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Title: Between Here and Now and Forever
Fandom: Harry Potter
Characters: The Founders, various OCs
Rating: PG-13
Summary: This chapter is ALL ROWENA AND BASIL, ALL THE TIME. Also, there are dogs and a squid.

Chapter 1
Master Founders Post
Chapter 30

The sun was setting when Rowena and Basil began to run into trouble. Actually, it was more that they drifted slowly downwards into trouble, but Basil didn't notice how quickly the spells on his broom were unraveling until he found himself lurching downwards much too fast.

"What are you doing?" demanded Rowena, swooping down to fly at his height. She let out a startled yelp as she dropped ten feet further without meaning to. "I told you, I told you the brooms weren't --"

"Oh shut up," snapped Basil. "We'd better get to --" He plummeted towards the ground, halting once again quite a ways down.

Rowena began to descend as quickly and carefully as she could. Basil thought she was being more than a bit reckless, actually, but that was how Rowena was generally. He descended as well, and before long the two of them had made their way jerkily to the wooded hills below.

"And you didn't listen to me, did you?" said Rowena, pulling Basil to his feet.

"In my defense you do complain about everything, often," said Basil, glaring. He dusted himself off and picked up his broom. "Come on. We'll make better time if we spend our energy walking instead of arguing."

Rowena glared at him, then put her broom over her shoulder and followed. "Hey, wait a minute," she said. "Why are we still carrying these useless things?"

"Firewood?" said Basil. "Impromptu weapons? I dunno, I find things tend to come in useful once I decide to get rid of them. Where the hell's the road?" he demanded, peering through the shadows. "We're going to have to --" He froze. There was something wrong. He could hear it.

"Going to have to what?" demanded Rowena.

"Shhh!" he hissed, furious. It was too quiet. He stood still and held his breath, trying to hear.

There was a distant, distinctly canine howl.

"...Werewolves?" Rowena asked. She sounded properly terrified now.

Basil simply glared at her. "I thought you were supposed to be clever."

"Oh! Oh, right, of course," said Rowena.

"It's not even the full moon, or else we could bloody well see," snapped Basil.

"Oh shut up," snapped Rowena.

He shushed her again. There was more howling from far off.

"Maybe they're dogs?" Rowena asked. "I mean, maybe they're not ...wolves."

"I'd rather they were wolves," said Basil. "At least wolves are afraid of people. But they're probably dogs; we're still in the Lowlands and the wolf hunts have been more effective here."

"Dogs are all right, though," said Rowena. "I'm good with dogs!"

"Let's not find out what they are," said Basil, decisively. "We've got to find somewhere to get inside."

"Oh, right, yeah," said Rowena, "because absolutely everybody around here is going to let us in without testing us with silver first, especially considering the wolves."

"Maybe they're just dogs," said Basil. "Come on." He started walking in a direction he thought was away from the howl, until he heard another one coming from ahead, and froze.

"Don't walk towards them," snapped Rowena. "We don't know whose dogs they are! They could be Muggles."

"Or worse," said Basil. "Come on, let's at least get out of these trees." They started walking uphill, where, Basil hoped, the trees would thin out and they could at least get a good view of anything if it came after them.

There was another howl, this time nearer, and louder still, and again from ahead.

Basil swallowed, taking a few steps back reflexively. "Do you... get the feeling we're being --"

"Triangulated?" Rowena asked.

"Herded," said Basil.

"But there must be at least two different packs," said Rowena.

"There aren't, not of wolves. They'd have distinct territories," said Basil. "Besides, they must be hounds. They're barking." He could hear this now, quite distinctly, although he could no longer tell the direction. This had only happened to him once before.

"They're not the only ones," muttered Rowena, under her breath. Basil decided not to comment. "The thing is, noblemen have distinct territories too. There wouldn't be two packs of hounds out either -- and -- and -- and there's no game," said Rowena. "Not even a rabbit."

The barking grew louder. Basil was completely disoriented now, and it terrified him. One horrible conclusion cut through his confusion and fear. "They're hounds, but they don't belong to any human nobles. They're hunting us." He took a deep breath, to steady himself.

"Oh," said Rowena, in a very small voice. "Oh. Well. We ought to run," she suggested. Then, dropping her broomstick, she broke into a mad scramble, surprising Basil slightly. "Come on!" she shouted. He ran after her, because her direction was as good as any.

They ran, stumbling often, occasionally struggling through thick bushes. Basil spotted a deer path, and dashed down it. He heard Rowena stumbling after him, but halted when he heard barking in front of him, and Rowena ran into him as he stumbled backwards. "They're right behind us!" she hissed at him.

