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Harry Potter and the Secret of Atlantis (Harry Potter AU/Tomb Raider Crossover)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Starfox5, Nov 3, 2018.

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  1. Threadmarks: Chapter 1: Trouble in the Jungle
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Harry Potter and the Secret of Atlantis

    Disclaimer:
    I do not own Harry Potter or any of the characters in the Harry Potter books or movies. I do not own Tomb Raider or any of the characters in the franchise.

    Summary: AU. Having been raised by his tomb raiding aunt, Harry Potter had known early on that he’d follow in her footsteps and become a Curse-Breaker, discovering and exploring old tombs full of lost knowledge and treasure. But he and his two best friends might have underestimated just how dangerous the wrong sort of knowledge and treasure could be. Sequel to “Petunia Evans, Tomb Raider”.

    Author’s Note: This story is set in an Alternate Universe and is a sequel to “Petunia Evans, Tomb Raider”. Therefore, a number of canon events didn't happen. The society of Wizarding Britain and the rest of the magical world are a bit different and a number of characters will act differently as well. Squibs are able to see magic and are unaffected by Muggle-Repelling Charms.

    I’d like to thank fredfred for beta-reading.

    Cover:
    [​IMG]

    Chapter 1: Trouble in the Jungle

    ‘The Amazon rainforest is home to one of the most isolationist people known to wizardkind - and also one of the most hostile. While not nearly as brutal as the Australian wizards, who have only recently started to deport wizards born to non-aboriginal muggles, and who still routinely kill any foreign wizard they catch within their borders, the magical tribes living in the largest jungle of the New World are responsible for the death of many wizarding explorers who, usually out of ignorance, rather than malice, happened to violate one of the tribes’ taboos.
    Unlike the Australian stance on immigration, however, the Amazon tribes’ hostility can be explained - at least partially - by their history. Both the Spanish and Portuguese Conquistadors, seeking the treasures of Lost Atlantis, tried for almost two hundred years to conquer the area - without success. The ruins of dozens of forts and camps bear witness to the deadly resistance by the native tribes. This conflict even continued after the International Statute of Secrecy was instituted in 1692, separating the muggle and magical worlds - for Magical Spain and Magical Portugal didn’t abandon their plans. Only after several expeditions not only survived their travels but found nothing save ruins bereft of any treasure or secrets did peace return to this part of the Magical New World as both nations focused on more lucrative ventures and later were embroiled in various wars of independence.
    But even without hostile native wizards and witches, the Amazon rainforest would remain one of the deadliest areas of the magical world. Some of the most dangerous specimens yet discovered can be found among both the magical flora and fauna there. Few foreigners dare to venture into the area, and fewer still return.’

    - Excerpt from ‘Atlas of the Magical New World’ by Melchior Steiner

    *****​

    Amazon Rainforest, July 30th, 2001

    “...‘most isolationist’, ‘most hostile’ - yeah, right,” Harry Potter muttered as he closed the atlas and put it on the table in the living room of their wizarding tent.

    “Hm?” Hermione looked up from her own, substantially larger, tome. “What did you say?”

    “I was just remarking on the quality of the information to be found in this book,” he replied.

    Instead of agreeing with him, she laughed. “You know Ron - he probably would have an affair with an Aboriginal witch in Australia, should we ever visit.”

    “Which we won’t,” Harry said. He was a Curse-Breaker, and danger was part of the job, as Bill always said, but there was a difference between braving cursed ruins and tombs full of traps and finding out first hand whether the Australians deserved their reputation or not. Besides, there was no treasure to be found there, as far as he knew. He sighed. “I’m just jealous.”

    “Jealous?” Hermione looked at him with narrowed eyes. “Of Ron?”

    He winced. “Not like that!” he hastily assured his girlfriend. “But his girlfriend taught us about blood leeches and ghost frogs while so far all I’ve managed to find out on this expedition is how wrong our sources are.” Of course, Harry had been the one to find the clue that led them to the ruins they were currently exploring, but that had been weeks ago. And it had been Hermione who had made the connection to an account by a Conquistador.

    She didn’t look mollified, though - quite the contrary. “You’re jealous that his girlfriend is more useful in the jungle than yours?”

    Meaning, her. “No, no. I didn’t mean it like that. I love you.”

    Not even that helped. She scoffed. “But you’d prefer it if I went around in a loincloth and nothing else?”

    He shook his head. Hermione’s working clothes were styled after Aunt Petunia’s, anyway.

    “Or would you prefer it if I could change into a jaguar, like Ari?”

