compulsion wards, I tell you!" Harry exclaimed, passing through the wards freely now that he was the legal owner of the castle's grounds. Entering Orbein itself however, would be much more difficult. He could now reach the castle, that was certain, but the wards on the building itself were blood fuelled; all he would be able to see would be ruins, until at least he brought the wards down. The only good thing was that the grounds seemed to have independent wards that had accepted him and any people he brought through the borders of his forests with him. He would have to reinforce those, he decided as he led Ghaith across the borderline between Silbreith and Orbein, his father right next to him on Kadar, Neville and Draco right behind them on Ares and Titan.
"That speaks of good wards, Harry." Severus reminded him. "Fortifying the already existing wards will prove much easier considering how large the grounds of Orbein are." Harry nodded in agreement. When he had first considered acquiring Orbein, he hadn't truly factored the grounds that would come along with the building. Back when the castle was new, the grounds actually contained a small village -through the ruins of which they would have to ride in order to reach the castle- lands of forests, a stream that ended in Silbreth's lake and the steep hills on which the castle was built on.
"If I manage to find house elves willing to enter my service," Harry said, following the path that led through the woods towards the castle, "I would like to see what I can do about the houses of the village. If we do need to shelter people during the war, having extra space will be more than useful." Severus nodded in complete agreement.
"You can always use the help of Silbreith's house elves; you know Minnie will help no matter what you say and the rest of the staff will follow." The potions master thought about the situation at hand as he led Kadar in a slow gallop, the state of the path not allowing any faster pace. "I think Minnie mentioned that her sister's children are in need of a house. She hasn't said if they have found one yet; I know for certain they hadn't up to last month."
"Maybe you should also consider how you're going to connect Orbein and the village to the water network." Draco proposed, joining in the conversation. "Considering how close it is to Silbreith, you will probably have no actual problem with that; you will just need labour hands."
"You could hire goblins for that." Neville offered. "They have undertaken some major works in France, from what my grandma said; she has a friend that bought a house there and she had had to replace all the pipes in an around the house; they cost a pretty knut but they get the job done perfectly." Harry nodded, smiling at his brothers.
"That should probably be the first thing I'll do after I work through the wards." The green eyed wizard agreed, thankful for their support.
"I foresee the need to sign more of these infernal contracts." Severus said, grimacing slightly.
"And I will have to move quickly on that; and we will not inform the goblins where exactly they will be working at, despite the contracts." Harry stated. "Better safe than sorry."
"Maybe you should make me the Secret Keeper first." Severus offered. They had already agreed that it would be he who would shoulder the secret; well, Severus had decided that and wouldn't budge from said decision. Not that Harry could come up with a better applicant for the job. "That way, even if, against all odds, the goblins find out where they're working at, they will be twice unable to utter a word."
"Agreed." Harry offered, his mind travelling on the wards around Orbein once more and the process he would have to follow to take them down while his family made small talk around him, conversing on how to work on any repairs the castle might need. Harry had gone through the wards of the castle, clearly stated on the documents he had signed when he took the deed of Orbein. They where old and woven into the very foundations of the castle, varying in the areas they protected. It wasn't what they did however that posed a problem. It was how they did it; Harry was thankful he had studied magic detection -a subject well beyond what they were taught in Hogwarts- for it was a part of what he'd need to do to actually bring the wards down.
The plan was simple; find where the wards are tethered on the structure and guide your magic through them, making sure they released their hold on the estate. Okay, he admitted, maybe it wasn't that easy after all. He hoped that after all these years they would have somehow faded but, judging from how well the outer wards held, he doubted it.
Replacing the wards around the castle would be based heavily on Severus' experience; the potions master had assisted Dumbledore in more than one occasion while he reinforced the wards around the school and he knew just the spells he would have to use. Harry had, over the years, created a small collection of additional wards he wanted to place on Orbein, but he knew the process would be long. Warding a castle was a tiring occupation, and Harry couldn't afford a magical burn out at this point.
It was an hour of their slow, steady pace through the forest later when Harry finally laid eyes on the village; it was made out of white stone, mostly, and wood, roofs having caved in but walls still standing. It wasn't more than thirty, maybe forty houses, but it had a large main road and the structures of the buildings seemed sturdy enough.
"Oh, wow." Neville muttered, his eyes travelling upwards, towards the high, rocky hills in the distance, behind the village. There, at the end of a winding road, lay the skeleton of Orbein. White stones outlined the grand building that was perched on the hills, seemingly climbing them, visible even from such a distance.
"When you take down the wards, we should probably return here to take a good look at the castle." Severus offered, his eye scanning the area ahead.