"They're right in front of us," he insisted. He turned around, shoved past her, and saw several sets of terrible red eyes coming towards them. He lit his wand, for surely the dogs could smell the terror on him, and a good look wouldn't make anything worse. They were enormous, the size of cows, and all white except for their pointed red ears and mad eyes.

"Good doggies, nice doggies," Rowena was saying, behind him. "You're the bestest, sweetest giant horrible man-eating fairy hounds in the world, yes you are!"

The hounds threw back their heads and howled -- a chilling, mournful sound that seemed to go on forever. What was worse, though, was that Basil heard a very low, answering bay from further away, and then the sound of a horn.

"I think I preferred the bears," Rowena said.

"I thought you said you were good with dogs," Basil muttered.

"Turns out I'm better with bears. Do you think spells will do anything but make them angry?"

Basil looked at the growling dogs. "No," he said.

"Then give me your broomstick," said Rowena.

"What?"

"Give me your broomstick," she said.

"Tell me you're not going to try and play fetch," said Basil.

"The only place we can go is up," said Rowena, "but I ditched my broom back there somewhere, and you've still got yours."

Basil realized that he had still got his broomstick, although he had quite forgot about it, probably because his entire arm had gone numb from holding it over his shoulder. He pressed it into her hands and shook out his arm, which was going all pins-and-needles. "Are you trying to repair it?"

"Yes. Don't bother me, hold off the dogs," she said.

"How am I supposed to hold them off?" he demanded.

"I don't know! Share funny stories about eating squirrels and howling at the moon or something," she snapped. "Bugger. I can't even see what I'm doing," she snarled, fishing around in a bag for something.

"What are you looking for?"

"My aura-lens," she sighed.

The hounds were circling now, but at least they weren't coming any closer. The horn, though, seemed to be getting louder, and he heard shouting, and a deep-throated barking that seemed to come from a much larger dog. He turned his lit wand towards the broomstick, and examined the spells on it. He wasn't much for charms theory, but at least he could describe. "The bit that's gone wrong is this orange, knotted spell right down there," he said, pointing to where the tail of the broomstick connected to the handle.

"That's ...all right, yes, thank you," she said. "Is it entirely unraveled or just hanging by a thread?"

"It's completely frayed," said Basil. He heard something huge crashing through the undergrowth now, and hoofbeats.

Rowena took a deep breath, and shot magic at the broomstick. "How is it now?"

"Hanging by a thread," said Basil. The crashing grew louder.

She sighed. "It'll have to be good enough. Get on."

An enormous black dog emerged from the forest, big enough to break either of them in half in its huge maw if it so desired. Basil scrambled onto the broom behind Rowena. "Go, go, go!"

"You don't need to tell me!" she said. And they were off, flying jerkily through the tops of the trees, the great black dog bounding after them, shaking the ground as it ran. The smaller white hounds were faster, and ran beneath them, leaping up to nip at their heels, and the hunting horns grew closer. Basil twisted around to look at the spell Rowena had fixed. "It's coming undone again."

"Well, redo it, I haven't the time," she said.

Basil did what he could to repair the spell again, but he was a duelist, not a theorist, so it was only a stopgap, and the broom kept faltering as it flew. At this point it was being carried along by momentum as much as it was by magic, but at least they had outflown the white hounds by a little bit.

"There's a light up ahead!" said Rowena. "Oh, I hope it's civilization."

Basil put another stopgap spell on the unwinding broom magic, and turned back forward to see. "Don't be too hopeful. This is Scotland."

"I can still dump you off this broom," she snarled. Possibly, Basil had to admit, that had been a low blow.

The light grew into an immense bonfire, and when they emerged from the wood they saw that it was one in a line of bonfires built thirty or forty feet from the trees. They were guarded by an immense number of witches and wizards, all of whom now had their wands trained on Rowena and Basil.

"Don't hex us, don't hex us!" shouted Rowena, waving her arms. "The dogs! It's the dogs you want!" The broom finally lost interest in flying and lurched to the ground, and Rowena and Basil scrambled to their feet and ran towards the safety of the light, all the hounds of the Unseelie Court at their heels.

"Who are you?" demanded a burly witch, seizing Basil by the arm. One of her companions had Rowena, who was struggling ferociously. The white hounds were no longer after them, at least; Basil saw that three of them had been shot dead with arrows, and the rest had fled.

"We were travelling, and then we fell, and then the dogs, and then we -- " Basil started, but the great black hound had suddenly burst into the open and howled.

"FIRE!" shouted one of the soldiers, and a hail of arrows, spears, and jets of bright, burning white magic flew at the hound, which whimpered and turned to run.

"God almighty, you outflew a Grim?" said the witch.

"Stop manhandling me!" shouted Rowena. "Do you know who I am?"