    He jumped on the opportunity. “That wouldn’t be very useful for exploring tombs,” he said. “Now, a house cat, or rat, or another small animal, would be different, but, as we know, we cannot predict our forms should we learn how to become animagi like Ari…”

    “She’s not an animagus,” Hermione replied.

    “She certainly isn’t a lycanthrope, despite her name,” Harry said. He refrained from smiling - nothing defused Hermione’s temper, frayed by their expedition’s lack of progress, better than the opportunity to lecture.

    She sniffed. “Of course she isn’t a lycanthrope! But she’s not an animagus - the animagus transformation includes your clothes.”

    “She could have learned a different variation,” Harry pointed out.

    “The basic principles of magic are the same across all magical traditions,” she replied. “It is very unlikely that her tribe wouldn’t have made any progress in that area either, if they had discovered a more limited version of the animagus transformation - the reports of ‘jaguar shapeshifters’ go back to the time of the Conquistadores, after all.”

    “Her people don’t wear many clothes to start with,” Harry said.

    “But they learned to use wands after encountering the Spanish and Portuguese,” Hermione countered. “They would have learned a more advanced form of the animagus transformation as well.”

    “There might be a cultural bias among her people that prevents them from adapting their transformations,” Harry pointed out.

    Hermione frowned, then nodded. “That is possible,” she admitted. “Not very likely, but possible.”

    “We could ask Ari,” Harry said. “Ron’s taught her enough English.”

    Hermione snorted. “That isn’t the only thing he’s taught her.”

    Harry shrugged. As long as Ron’s latest affair didn’t cause any trouble for them - he really wanted to avoid another incident like the one in Tunis or the one in Constantinople - he didn’t care about his friend’s love life.

    She sighed. “Ah, well. I’m a little frustrated myself - I’m certain that these ruins are an old Atlantean outpost, but until we can crack the protections, that cannot be verified.”

    And the protections had been proven to be among the strongest they had encountered so far in their careers. However… “Ari said that this was one of the Conquistadores’ forts, destroyed by her ancestors.”

    She shook her head. “The spells on the foundations of the ruins are all wrong for that - none of the Spanish forts or outposts of which we’re aware used such wards. And the ruins are too old for that as well.”

    “Perhaps the Spanish or Portuguese built a fort on top of the ruins,” Harry said. “It would explain the remains we found.”

    “Or someone planted them here,” Hermione replied. “They were a little too obvious, I think. But if that’s true...”

    Harry smiled. “... then that means there’s something worth hiding - and protecting - here.”

    “Something protected by wards that were too powerful to let anyone destroy the ruins. Like what would be expected of old Atlantean wards?” Hermione smiled as well. And with good reason, of course - the Atlanteans hadn’t left many magical artefacts, and none of their outposts discovered so far had had anything magical left in them at all. If they had found a still active Atlantean ward, then that would be the discovery of the decade. Perhaps even of the century.

    “Exactly,” Harry said. “If we can crack this…”

    The tent’s entrance being pushed open interrupted him. Ron stood there, panting.

    “Harry! Hermione! We’ve got trouble!”

    Harry muttered a curse and drew his wand.

    *****​

    “Ron! What happened?” Hermione asked as she left the tent and took up a position next to Harry. It was so dark that the cone of light that briefly shone through the tent’s entrance didn’t even reach the dense jungle surrounding their camp.

    “It wasn’t my fault!” Ron Weasley said quickly. It wasn’t as if he expected his two best friends to hex him, but it never hurt to make sure, as Bill had taught him. His brother had been talking about curses, but both Harry and Hermione had their wands out and didn’t look too happy or understanding. “Ari said that there’s a Boiúna in the area that has taken offence at our presence.”

    Harry frowned. “A Boiúna?”

    “Shapeshifting sapient snake,” Hermione told him. Of course she’d know that. “Very territorial - but usually limited to rivers.”

    “And the closest river is a dozen miles away,” Harry said.

    Ari stepped up behind Ron - fortunately, she was in human form; after mistaking a real jaguar for her a week ago, Harry was a little jumpy around big cats. “Boiúna live in jungle, not just river.”

    Ron saw Hermione frown at that; his friend hated to be proven wrong. But she knew better than to start an argument with a local expert. “Well, I guess Pedro Teixeira did stick mainly to rivers, so it would make sense that he thought the creatures lived there.”

    “I don’t think this is the time to discuss Magizoology,” Harry said.

    “Right.” Hermione nodded. “How do we kill it?” she asked Ari.