"Let me take the wards down first and then we'll see." Harry offered, guiding Ghaith thought the village faster than before; he could feel the wards even from that far away and he didn't wish to become too hopeful before he had studied them up close. One hour later, the had arrived in front of the main walls, or what was visible of them; even Harry, who was the legal owner of the castle, felt compelled to turn around on his hills and leave. That wouldn't do at all, he decided as he climbed down from Ghaith, passing the war unicorn's reigns to his father.
"Can you feel the wards?" Neville asked, after giving his younger brother a few moments of silent contemplation.
"I have." Harry stated, sitting down on the ground, crossing his legs and calming his breathing. He vaguely registered his father and brothers giving him the space he needed to concentrate. It was a good thing, truly, that bringing things down was much easier than building them, he thought, as he focused and mentally followed the traces of magic that surrounded Orbein towards their root. He knew that, us the owner, he would have to be the one to do this. Remembering his father's instructions, he followed the magic back to its source, slowly finding the first spot where one of the wards was tethered to. The spell seemed hooked on the rocks beneath the castle and, after trying to bring it down through brute force, he decided to take a different path; what if he simply "unhooked" the magic from where it was anchored? Could that work?
It took some unsuccessful efforts before the binds even budged but suddenly, hardly giving Harry any warning, the strain of magic he was working on uncoiled and disappeared, leaving nothing but the stones where it was once tied onto behind. His hopes rising, Harry carried on, following another strand of magic.
Unbeknowst to him, the hours trickled by as he toiled, his family silently observing him from a few feet away, looking from his and back to the castle for any change. While nothing was visible yet, Severus assured the two teens that the wards were slowly getting weaker. It was six hours later when the wards actually flickered for a second, the three wizards that hadn't snapped their eyes closed catching their breaths as they found themselves under the shadow of huge white walls for the fragment of a second.
"Did you see that?" Draco whispered, his eyes falling back on Harry; the green eyed wizard was drenched in sweat, despite the soft breeze, rave hair sticking on his forehead. Still, he showed no signs of stopping, his expression determined as he stood silent.
"I think we all did." Severus offered as Neville rubbed his eyes in shock. "It won't be long now." It took two more hours, the sun having almost set, when Harry finally took down the final part of the wards. The three gasps behind him were all the confirmation he needed; it had worked. He smiled softly, ignoring his headache and his aching muscles, opening his eyes tentatively; the castle had accepted him, he realised, the moment he faced the tall walls in front of him.
He was standing to close to them to see the actual castle behind them but he couldn't help but smile; white-gray and towering above him in a height of over thirty feet, the fortifications where a clear sign that Orbein was a castle built for battles; in dire contrast to Silbreith, which had acted as a house long after its fighting days, Orbein hadn't been modified to suit the modern world.
"The walls are huge!" Neville exclaimed, looking up, squinting in an effort to see behind the towering mass.
"And judging from their condition, the wards did an excellent job in preserving them." Severus stated, approaching his son with a bottle of water; Harry accepted it gratefully, along with the helping hand as he stood up. "And so did you." The potions master added, holding his son close. Neville and Draco moved to follow his example -albeit more vividly- causing Harry to hide behind his father, using him as a human shield.
"I'm tired, sore and covered in sweat; you're not tackling me to the ground, damn it!" He exclaimed, causing the two teens to look at each other in shock before his words registered, when they allowed themselves a few moments of laughing at their brother's expense.
"Approaching you carefully." Draco finally intoned, walking slowly towards Harry, still smiling widely. Both he and Neville managed to congratulate their brother without ending up on the ground as the younger wizard had feared.
"What say you we find the gate?" Harry eventually asked, stretching his legs. He still couldn't believe he had done it but the proof was there, hidden behind tall walls. "I would like to finally see Orbein."
"Agreed." Severus offered, walking eastwards where he had spotted what had originally appeared to be the ruins of a gate. "The fortifications are exceptional." He stated, after explaining what he had seen.
"Let's hope the castle is too." Harry offered, feeling exhausted but determined not to return to Silbreith before laying eyes on his castle. When they finally reached the gates -the wood appearing to be in pristine condition at the other end of a sturdy looking bridge over the castle's mot- Severus pulled out his wand and cast a silent spell that lowered the gate. This was it, Harry thought as the ancient mechanism complained, iron chains lowering the heavy gate and completing the bridge. Taking a few steps forward, he took the first look at Orbein.
"I'll be damned!" Severus muttered next to him as a wide smile appeared on his face. He walked even further towards the castle, stepping over the bridge and the gates, taking in the expanse that was once the castle's gardens and the actual building behind them.