Basil sighed. They had just got to safety, but Rowena was going to ruin everything, as usual.

"No, I don't," said the wizard who was keeping hold of her. "And I don't care, neither, only the nonhuman-detecting amulet just went mad, so one of you's an elfish spy."

"We're not spies!" shouted Rowena. "And we're completely human!" She paused. "...Oh, well, except him," she said, nodding at Basil.

"Rowena!" Basil shouted.

"I knew it!" said the soldier with the amulet. "He's a spy!"

"No he's not, he's only a werewolf," said Rowena.

"We'll see about that," said the soldier.

"Breckinridge, Reid, what the hell just happened?" demanded a third soldier. The man rounding on them was taller than Rowena and Basil both, and very burly. In the firelight, Basil could see that his hair was white, his face was scarred, and his eyes were a very light blue. He looked almost otherworldly himself.

"Sir, these two came out of the woods like they were being chased, sir," said the wizard.

"We were being chased," Basil pointed out.

"There was a Grim, sir, we saw it," said the witch, with more enthusiasm than fear. "Knew they must have at least one down here, didn't I say so? He didn't like the iron in our arrows, though, did he? Anyway, she says this one's a werewolf, but they aren't giving their names."

"I think we should cut off one of his fingers with a silver knife, sir," said the wizard. "And one with an iron one. To see which one burns. Just to be certain! Sir."

"Good work, Breckinridge," said the man to the witch. He turned to the wizard. "Reid?"

"Yes, sir?" he said hopefully.

"Shut the hell up," said the man. "And let go of her."

"Yes, sir," said Reid, glumly. He released Rowena.

The man in charge turned to Basil. "You. Hold out your hand."

Basil knew there was going to be a silver test, and held out his hand wearily. The man dropped three coins, one after the other, into Basil's hand; on the last one, he jerked his hand away and dropped them all, because it burned.

"Yup. That's a werewolf," said the man. "You can let him go," he told Breckinridge, who released him. "Now," he said, "who the hell are you, and what are you doing here?"

"We were travelling, and our brooms... malfunctioned," said Basil, "and we ended up being chased by fairy hounds."

"Nobody's mentioned them being here. Is this being hushed up?" Rowena demanded. "And who the fuck are you, anyway? Do you know who I am? I object in the extreme to being interrogated as though I were --"

"Yes, it is being hushed up," said the man, with surprising honesty. "The name's Tom Learmont. Aurelius, technically, but nobody calls me that anymore." He looked at her more closely. "You're Ophelia's girl, aren't you?"

Rowena, who had stopped her rant as soon as Learmont told them he was an Aura, looked stricken at his last question. She did not say anything at all for a moment. "What -- what nonsense! I don't even know who you're talking about," she said.

Basil suppressed the urge to groan.

"It's just that you have her manners," he said. "And her nose. Nice flying, by the way."

"As we mentioned, we were having trouble with the brooms," said Rowena tensely.

"That wasn't sarcasm," he said. He smiled, a little crookedly. "You should stay the night."

Basil did not trust him. He didn't think Learmont was lying, nor was he about to hurt them, but something was very wrong with him and Basil could not tell what it was. What was especially baffling was that he had made no move to capture them.

"I -- we really ought to be going," said Rowena, slowly. She looked at Basil, as if she was looking for escape plans in his face. He didn't have any; they were outnumbered and this place was dangerous enough without making enemies of the soldiery.

Learmont's smile became wider. "Are you on the run, then?" he asked, bluntly.

"No!" said Rowena. "No, we're not." She was not convincing.

Basil stepped in, because before he'd been a teacher he'd been a hunter and a duelist, and before that he'd been a cutpurse and a beggar, and all of these professions required a certain amount of deception.

"The thing is," he said, "Rowena was visiting her mother, and there was this ridiculous cockup with the Transport Key paperwork, and she didn't feel safe traveling alone, so Helga made me go with her. But it's Helga's birthday in a few days and if we're not back on time -- and we're already running behind -- well, you know how women are." Basil silently apologized to Helga for this last bit; she had a tendency to forget their anniversary, as it was just before midterm exams.

"Christ, but I miss lying," said Learmont, looking amused. "We weren't expecting you and I don't have any orders, if that's what you're worried about. But, if by chance it is your wife's birthday, I won't delay you. Helping you out doesn't conflict with my standing orders, and I've had no new ones for months now. And if Ophelia Aeaeae hasn't told me to capture you, well! Who am I to question her?"

Rowena and Basil exchanged looks of mutual confusion, but Learmont clapped them both heartily on the back. "You'll be wanting brooms."

"Yeah," said Rowena, suspiciously. "Brooms."