    “Kill it?” Ron’s girlfriend gaped. “It’s Boiúna! Strongest creature in jungle!”

    Harry frowned, Ron noticed. “There’s no need to kill it. I can talk to it.”

    “Boiúna don’t talk,” Ari said. “Must flee before arrive! Not much time left!”

    “I can talk to any snake,” Harry insisted.

    “And we won’t let a beast drive us away from a tomb,” Hermione added. “Petunia wouldn’t let that happen, either.”

    “Snakes aren’t beasts,” Harry replied.

    Ron cut in before they could start another discussion about serpent sapience - his friends sometimes had rather impractical priorities. “How about we plan how to deal with this snake before it arrives? For a change?” he added with more than a little sarcasm; Bill always said a Curse-Breaker was either prepared or soon dead.

    “I’ll talk to it,” Harry said.

    “You need flee!” Ari insisted. “Cannot fight Boiúna!” For a witch who hadn’t spoken a single word of English until two months ago, she had made great progress, in Ron’s opinion.

    “We won’t let a snake drive us away no matter its size,” Hermione said. “We’ve dealt with worse.”

    “Boiúna has powerful magic!” Ari insisted.

    “So do jinns - and we dealt with them,” Ron said. He smiled reassuringly at her. “Trust us, we know what we are doing.” Most of the time. But he couldn’t help feeling a little doubt as he saw just how nervous his girlfriend was - usually, she was brave enough for two Gryffindors.

    She shook her head. “Need flee! Cannot fight Boiúna!”

    “We certainly can fight it,” Hermione retorted. “And I am quite certain that we can beat it, too - provided we can come up with a decent plan. According to Teixeira, Boiúnas rely on frightening their enemies with shapeshifting and possibly illusions as well.”

    “Like a Boggart?” Harry asked.

    “I doubt they share the same vulnerabilities,” Hermione replied.

    “So a Boggart-Banishing Spell probably won’t work,” Ron said. “We should try it anyway.”

    “Need flee!” Ari insisted. “Cannot...”

    A roar louder than a dragon’s - Ron knew the difference from a visit to Charlie’s workplace - interrupted her. “No, too late!” she yelled, her expression turning desperate.

    “Stay back!” Ron snapped, pushing past her - he didn’t know how good her Shield Charm was. “Lighting up!” he yelled as he pulled out a ‘Noonball’, as the twins called their invention. A flick of his wand lit the modified firework, and it shot up into the sky, bursting in a bright flare thirty yards up and illuminating the entire clearing.

    Then he cursed - the biggest snake he had ever seen was slithering towards them. It had to measure thirty yards from its mouth to the tip of its tail, and the black scales seemed to swallow the light from the floating firework. It looked like a limbless dragon.

    And Harry was walking towards it, hissing - talking in Parseltongue. Ron moved a little to the side - slowly, so as not to spook the creature - until he had a decent flanking position. On the other side of Harry, Hermione was doing the same, as expected - this wasn’t the first time they had faced a monster, after all.

    “What he doing?” Ari asked. She had followed him. “Boiúna don’t talk!”

    “Harry can talk to any snake,” Ron replied as he kept his wand trained on the creature. Harry was far too close, damn him! That snake was large enough to swallow him whole!

    “He half-snake?”

    “No,” Ron said. “Magic.” That was safer than joking about Harry being a tenth snake - as Tunis had proven, not everyone understood his jokes. And not many, other than Hagrid, shared Harry’s rather rose-coloured views on snakes.

    Now the snake was talking. Ron didn’t relax - just because a creature could talk didn’t mean it was not dangerous any more. But Harry looked less tense than when he had started hissing. That was a good sign - Ron’s friend usually had good instincts. Usually - if Harry turned out to be wrong, it tended to be spectacular. And not in the good way.

    But the snake was settling down. Ron checked the firework. Guaranteed to float for five minutes. That meant they had about two minutes of light left.

    When there was a minute left, Ron yelled: “Harry, tell it that I’ll be sending up another firework.”

    “She’s not an it!” Harry yelled back - but he turned back to the snake and hissed again. They went back and forth, and the firework started to sputter out. But no sooner had they all been plunged into darkness - it was really dark out here in the jungle - when Harry yelled: “Alright, send one up!”

    Ron sighed with relief and did so - then did a double-take. The snake was gone. And Harry was smiling.

    “But… but…” Ari was shaking her head.