There, perched on steep hills and made from the same almost-but-not-quite white stone stood Orbein. It was large, about the same size as Silbreith from what he could tell but taller, turrets and towers in perfect condition, large statues of kings long dead carved on each side of the great gates further ahead. Orbein seemed as if it had walked out of one of the tales Harry had read as a child and the green eyed wizard let his eyes roam over the structure. High arches and windows, green moss colouring the white stone where the drainpipes shaped as dragon heads where and strong walls.
"Merlin's beard." Neville whispered while Draco simply covered his mouth with his hand, gray eyes wide.
"It's perfect." Harry muttered, looking at the tree wizards by him in awe, a shocked grin returning. Orbein was imposing and battle ready. It was magnificent. It's mine, Harry added inwardly, openly laughing at the thought. He had really done it.
Severus would later deny it, but the fact was that he jumped up and down in joy hugging first his son and then Draco and Neville, all three shouting and hollering, pointing at the castle like five year old boys. He would also deny he had ran next to the three teens in a race towards the inner gates, laughing all the way, standing right next to his son as he spelled the doors open.
"Unbelievable." Draco said, offering his first coherent phrase after he had entered the castle. The hall was barren from furniture but larger than Silbreiths, the arched ceiling standing high above their heads, two more great statues at the far corner of the room staring back at them through empty, marble eyes. The room was illuminated by windows high over the main doors, the stained glass once there now missing. Minor problems, Harry realised, chuckling lightly as he moved further into his castle.
"There's nothing to it then." He declared. "We have to take a quick look around before it gets too dark!"
"You won't find me disagreeing!" Neville exclaimed, gasping as his voice reverberated around the room.
"This is… It's stunning." Severus offered, smiling at his son as proud as ever. "Stay close." He warned the teens as he followed his son who had decided to walk through the first floor for the evening, mapping the rooms they passed. Harry noted every blemish in the walls that would need fixing, imagining what the rooms could have once be used for -only few had furniture in them but many had large fireplaces that put even the ones of Hogwarts to shame, their style not having changed according to the tastes of owners of the Victorian era- gasping audibly when he accidentally walked into a room that must have once been where counsels were held, judging from the large wooden table and the ancient maps of the area Severus had discovered by the edge of the room.
There was a room with a glass dome for a roof, only its metal skeleton still in place, the small shards of glass, once shaped like dragon scales on the floor. Harry swore to fix what he could of the roof on first light tomorrow, finding himself loath to leave the castle only after an hour of exploration. As it was, the would likely find themselves in the woods by nightfall and Severus didn't want to risk staying in the castle that night, not without having looked through it whole first.
That night was spent in celebration back in Silbreith, with Harry collapsing on his bed dead tired but feeling lighter than he had in months. With the wards down, the four wizards apparated in front of Orbein's gates by first light the next morning. And while Harry had kept his promise to himself and fixed the glass roof, it was a completely different room that ended up capturing his attention. They had finally gone through the ground floor and moved up the stairs from the great hall a little before noon, deciding to see how many floors up the castle went before walking through the dungeons. It proved to be a wise decision, even if they never truly made it past the first floor. For, one hour into their exploration and after locating two large galleries and the entrance to three towers, Neville had pushed through a pair of large doors and found himself into a room that had taken his breath away.
"Hey, guys." He whispered, pointing trough the doors but not daring enter the room. "I think I found the library?" He stated, causing Harry to drop a candelabra he was examining and run towards his brown haired brother.
"Bloody hell." He cursed, gulping audibly while Severus and Draco ran to stand next to him.
"Yeah, that." Severus offered, his eyes widening, jaw slack uncharacteristically.
"They left the books?" Draco wondered out loud, while Harry walked into the room numbly. One, two, three floors of bookcases, Harry counted, the layout of the library similar to that of Silbreith, albeit looking as medieval as the one back at Hogwarts; he was torn between openly weeping in joy and falling on his knees to praise the gods.
"I… I can't…" The green eyed wizard stuttered, looking around the room. "Dad, can I call dibs on this room?" He finally asked, his brain short-circuiting. Feeling shocked himself, Severus had to mull over his son's question for a few moments before bursting into laughter.
"Harry, you have called dibs on the whole castle. Orbein is yours, remember?" He asked, Neville and Draco snickering next to him.
"Oh, that's right…" Harry mumbled, his eyes still wide; it took yet a few more seconds for his own statement to hit home. "What am I even saying?" He wondered out loud, joining his family in a round of uproarious laughter.
"I still can't believe they left all these books behind." Draco exclaimed, his voice coming from somewhere at he second floor of the library where he was perusing some old scrolls.
"They took the tapestries though." Neville stated, disbelief colouring his voice as he noted a piece of fabric still hanging from a wall on the first floor where a woven tapestry must have once stood. "Morons, mate!" He concluded.