"You know, I reckon we could stay the night," said Basil, slowly. Learmont was clearly mad. But he seemed honest, at least. This could be a trick. "We really ought to rest. It's been a long day."

"Helga will be very upset if we miss ...that thing -- er -- I mean, that thing we're doing for her birthday," said Rowena.

"I think she'll be all right with it," said Basil.

"Oh no, you know how unreasonable and violently malicious we women are," she said pointedly. Basil winced.

"You'd be surprised," said Learmont. "The situation being what it is, our accommodations aren't exactly what you'd call luxurious, but I'll commandeer a tent."

At that, he left them, and Basil spent the next few moments looking around for guards, eavesdroppers, anything. He saw that Rowena had had the same idea. "He's just left us here," said Rowena, sounding befuddled.

"I really don't think he is going to send us back," said Basil. "He's ...he's off, somehow, but I think he's trying to be helpful."

"He's overly familiar," said Rowena.

"Maybe he thinks you've got a common enemy," said Basil.

"Well. I mean. It sounds like we have," said Rowena. "Only -- I -- what I mean to say is, he gives me the jitters. And he puts on such airs," she said. "I mean, Ophelia! Who calls her that?"

"I don't know, but I'm tired," said Basil, "so take your tent and be happy with it. Please?"

"I'm going to tell Helga you said that about her," said Rowena, sulkily.

Basil sighed. They would be home in a day, if all went well, but it was still going to be a long trip.

* * *


Rowena was still uneasy about this whole Learmont versus the land-elves business. The thing was, there was something wrong with Learmont, she could feel it. It was as if she knew him. His presence set her on edge. More bafflingly still, he was trying to be nice, and she wondered if perhaps she had forgotten some great wrong Learmont had done to her. Perhaps he had stepped on her foot as a child. She knew, vaguely, who he was -- some Aura Aurelius who had angered her mother. Several nauseatingly awful possibilities occurred to her, but none of them seemed plausible.

He couldn't have tried to hurt her, because the first order all Aurae had to follow, the one that had been in place since there were Aurae, was to protect the Chief of the Council from harm. Perhaps he had done something to her before she was Chief? Or perhaps he had not been an Aura when he'd done it. But surely a simple execution would have sufficed; Rowena knew her mother was rather less squeamish than she was about that sort of thing.

All that night, she had nightmares about her mother and Learmont and fairy hounds. At one point in her dreams, she and Helga were hiding from a Grim, which was growling somewhere out of sight, when Helga turned to her and said "Can you hold this?" And she took off her face and handed it to Rowena. Sitting on her shoulders, where her head should have been, was a dark cluster of brambles.

Rowena looked at Helga's face in her hands. It looked serenely lifeless. "The trouble," said the brambles, in a windy, rustling voice that was somehow still Helga's, "is always putting it back on again before someone sees. But I know I can trust you."

The freckled face in Rowena's arms -- the one she knew far too well -- smiled sweetly up at her. Rowena dropped it with a start, and sat up, suddenly awake and terrified.

For a moment, Rowena could not recall which things that had happened in the dream could also happen in reality. Helga had a real face, didn't she? Didn't she? Yes, of course she did. What a stupid question, Rowena thought. She wished Helga was here; Helga would think the dream was hilarious.

Rowena glowered at the back of Basil's head; he was curled up in the other corner of the tent, his back to her, and apparently still asleep. "Wake up!" she whispered at him. "Basil!" He didn't move. She realized she was whispering out of politeness, and decided that there was really no polite way to wake somebody up. "Wake up!" she shouted.

Basil groaned and rubbed at his eyes. "Fine, fine, I'm up," he muttered. "You don't have to be so loud about it."

"Come on," said Rowena. "Let's get out of here." She clambered out of the tent, hoping they could have a quick snack before the final leg of their journey. Her plan to get around the Aurae meant they had to go a bit out of their way before arriving triumphantly at the castle, but it was also insanely clever, so she wasn't as worried about that as she was about being able to leave the camp in the first place.

Learmont found her before she found something to eat. "Where's your friend?" he demanded, brusquely. His worryingly friendly tone from the night before was gone.

"Still half asleep, I think," said Rowena. She looked around. They were out in the open and there were people all around, so she supposed he probably wasn't going to do anything untoward to her, but she twirled her wand faux-absently so that at least he would know she had it with her.

"Well, get him up and get going," he snapped. "The real Aurae Aurelii will be here pretty soon and besides, Mike's about to blow off the top of the hill today to get at the goddamn elves, and they won't take that lying down." He gestured at the huge hill, and grinned a bit madly. "It's not a safe place to be right now."

"Right. Right, of course," said Rowena. Why was he telling her this? She looked around for a quick exit.