    “Don’t worry!” Harry said as they gathered in front of the tent’s entrance again. “It was all a misunderstanding - Amana thought another of her people had taken up residence here.” He frowned. “She did smell them, though, and since they aren’t here, she’s now looking for them.” He smiled at Hermione. “You were right - they are very territorial. But this is not her territory - she said the ruins are taboo.”

    Hermione grinned. “Another sign that this could be an Atlantean outpost!”

    “Indeed.” Harry nodded.

    Both were eyeing the ruins nearby. Ron shook his head - he knew what they were thinking. “Let’s rest before we tackle possibly Atlantean wards, shall we?” he said. Impatient Curse-Breakers were dead Curse-Breakers, after all, as Bill had taught them, and both his friends looked far too excited right now to be cautious enough to deal with wards that had been laid down millennia ago.

    Not to mention that Ron had to calm down his girlfriend - Ari was still trembling and gaping. There would be no ‘watching the stars on your back’ tonight, he was fairly certain. Just cuddling.

    *****​

    Amazon Rainforest, July 31st, 2001

    Hermione Granger yawned as she sat up, the silk sheets sliding off her body, and stretched her arms over her head. Their wizarding tent wasn’t as comfortable as Petunia and Sirius’s enchanted Range Rover, but it was much better than a muggle tent - or even a muggle caravan. She still reminded herself that they really needed to take the time to enchant a car of their own one day, no matter what ‘promising lead’ Harry found next. Although if they had actually found an Atlantean ruin with active spells, then properly exploring their discovery would certainly take months, and, absent the need to rush their expedition so no one else could steal their thunder and claim it first, they could spare the time for such an undertaking afterwards.

    And since Petunia would certainly come and help with the dig, Sirius might be pressed into helping with the enchanting. Harry’s godfather and step-uncle might not be much of an archaeologist and only a fair Curse-Breaker, but he was certainly a very skilled wizard when it came to enchanting. And fighting, of course.

    She felt Harry stir next to her, then heard him groan, and smiled. “Good morning, Harry. And happy birthday!”

    He rolled on to his back, blinked, then turned his head towards her. “Good morning. And thank you.” She saw his eyes flicker to the clock on the nightstand. “It’s early, but we’ve got a long day ahead of us. An important day.”

    She knew what he meant. “Perhaps the most important day of our careers - so far,” she agreed. “But, you know Ron - he won’t be up for another hour at least.” She grinned at him.

    He returned her grin. “And it would be inconsiderate to start without him.”

    “Terribly.” She nodded.

    “But that leaves us with an hour to fill,” he said.

    Hermione pursed her lips as if she were considering this. “Well… it wouldn’t hurt to read up on the latest Arithmancy discoveries and theories.” He narrowed his eyes at her, and she chuckled. “But I take it you’ve got something else in mind?”

    “Yes, I do.” He nodded and reached out, pulling her on top of him, then kissed her.

    *****​

    “So, how’s Ari doing?” Harry asked an hour later at breakfast.

    “And why isn’t she with us?” Hermione Granger asked. If the shapeshifter and Ron had had a break-up last night, and this caused trouble with Ari’s tribe, then Hermione would be very cross. They were about to make the discovery that would make them famous! Even though Atlantis’s existence was a historical fact, almost nothing was known about its actual culture and history - not even the exact reason for its sinking was known. They couldn’t afford another Tunis.

    Ron shrugged, frowning. “She went out hunting at dawn,” he said. Which meant as a jaguar, Hermione knew. Ron sighed before continuing. “She’s still upset. That encounter with the Boiúna must have shaken her worse than I thought.”

    Hermione frowned. The native witch hadn’t been fazed when Harry had almost cursed her by mistake after his encounter with a real jaguar. “That creature didn’t seem as dangerous or violent as would justify such a reaction,” she said. She was tempted to blame the superstitions of the native tribe for that - but that would be foolish. Local witches and wizards tended to know far more about the wildlife of their homes than even accomplished Magizoologists like Luna and Ginny. It was possible, of course, that the Boiúnas were overrated due to cultural reasons. Possible, but not overly likely.

    Harry shrugged. “She was very reasonable when we talked. More polite than Ari,” he added with a glance at Ron.

    “Ari didn’t speak our language when we met her, and her tribe had had bad encounters with foreigners in the past.” Ron frowned at Harry. “Threatening her with your wand wasn’t exactly polite, either.”

    “How was I to know she wasn’t a jaguar?” Harry defended himself. “Anyone would have made that mistake!”

    “She was carrying her wand in her mouth,” Ron pointed out before Hermione could.

    “It looked like a twig!”