"The paper seems in perfect condition." Harry noted, picking up a book on charms reverently; the language was outdated but he had already located two new charms just by passing over the pages. This room was a real treasure. "Somebody in the Osteler family must have cared about their book collection. The protective spells are still strong and the sheer size of it…" He trailed off opening his arms wide as if to point at the books and scrolls around him. "I mean, look at this room!"
"I completely agree." Severus voice echoed from the third floor, his head appearing over the railing, the left side of his dark blue shirt covered in spider webs; the castle was filled with those but none of the four wizards cared. "And I, for one, will be eternally grateful to the fool that left these books behind. By the way, Harry, there is a door leading to an empty room over here; I have no idea what it was used for but the ceilings are high enough for two storey bookcases; maybe you could transfer Nicolas' books here from Gringotts for easier access?"
"Really?" Harry asked, placing the book he was holding back in its proper place before climbing the stairs to the third floor. He had never actually considered moving Nicholas' books from his vault -at first it hurt too much to even consider it and then there was hardly any time to do so- but now that the opportunity presented itself, he found himself wanting to do just that.
"You may have to bring down the wall or, at least, a portion of it to create an open arch, but I don't see why you couldn't do it." Severus stated, pointing at the room he had found to his son.
"Brilliant!" Harry exclaimed, taking in the dimensions of the room, already envisioning the bookcases and the wooden, mobile ladders he would have to install to reach the books higher up. "This is much more than I had hoped for." Harry admitted, looking at his father happily.
"I know!" Severus answered excitedly, the five year old for last afternoon making yet another appearance. "And this floor at least is filled to the brim with books that had been later considered dark by the Ministry; I have no idea how many original works can be found in this room! Some one of a kind, I am certain." Severus stated, his eyes going through the lines of books. Potions, charms and hexes, studies on areas of magic now obscure… The potions master knew he would spend many hours in this room. And as his perusal continued, he found himself in front of a self filled with books dealing with magic that must have been considered dark even back at the , the Ostelers were a dark family, after all, Severus reminded himself, his gaze falling on a book seemingly completely devoted on the art of creating Inferi.
"Is this a book on necromancy?" Harry asked, his voice getting slightly higher as he read the title. "Goblins' gold, it is a book on necromancy!"
"Foul Poisons, Death Runes," Severus read some of the titles of the books in front of him. "The Blood Arts?" He wondered out loud, picking up the book in confusion, flipping it open. "That's some collection, I must admit!"
"The Dark Arts of the North," Harry read on, "The Forbidden Arts of Fragmenting the Soul, more books on necromancy…" But the sudden intake of air and the sound of a book falling on the floor cut his browsing short. He snapped his attention back at his father, the potions master looking unsteady on his feet, his face almost perfectly white. "Dad, what's wrong?"
"Can you… can you read the title of the last book again?" Severus requested quietly, a hand over his heart. It couldn't be, he told himself. It was impossible, it had to be! The thought alone…
"The Forbidden Arts of Fragmenting the Soul." Harry read, as Severus' hand jolted forward, grabbing the book from the self and looking at it dumbfounded for a few seconds before opening it to the index page. It was a small book, thin and covered in black leather, as almost all the books of that specific section of the library. But why was it so important, Harry wondered, his mind working over the title. The forbidden arts of… "Merlin, help us!" Harry whispered, realisation dawning on him.
Meanwhile, as he leaned back to the bookcase behind him for support, Severus was already in the process of reading trough the first chapter of the book; the language was difficult to understand at some points and the procedure described was so terrible even the potion master started feeling nauseous. Any sane man would feel the way, he suspected. But to create something as foul as a Horcrux, sane was probably the last thing you were.
"Merlin, help us!" Severus repeated his son's plea, their gazes locking over the open book.
The same day that revelation took place and on the other side of Europe, a red haired girl was about to receive two visitors she had been expecting for over a year. Ginny Weasley was on cleaning duty in the main warehouse of the dragon shelter where he brother Charlie worked in Romania when she received the news from a breathless Mary; the Hufflepuff girl had returned to the shelter too and had seemingly ran all the way to the warehouse so she could tell Ginny the latest gossip.
"Ginny, did you hear?" She asked, blond hair in complete disarray around her face.
"Hear what?" The redhead asked back, her heart beating a little faster in her chest.
"Witches from Sisterhood are bound for the shelter tonight! Vesper said there's a chance we'll see them during dinner too this time!" Mary exclaimed. "Isn't it exciting?"
"But of course!" Ginny agreed, feeling slightly faint. It was happening. It was really happening!