"And I mean get going right away," he said, as if Rowena had displayed a tendency to lollygag. He shoved two broomsticks and a large bundle into her arms. "Here," he said. "And there's some rations and nice little tents and --"

"We're only going to be travelling for a few days," said Rowena, a little frightened now despite herself.

"Right, yes, should be enough," said Learmont, "but if not --"

"I'll get Basil and we'll get out of your way," said Rowena, abruptly, before he could offer anything more. "Thank you, and, er, good luck with the land-elves." She turned around and hurried back to the tent, trying not to look as though she was fleeing or anything. Mercifully, Basil was outside, awake, and seemed ready enough to leave. "Augh," she said.

"Oh for Christ's sake, what now?" Basil asked, irritated.

"Get on your broom and I'll tell you in the air," said Rowena, handing him a broom.

"We're leaving now?" Basil asked.

"Yes. Yes, we are leaving right now, no more questions." She tied the bundle to her broom and started flying.

Basil caught up. "Did you piss off Learmont?" he asked, getting his wand out.

"No," she moaned. "He was being all ...nice. He gave us food," she said. "And a tent."

"He must really hate your mum," said Basil.

"He must," said Rowena. She saw Learmont on the ground, waving cheerfully. "So weird. It was like... did your mum ever not let you go out in winter without the fur-lined cloak and the warming spells and the honor guard and all that?"

"Yes," said Basil, grimacing. "Well, actually, it's against sumptuary laws for -- wait, do you mean an actual honor guard?"

"Yes," said Rowena, sighing. "Conri Ersikyne was my favorite, but obviously he had more important things to do."

"She made Ersikyne escort you around when you went out to play?" Basil asked.

"He was really good at snow forts," said Rowena, wistfully.

Basil sighed. "I miss Ersikyne."

"Everybody does," said Rowena. It was mostly her fault he was dead, although for some reason Basil had never brought this up, or held it against her. She would've, if she was him. "I can't believe he picked Sheffield for his successor."

"Well, she is the best fighter of the bunch," said Basil. "We've dueled a few times."

Rowena rolled her eyes. "Just because she beats you all the time doesn't mean --"

"I'm a very good duelist," said Basil, as if he didn't put much stock in Rowena's opinion. "Anyway, I did win once, back when we were hunters, but I don't think it really counts."

Rowena frowned. "Why doesn't it --"

"I'd done something horrible, and she was very upset about it," said Basil. "But it's really not any of your business. Tell me about Learmont."

Now Rowena was really curious. What could he have done to Sheffield? Had they been lovers or something? It seemed unlikely. Whatever Basil's faults, he had good taste in women. "Well, as I was saying, he gave us tents. And loads of food. So now that they can't see us, I think we should drop down to the ground, ditch the tent and the food, and check the brooms for tracking charms. I mean, considering the source, I suppose we should really do that anyway."

"Yeah, I was just going to say," said Basil. "So, this charm you're going to do when we get to the lake -- are you certain only one person can go at a time."

Rowena sighed. "Well, I suppose the other option is that I make the bubble bigger, you come along with me inside it, and if things go wrong, we both drown. It really would have been a lot easier if it was just me," she said.

"Yeah, except you would never have got away from the Grim without me," said Basil.

"But I also wouldn't have bought completely crap broomsticks, would I?" said Rowena. "Do you have a better plan?"

"No, unfortunately," said Basil. "I mean, we could fight our way through, but then if we win against the Auras and the Auras catch up with us later... unless Hogsmeade's coppers take our side. Do you think that's likely?"

Rowena shook her head. "I don't know what they'll have to keep an eye out for us, but if I was Lord Slytherin I'd be cooperating as much as possible right now, so probably some of Jasper's spells are being used, and the Hogsmeade Aurae Cuprorum are out looking for us too."

"Well, you don't think much of him," said Basil, looking surprised. "Why are we even going back?"

Rowena rolled her eyes. "It's not that I think he won't want us back, we're really valuable. Well, I'm really valuable," she said. "And Helga is, and he's got plans for Godric. And you're... you're...." There was really nothing good she could say about Basil, nor did she want to, now that she thought about it. "Well, Helga likes you, gods only know why, she could have done a lot better and you're really dim, but she does, and she's got man-eating plants, so he wants to keep her happy. I just think that right now he's got to be on his absolute best behavior or else he'll just get besieged. He's been poking at my mother's weaknesses on purpose, and right now she'll just know he's up to something whatever he does, so it's better not to actually look like he's up to something. He's trying to make her look bad, and that'll mean playing along."

"All right," said Basil, who had merely rolled his eyes when she pointed out he was dim. "Well, then, that's out. I suppose they've blocked off all our sane options, so good on you for being completely mad."

She gave him a withering look.

"It was a compliment!"

She went back to checking the brooms and the food.

* * *


By that evening, Rowena and Basil had reached the loch, so, without stopping to rest, they had started walking along at the bottom of the loch in a giant bubble. They had to stand together at the bottom of the air bubble. The first few miles, they kept accidentally tripping each other. The next few miles, they kept doing it on purpose, or at least, Basil probably was doing it on purpose, and Rowena had done it right back. Now that they were all over bruises, they kept their heads down, walked in synchronized steps, and did not speak.

They'd been walking for quite some time, although of course they had no way to tell how long, and it was getting extremely cold. It was a long, narrow body of water, so traversing it on foot was rather like walking through a cold, muddy canyon. They had had to climb up a hill, with some difficulty, at a place where a river fed into the loch, but Rowena had fortuitously found out that for some reason, casting heating spells on the water beneath the bubble seemed to make it slightly lighter.

Rowena hoped they would come to the end of the loch soon, though. There were merpeople in this loch, and they didn't seem to take kindly to Rowena's and Basil's presence. She had briefly suggested that they get help from the merpeople, but when she'd mentioned that the sirens of Greece had the power to control people with song, Basil had pointed out that it seemed a bit risky to enlist the aid of beings who might be able to hum you into drowning yourself.

Then they saw an immense shape up ahead. It was difficult to see; Rowena only saw that the light from her wand was hitting something huge and black, and as it moved, the water currents around them made their air bubble shift and change direction.

"That's not a boat, is it?" Basil whispered.

"We're much too deep," said Rowena. "Do you think maybe the Aurae have some sort of sea monster?"

"Maybe it's like that giant kelpie in Loch Ness," said Basil.

Rowena quashed the urge to correct his pronunciation of "loch." "Can you train kelpies?" she asked.

"I don't think so," said Basil.

Rowena sighed. "I am so sick of giant terrifying animals. You have no idea."

Whatever it was, it started coming closer. Rowena could see now that whatever it was, it was flexible. And then she saw the huge eye on the side of it, and the tentacles moving behind. It was coming towards them.

"All right," said Rowena, sighing. "How are we going to get away from this one? Have they got some sort of secret weakness?"

"Why are you asking me?" demanded Basil.

"Well, you're the Defense Against the bloody Dark Arts teacher! And you used to hunt monsters!" said Rowena. "If you can't fight a kraken, what good are you?"

"I don't think I ever came across any marine animals when I was a hunter," said Basil. "Usually we leave that sort of thing to whaling crews."

"You know, that's another good question. What's a marine animal doing in a land-locked loch?" demanded Rowena.

"Say that five times fast," Basil muttered. The thing circled them, one great eye staring at them the whole time.

"I mean it!" she said. "This is ridiculous! This is..." She searched for the right word. "This is inconsistent!"

"Well, it's also sizing us up," said Basil. "Any ideas?"

The great beast grabbed the bubble before Rowena could answer, and the two of them fell over as it shook the bubble, like somebody shaking a box to see what was inside.

Rowena had wanted to go for its eye, to scare it off, but now she couldn't see it. She pushed Basil off her, grabbed her wand, and looked wildly around for some part of the squid that looked vulnerable. The bubble was surrounded by long tentacles, and up ahead, she could see her wand's light reflecting off of a smooth black beak.

"Oh gods," said Rowena. "Look, Poseidon, if this is about leaving you out of the Odyssey and making everything happen in a desert, I'm really, really sorry."

"What are you on about?" roared Basil. "Hex it!"

"You hex it! I'm praying," said Rowena.

"You don't even believe in your gods!" Basil said. "Where the fuck's my wand? If you're not going to use it, give me yours!" She saw now that he was frantically feeling around the bottom of the bubble, searching for something.

"Oh for fuck's sake, I've got to do everything around here, haven't I?" Rowena said disgustedly. She shot Stinging Hexes at the tentacles nearest her, and the monster pulled away long enough for her to see something through the gap in the tentacles.

It was the surface of the water, and sunlight. They had walked through the night, and --

"Basil!" said Rowena. "Is that the castle? Or am I just seeing things?"

"Oh, thank God," said Basil.

Then the beast started to draw them back in, and they both moaned in exasperation.

"Can you swim?" Rowena asked.

"No! Can you?" Basil asked.

"Well, not very well in this dress," said Rowena. "Still, people sometimes float!" She grabbed his arm. "Take a deep breath."

"What are you --"

She shot another Stinging Hex at the beast, and watched as it loosened its grip on them. Then, she pointed her wand up. "Finite Incantatum!" she shouted, and the bubble burst.

* * *


Jasper hurtled down the stairs, nearly breaking his neck. That would be just the thing, wouldn't it? If something finally happened, and gravity killed him before he could find out what exactly it was.