"I'm off to tell Leonie!" Mary stated, not taking notice of her friend's blanching countenance. She turned around the moment the words left her mouth, leaving a startled Ginny in her wake; the red haired girl leaned on the mop she was holding for support, her knees suddenly weak. A bout of fear sprung from the bottom of her stomach; even if she had expected this would happen, even if she had known the time for her initiation was growing nearer and nearer, now that the moment had finally arrived, she found herself nervous.
It was a leap into the unknown. She had no idea what being a member of the Sisterhood actually entailed, other than training her abilities. Would she have to pass some sort of test? Astrid had mentioned something about a ritual, but that only served to make Ginny that much more nervous; what did she know of rituals? Nothing! What is she failed? What if the witches that arrived that night informed her that they wouldn't accept her after all? She allowed herself to slide on the floor, her hands still holding the mop, not caring of how silly she might look to a passerby.
A thousand things could go wrong, and her nerve-riddled brain was informing her of every last one of them. At the same time. She stayed there, on the floor, for a few more minutes, unmoving, her brain going on overdrive. Only after she forced herself to take a few long breaths did Ginny truly realise what she had been doing; she murmured a curse and stood up. Her legs were still shaking and she felt dizzy as before but she fought all her anxieties away. She had already decided not to lay on the floor and wait for help three years ago; she had done enough of that for a lifetime, Ginny reminded herself. And she would probably hate herself forever if she didn't go through with her initiation.
"Damn it all." She muttered, shaking her head, returning to work, desperate to do something but stand still and scare herself to distraction; even if that meant cleaning the entire warehouse with a toothbrush, she wouldn't allow herself to over-think the situation. "You've already made up your mind, you dolt." She whispered in a bout of self-chastising. In the end, she didn't have to bring out a toothbrush; Charlie, who wanted the shelter to be in excellent condition when the witches of the Sisterhood arrived, had more than enough chores to pass around and Ginny had volunteered for the most of them. By the time she had gone through them all, her muscles complained and there was straw in her hair but she had managed to feel somehow more relaxed than she was the same morning. She had barely made it out of the shower when Leonie had burst through the door, completely ignoring the fact her friend was clad only in a towel.
"They're here! Two of them!" The girl exclaimed. "They're in the guest house right now and will be joining us for dinner!" She only just had noticed Ginny's state of undress, the redhead smiling, slightly amused despite the blush she could feel creeping across her face. "Oh, I'll let you get dressed; but hurry up!"
"Alright." Ginny simply offered as Leonie dashed out the room, either to tell Mary or try to get one more glimpse of the two witches before dinner. The redhead stood motionless for a few more moments, her mind going blank, before he burst in a flurry of movements, getting presentable as swiftly as she could. She recalled the last letter Luna had written her, in answer of her own, worry-filled one; if the Sisterhood didn't think she would make it, her friend had said, they wouldn't have offered her a place amongst them. Trying to concentrate on the fact that Luna was the Ravenclaw between the two of them and she should probably trust her friend's logic more than her own, she combed her hair and left the room, tossing her brush on the bed in her haste.
It was only after she left the dorms that she realised something vital; she had no idea where or when her initiation ritual would take place. The Sisterhood witches -she hoped the Sisterhood had sent Astrid and Michaela, who she had already met- would know, of course, but there was the subject of approaching them before they were swarmed by the staff of the shelter. She didn't want anybody to know of her initiation before it was through; after that, when her status as a member of the Sisterhood was permanent, she would tell her brother immediately. Still, the part o her that still feared she wouldn't make it, didn't want her to breathe a word before all was said and done; if she didn't make it, her family wouldn't have to know. They wouldn't be disappointed with her, not as they had been after her first year. Never again, Ginny decided and walked towards the guest house. It was at the other side of the shelter, right behind the main complex as it had only been added ten years ago, long after the shelter had been built.
As it turned out, meeting with the two witches wasn't as hard as she feared it would be; two cloaked figures were exiting the guest house as Ginny approached, passing by a startled Edward and towards the redhead. Ginny stood frozen for a few moments as the witches approached her, only moving when she recognised one of them; Michaela, the one that had given her novice rune. She smiled slightly, and started walking their way.
"Hello, Michaela." She offered, not knowing what she could possibly say in a situation like this.
"Hello, Ginny." The dark skinned witch responded, smiling kindly at the girl in front of her. "No need to be nervous." She added, bronze coloured eyes twinkling. Something in her expression made Ginny relax, her smile come more natural. She turned her gaze towards the woman next to Michaela, gasping slightly as she peered under the hood; the still unknown woman was stunning; she was pale, with long, golden coloured hair that curled lightly. She was smiling too, impossibly blue eyes sparkling.
"And hello, Miss…" Ginny trailed off, waiting for the unknown woman to give her name.