The castle had not been besieged, although it felt worse than that to Jasper. The Aurae weren't staying at the castle, though his father had offered; they apparently didn't quite trust the Slytherins. Instead, they stayed in Hogsmeade, and made frequent visits. Sometimes they were polite and came in through the front door; other times they were less polite and landed their thestrals, clattering, onto the top of Jasper's tower, and demanded to be allowed in. He rather suspected it was so they could see what sort of Arithmancy he was doing, but the end result was mostly that he didn't get any Arithmancy done at all, because the Aurae were bastards.

Except that something new was going on. There was some sort of disturbance in the lake, and it looked, from the tracking charms he'd laid down on it, that the squid was having a fight with something, and not doing very well. After that de Malfoie incident, he'd had it imported at great expense, and someday he was hoping he would be able to see through its dish-sized eyes by magic, and make it defend the castle, but at the moment all he could do was track its movement.

Maybe an Aura had fallen into the lake by accident. Or perhaps the merpeople had attacked the squid, and the squid had fought back. Either way, it was probably not good news, and he wanted whatever it was to get away from his poor giant squid right the hell now. It'd taken a whole fleet of Ximon Etxazarra's best to capture it in the first place, and then he'd had to do all sorts of magic on it to keep it from exploding in the low pressure and fresh water of the lake. The merpeople had helped with that a bit, so they should really know better than to attack it.

He came at last to the first level below the ground, where his father's potions laboratories were. "Father? Father!" he shouted, skidding into the room. He managed to stop himself before he upset the cauldron his father was working over.

"Yes?" his father asked, looking up calmly from the cauldron. "Do be careful, Jasper, I only just finished making this one."

"What does it do?" Jasper asked, peering into the cauldron. It was full of something purple, goopy, and slightly on fire. As they watched, it turned blue.

"Haven't really worked that out yet," said his father. "I found it in a rather poorly-written old book and, well, I don't have anything else to do today, do I? I mean, what with tending to our guests and all."

Right. He didn't want to do anything suspicious in case the Aurae burst in at any moment. Jasper shut the door. "Right. About that. Do you know if anything's going on in the lake? Have any of the Aurae fallen in?"

"I don't think so," said his father. "Then again, do you really think they would tell me?"

"No, but you've got -- you've got people in the village, haven't you?" Jasper said.

"I may be able to speak to them, but they're not actually people, Jasper," said his father, gently. "They don't usually understand human voices at all. But they're well-trained. They know to come back to me with news if anything seems interesting."

"You haven't got the venomous ones out, have you?" Jasper asked, uneasily. Like his mother, he could not speak to snakes, but unlike her, having them around sometimes made him worry they would forget their training.

"No, no, of course not," said his father. "Livius Avitus' bastard found a slow-worm the other day on the way here, and now she's convinced I'm plotting to kill them all. I hardly think it wise to send adders after them."

"Is that what all that screaming was about? But you can't even talk to slow-worms!" Jasper said, disgusted. "They're not even snakes." Aurae were so stupid.

"Yes, well, Aurelia Vaurien isn't known for her herpetological knowledge, is she? Still, it's better not to poke them with sticks. Or with snakes, for that matter. What makes you think something's going on in the lake?"

"The squid's not happy," said Jasper.

His father looked really concerned now. "What's wrong with Squiddy?"

"The squid's name is not Squiddy," said Jasper, with as much patience and dignity as he could muster. "It's fighting something."

"Well, what would you call a squid, then?" his father asked.

"I'm not naming it, it's a squid," said Jasper.

"Maybe you're going for something more dignified, like Neptune or Llyr. Or Itsaso -- I mean, for a girl squid, obviously. Is it a girl squid? How can you tell with squids?" his father asked.

"That's not the point," sighed Jasper, who neither knew nor wanted to know the gender of his particular squid. "Also, I'm glad Mum named me, because you'd have called me something awful." He sighed. "I hope it's got one of the Aurae, I really do," he said. "And I hope whoever it is drowns."

"Perhaps you should go and see that whoever it is doesn't injure the squid," said his father, more seriously now. "It was a very expensive squid, and if you aren't going to name it, you should at least take good care of it. And if they drown, I very much doubt Lady Aeaeae will let you keep your new pet."

Jasper sighed. "Yes. Well. All right," he said, summoning his flying carpet with an irritable wave of his wand. He walked through the passages beneath the castle until he came out into the caves that led to the lake. Then he unrolled the carpet, set it upon a spot of empty air, and climbed aboard, skimming over the dark surface of the water and out of the caves into the open air. The squid was nearby, and he saw one flailing tentacle briefly surface several yards away. The rest of the beast, however, was submerged. It was probably the merpeople, then, although he'd asked them very politely not to attack the squid, and he thought he had trained the squid not to attack them. Jasper hoped the merpeople wouldn't take it poorly; they were sort of his mother's merpeople, and though he was not fond of them, he did not want to think about how she'd feel if he let the squid eat them up.

He watched the fight, trying to work out how to handle this. If he hexed the squid's eye, he could probably drive it off better than the merpeople were doing now, but he didn't want the merpeople to take advantage of his poor squid and hex it while it sped away....

...wait a moment. Merpeople didn't have spells. So who was sending visible jets of magic at the squid underwater?

This whole squid thing was getting to be more of a bother than it was worth, but he decided to hex his own squid and hope he could deal with its attackers on his own. Jasper hovered low over the water and sent a few Stinging Hexes at one of the squid's giant eyes. Spooked, it shot a cloud of ink and sped off in the other direction.

Jasper then Levitated a large chunk of inky water, hoping he got his attackers. Inside the water, Lady Rowena was clutching a terrified-looking Basil Hufflepuff.

Hovering the water in front of him, he sped quickly back to the underground cavern that led to the castle before any of the patrolling Aurae spotted them. When he set the two of them down on the cave floor, the water fell away, and the two of them emerged, coughing and damp and covered in ink.

"You came back underwater," he said, not sure whether to laugh or to congratulate them or to berate them for being idiots. "And then you ran into my kraken."

"Your kraken?" demanded Hufflepuff, angrily. "Your kraken? What in God's name possessed you to put a bloody great octopus into the lake?"

"Oh, really, Basil, it's a squid," said Lady Rowena, pulling her long braid in front of her and wringing out the water.

"Oh, sorry, I was more interested in getting out of the way of its beak," snapped Hufflepuff.

Rowena sighed. "That's the point. Octopodes haven't got beaks."

"...Isn't it 'octopi?'" Jasper asked, hesitantly.

"I don't care if it's an orange blossom," snapped Hufflepuff. "Why is it there?"

"You see, Basil? I told you it was inconsistent," said Rowena, serenely. "Jasper, do tell us what it's doing in the lake. I'm very curious." She looked at Hufflepuff, who was lunging at Jasper as if he was about to hit him. "Oh come on, don't start with that again," she said, pointing her wand at the back of Hufflepuff's robes and flicking it backwards. Jasper watched with great satisfaction as Hufflepuff staggered backwards, then overbalanced and fell back into the water with a loud splash. "Oh. Sorry," she said, not sounding remotely apologetic.

"Well, the last time there was a breach in the castle security, it was those Muggles," said Jasper. "And they came by boat. So I thought I'd set something up to fill in that hole. I trained the squid while you were away. I'm so sorry it attacked you, though; I certainly didn't think you'd be coming underwater. Was that your idea?" he asked, turning to Rowena. Seeing that Hufflepuff had made it back out of the water, he started to lead them back into the castle.

"Yes," said Rowena, sounding pleased with herself. "I'm surprised as you are that it worked."

"Are the others coming in another bubble?" Jasper asked.

"No," said Rowena. "I have to Summon them. What time is it?" She tried to wring out one of the long sleeves of her dress, with little success.

"Just a bit before midday," said Jasper. He opened the door out of the caverns and into the castle, holding the door for Rowena and ignoring Hufflepuff.

"How much before midday?" asked Rowena. "Only I told Helga and Godric I'd Summon the Transport Key one day at noon, and I want to get them back as soon as possible. And then -- oh!" She stopped suddenly.

Jasper's father was standing in the corridor, waiting for them. "Lady Ravenclaw, welcome back," he said, his tone entirely unwelcoming. "Before you fetch your friends, though, I think you have time enough to explain a few things to me."

* * *


Author's Note: I feel I ought to acknowledge some of the named myth/legend characters I've been borrowing in this arc:

Koschei the Deathless and Baba Yaga are both from Russian fairytales. Koschei the Deathless fits really well into the Potterverse, and I couldn't resist including Baba Yaga, who is one of my favorites. (Although she's middle-aged rather than very old at the time of this fic, hence, Mama Yaga.)

Tom Learmont and his arithmancer Mike are references to Thomas the Rhymer and Michael Scot, two Scotsmen who actually did exist, but not remotely in this way. I'm mostly referencing the folklore associated with them, and you can look to that if you want some hints at Learmont's backstory.

Also, this is the penultimate chapter before the end of the story arc. I've been working on a fic for the Yuletide exchange rather than working on this, but I promise a long time between chapters does not mean I'm abandoning this fic, which a lot of people have worried about in the past. I do know, roughly, what will happen, and I am working on new chapters.

Chapter 32

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