"Evelyn." The woman said, her voice slightly accented. "But everybody calls me Evy. Or Eve, whichever suits you!" Her voice was tinted with excitement and Ginny wondered if this was her first assignment; she smiled back, relaxing as she realised Evy was just as kind as Michaela was.
"Evy, then. Nice to meet you." Ginny offered.
"Nice to meet you too, Ginny!" The woman said, smiling brightly.
"Am I to assume you haven't informed anyone of what's about to happen tonight?" Michaela asked, giggling softly as Ginny blushed.
"How did you know?" The redhead asked, wondering if she had overstepped some unspoken rule of the Sisterhood by keeping her initiation a secret.
"Usually, the whole family is present when informed." Michaela explained, smiling encouragingly. "But the initiation ritual itself is quite private, so there's nothing wrong with telling them afterwards; it wouldn't be the first time something like that has happened." She added, looking around her; Edward had snapped out of his shock and was slowly approaching the three witches with a curious expression on his face while two girls ducked swiftly behind the bushes near the dining hall as her eyes made contact with them. "Meet us at midnight by the shelter's main entrance." Michaela said.
"Alright." Ginny said, nodding once emphatically.
"And, Ginny, you truly have nothing to worry about." Evy reminded her, smiling brightly. Ginny nodded, somewhat calmer; at least they hadn't changed their minds! The two witches bid her a temporary goodbye and headed for the dining hall, leaving Ginny to stare at their retreating backs and then towards the setting sun; a little over three hours till midnight, she thought, nerves coiling in her stomach. The moment the two hooded figures entered the dining hall, Ginny was surrounded by the three other volunteers of the shelter.
"What where you talking about?" Asked Leonie.
"Do you know them?" Inquired Mary.
"Did they want something?" Added Edward.
"I met one of them, Michaela, last summer." Ginny offered, deciding that, at least, she wasn't lying completely. "She was just saying hi and introducing me to Evy; she's the blond one."
"You never told me you'd met them last summer!" Mary exclaimed.
"We didn't talk all that much…" Ginny said. "Look, I'm starving and Michaela and Evy are in the dining hall to. What do you say we go inside?" Mentioning the Sisterhood witches would be eating with them too was apparently the right thing to say as the general attention sifted from her back to the two women. Knowing the rest of the volunteers were likely too awestricken to approach Michaela and Evy eased the guilt of using them to escape her current predicament. Ginny allowed the three teens to walk ahead of her before breathing and following them inside. There was nothing to worry about, she reminded herself.
Those six words became her mantra for the following three hours. She had returned to her room with Mary, nodding and agreeing with her as the Hufflepuff chatted excitedly, talking about Michaela and Evy and the Sisterhood and how great it would be to be a part of it. All the while, she tried to swallow her nerves, feeling as if her heart was about to jump from her throat and onto the floor. At long last, Mary fell asleep, only a few minutes before midnight; Ginny had never been more thankful of her older brother and the chores he passes around like candy as it seemed Mary, despite her excitement, was completely knackered.
She rose from her bed, tiptoeing around the room, gathering her clothes and cloak, taking them with her and putting them on in the hall. She cautiously opened the door, wary of any noises she might be making and -the moment the door closed behind her- broke into a sprint, heading straight for the main gate of the shelter. She reached it with only minutes to spare, finding one of the two witches already waiting for her. With golden hair shining under the moonlight, it was easy to identify Evelyn, even from a distance.
"Hello again, Ginny." The woman offered, smiling at the approaching redhead.
"Hello, Evy. I hope you didn't wait for long." She was sure there where still a few minutes before midnight, weren't there?
"Oh, just ten minutes; I fear I arrived early." She said, smiling somewhat bashfully.
"I would have come sooner myself," Ginny admitted, "if my roommate had only fallen asleep sooner." Evy chuckled, obviously sharing Ginny's excitement.
"What did I miss?" Michaela's voice sounded from behind them, smiling softly at the two girls.
"Our nerves manifesting. Other than that…" Evy shrugged, trailing off.
"No need to be nervous." Michaela stated, rolling her eyes. "I have already told you as much."
"I'm jittery by nature." Evy retorted, making Ginny giggle, grateful that the witches from the Sisterhood, despite their reputation, seemed to be acting just as any other young witch of their age.
"Shall we?" Michaela offered, pointing towards the forest. "I figured a more private setting should be in order. You have your wand with you, correct?" She asked and Ginny nodded, pulling her wand out of her jeans' pocket. "Follow me, then!" And together they walked, wands lighting their way, into the forest. A gentle breeze passed through the woods, the moonlight fleeting through the branches, making Ginny draw mental comparisons between these woods and the Dark Forest by Hogwarts; she decided she preferred this one, hands down. Before she knew it, they had walked into the same clearing she had put that dragon to sleep last year. Smiling at the familiar surroundings, Ginny turned to the two witches next to her.
"Now what?" She asked, suddenly anxious to proceed with the ritual.
"May I?" Evy asked, pointing her wand towards the forest floor.
"Go ahead." Michaela said, and Evy did; silvery mist left the tip of her wand, forming a ribbon that, in turn, drew runes and circles on the floor. A few seconds later, a large shape was on the floor, circles and lines intertwining, its colour mirroring the moonlight. Ginny had never seen one with her own eyes before, but she was certain she was looking at a sigil.
"If you would stand in the middle of the sigil, over there," Michaela said, pointing where Ginny would stand, "we can start with the actual ritual. Once you complete it and receive your emblem, we will be in liberty to explain everything you want about the Sisterhood, answer whatever questions you may have." She paused for a second, bronze eyes looking straight into Ginny's brown ones. "Ginny, if you're having second thoughts, we won't judge you; you're free to turn the offer down, even now."
"I wouldn't dream of it." The redhead declared, feeling more and more secure in her decision as the minutes ticked by. She walked into the middle of the sigil as instructed and took a deep breath to calm her nerves. "I'm ready."
"Alright then." Evy said, smiling encouragingly. "You'll be fine, Ginny."
"Let's start. Part of the process is asking you some questions; just answer whatever comes naturally, Ginny, there are no wrong answers to give." Michaela said, turning to look at Ginny who nodded; she wasn't smiling, her expression completely serious even as her eyes still looked at the teen witch encouragingly.
"Ginerva Molly Weasley." She said, her voice calm as Evy took her place right across her, behind Ginny, raising her wand. "You have been blessed by the powers of magic old. Have you felt its effect?"
"I have." Ginny answered, fighting to keep her voice clear and audible. She recalled the voices whispering in her head, telling her to protect, begging for her abilities to be used.
"You have been given a year to consider joining the Sisterhood, to be bound by a bond unbreakable. Have you decided?" Michaela continued.
"I have." Ginny said.
"And will you join us?"
"I will." The redhead offered, feeling the magic concentrated in the sigil around her ripple and travel in warm, comforting waves over her body.
"Do you swear to enter the Sisterhood with an open heart, to learn and hone your abilities, study and use them, abiding to the rules of the Sisterhood?" The dark skinned witch carried on, the tip of her wand shining a soft silver light, the same mist that had created the sigil falling from it down to the forest floor and sliding like a mist towards Ginny.
"I swear." Ginny stated, feeling the mist touching her feet, climbing softly over her legs and up her body, swirling gently and enveloping her in a gentle embrace.
"Then to the Sisterhood we welcome you, sister equal with us all. May the gods watch over you always and bless you." Michaela concluded as the mist reached Ginny's face obscuring her sight. The redhead had no choice but to breathe it in, the scent of rain and magic flooding her as the voices in her head chanted softly in words unknown; or maybe that was Michaela and Evy, she could no longer tell, as she felt her feet leaving the ground, a soft warmth expanding from her chest to her whole body, getting more and more powerful with every beat of her heart. The heat enveloped her completely, resting a bit longer on her shoulder where the rune that marked her as a novice had been, her eyes and her throat.
Suddenly she could see again, the forest around her calm, the starry sky above littered with stars. She realised she had somehow ended up lying on the forest floor but did not feel otherwise disorientated. In fact, she was feeling very tranquil, the nerves from the day before completely gone. And when Evy and Michaela approached her, their faces worried as they looked at her from above she smiled brightly at them.
"Welcome to the order, sister." Evy said, as she offered her hand for Ginny to take. The redhead smiled brighter, rising up swiftly, feeling impossibly light. She giggled at the sensation.
"You will feel a little giddy for the next couple of days." Michaela explained, smiling at Ginny before rushing forward to envelope her in a hug. "Welcome, sister."
"I always wanted sisters." Ginny mumbled as Michaela released her, only for Evy to hug her in turn.
"You have them now." The blonde stated. "Forty-two of them, to be precise."
"Forty-two?" Ginny asked.
"That's how many of us there are." Michaela explained. "Forty-three, now." She added, smiling brightly. "You will meet them all at Home tomorrow."
"Home?" Ginny wondered out loud.
"Out headquarters, if you can call them that. It's where we go to train and meet with each other." Evy explained.
"And where is Home?" Ginny asked, trying to absorb all new information.
"Up north, in my home country, actually." Evy offered. "Norway." She elaborated, causing Ginny to do a double-take. Evy was from Norway, she realised. Evelyn, she corrected herself. Evelyn of Norway?
"But then… you…" Evy blushed slightly but nodded affirmative as Michaela started laughing at both their expenses.
"Don't worry, Ginny." She said, bronze eyes twinkling. "That was pretty much my reaction too, when we first met."
"I quite recall you stuttering and point at me for half a day in disbelief." Evy muttered, looking at Michaela in mock accusation, still blushing.
"I was a seven year old girl from a small village of South Africa and I had just been introduced to a real, live princess." Michaela stated, shrugging nonchalantly. "What did you expect me to do, your highness?" She asked teasingly. Evy sighed as Ginny shook her head as if to clear it.
"Point and stare." Evy admitted. "Ginny, considering everything, call me Evy. Just Evy, please."
"I… of course." Ginny offered. She had been pointed and stared at a lot after her first year in Hogwarts. She didn't want to subject anybody else to such a torture. So she shoved down the voice in her head that sing-songed she was talking to a real princess and instead focused on something else Evy had said. "Considering everything?" She inquired.
"When you enter the Sisterhood, you need someone to train you." Evy explained. "That someone is one of your older sisters that possesses the same, or a similar talent to your own. And while we have no Tamer in out ranks other than you -we have an extensive library and personal journals of all known Tamers in existence though, so don't worry too much about it- we have one more Siren; me."
"So, you will train me?" Ginny asked, smiling softly at the older witch.
"I will try." Evy admitted, looking somewhat anxious. "I have never trained anybody, but I'll do my best."
"Thank you." Ginny simply stated, smiling brightly at the blonde. Evy smiled back and Michaela giggled fondly at the scene.
"We better head back to the shelter." She said finally. "I'm certain Ginny will like to take a look at her emblem and her eyes. And we have to start explaining how the order works. It's quite a lot, but we'll help with anything you want, I promise." But Ginny had stopped listening after the words "emblem" and "eyes" had been uttered.
"What's an emblem? And what about my eyes?" She wondered, her right hand coming to rest right under her eyelid in fear.
"An emblem is a mark that typically describes your magic prowess. They used to be widely known once." Evy explained. "All members of our order receive a specific emblem during out initiation on our left shoulder blade, see?" She asked as she turned around, lifting her hair to reveal an intricate triquetra-like design on her shoulder, under the strap of her dress. There where a few orbs around it, some in colour, some black, while two words in runes where written inside the lines of the main design.
"The one on your shoulder looks very similar to ours." Michaela explained, turning around to show her own emblem. "Every one is different, depending on the witch, but the main design is the same, signalling you as a member of the Sisterhood."
"And my eyes?" Ginny asked, her mind abuzz with the new information.
"Depending on your abilities, your eyes take a different colour. Cornflower blue is for sirens, for example." Evy said, pointing at her own eyes.
"But yours are…"
"Darker?" Evy asked. "I know. My second ability is depicted by indigo blue. So this happened." She said, pointing at her eyes, the very colour of blue ink. "Eyes are the mirror of the soul and all that. Mine used to be gray, once."
"Mine where black." Michaela offered.
"And mine now are what colour exactly?" Ginny asked, her head spinning.
"A lovely shade of violet?" Evy asked, her smile a bit tentative; she could recall her own reaction to her new eye colour; her eight year old self had panicked the moment she had laid eyes on her reflection, certain she was going to go blind.
"Violet?" Ginny exclaimed, sounding terrified, her head spinning.
"Tamers have red eyes." Michaela explained, making Ginny wince; she didn't think she could have handled red eyes. Anything but red. "It could have been worse."
"It's the rules of the Sisterhood, or we'd have told you sooner, I swear." Evy explained. "No details of the order are to be shared with outsiders and all that. If it helps, I almost had a panic attack when I first saw my eyes after the initiation ritual."
"I can understand why." Ginny offered, feeling both an extreme urgency and a deep rooted fear in the thought of finding a mirror.
"That's the worst of it all, really." Evy promised. "So, shall we find you a mirror, Ginny?"
"As long as you promise to catch me if I faint." Ginny muttered, causing the two witches to laugh around her. Her mother would have a heart attack, she was certain, Ginny thought as the three witches walked back to the shelter. She turned her attention towards Evy once again, looking at the blonde's eyes apprehensively when a new question arose. "Evy?"
"What's your second ability, the one that makes your eyes darker?" Ginny wondered, finding everything she learned of the Sisterhood captivating even through her shock.
"Oh, that." Evy said, smiling brightly. "I'm an Oracle."
"And what's that, exactly?" Ginny wondered.
"That requires quit the long explanation." Evy offered.
"I've got time." Ginny stated, smiling back at the blonde witch walking next to her.