    Ron coughed. “Anyway, Ari didn’t know anything about Parselmouths, not even that there is such a talent. Her people can’t communicate with the Boiúnas.”

    “Unless they transform into a woman,” Hermione said.

    “Probably not even then,” Ron said. They might not speak each other’s languages. “But she’ll calm down.”

    Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. That was what her friend had said after his row with the jinn in Tunis. And that jinn certainly hadn’t calmed down - quite the contrary.

    “Really - she wasn’t angry,” Ron insisted. “Upset, but not angry.”

    Hermione hoped that her friend was correct. Cracking millennia-old wards was difficult enough without having to deal with his romantic entanglements causing trouble.

    *****​

    Amazon Rainforest, August 2nd, 2001

    Hermione Granger wiped sweat from her brow with her free hand while she kept her wand trained on the smooth face of the massive stone in front of her - or, rather, on the spells covering the stone. This stone was the key to disarming the wards, she was certain. Of all the stones forming the foundations of the ruins, this one didn’t show any signs of weathering, And that was, as Petunia had taught her, a sign of strong magic.

    She bit her lower lip as she twisted her wand, then stabbed it towards the left corner of the stone, taking a deep, shuddering breath as she saw the spells anchored on the stone shift. Another protection dealt with. The spells weren’t particularly complex or difficult, once you had their measure - they were cast millennia ago, after all, and wards had advanced a great deal since - but they were exotic and backed by power accumulated over said millennia. One mistake would be fatal - though that was usually the case for a Curse-Breaker raiding tombs anyway.

    “Here.”

    She looked up and saw that Harry was holding a bottle out towards her. “Regular cola?” she asked as she took it.

    “You can use the sugar,” he answered.

    She wasn’t about to disagree. “Thanks,” she said as she twisted the cap off, then took a large gulp. “Ah.”

    “How are you doing?” he asked.

    She sighed. “As well as could be expected, I guess. The protections aren’t particularly complex - probably on a par with late fourteenth dynasty wards, I guess. But the power…” She shook her head. Wards grew in power with age, and those protecting the ruins here were the oldest she had ever seen.

    Harry nodded. He knew better than to tell her to be careful. “I’ve dismantled the traps on the northern wing.”

    She felt a little jealous, for a moment. She knew she was the better Curse-Breaker, and she was dealing with the core protection array, not the secondary arrays, but still… “Good,” she said. “I should be through with this soon.”

    “We’ve got time,” he said.

    “I’m not rushing it.” She wasn’t - but she had taken long enough to analyse the spells. “Where’s Ron?”

    “He’s standing guard,” Harry said.

    “You mean he’s looking for Ari,” Hermione said.

    Harry didn’t answer, but his expression told her enough.

    She sighed. If she were honest, the apparent break-up made things easier - unless Ron planned to invite Ari to join their group, and the native witch agreed, then they’d have to separate anyway once they were done with the ruins. Curse-Breakers travelled a lot, after all, and the middle of the Amazon rainforest wasn’t easy to reach even with magic. And - she tried not to frown at the thought - Ron would likely fall in love with another woman at their next location.

    She finished the bottle, then vanished it. “Alright, let’s get on with this!” History waited for them.

    *****​

    Amazon Rainforest, August 3rd, 2001

    Finally! Hermione Granger bared her teeth in fierce satisfaction as the final spell that had been protecting the foundations of the ruins was disarmed at last! “Yes!” she exclaimed, then stabbed her wand at the stones next to the one which had frustrated her for so many days. She was tempted to blow a hole in them, but refrained from doing so - that might damage wall paintings or carvings.

    Instead, she shrunk the stones - and revealed not packed earth, but a passage behind them.

    “Yes!” She stood and started to approach the opening when someone suddenly grabbed her arm. Ron.

    “Leave that to us,” he told her. “You’re in no shape to take point on entering the tomb.”

    “It’s unlikely to be a tomb,” she argued. “We’ve found no sign that anyone might be interred here.”

    “That doesn’t mean that there won’t be any traps,” he retorted.

    She clenched her teeth. He was correct, but…

    “He’s right. We’ll take point here.” Harry had joined them.

    She frowned but nodded. They were correct, of course - she should have known better than to rush into a ruin. Especially after having just spent more than three days dealing with the wards on the place. Petunia would be so disappointed at her lapse, should the woman ever hear of this.

    “Alright.”

    *****​

    Harry Potter loved Hermione, and he would be the first to admit she was the best Curse-Breaker in their group, but sometimes she was too stubborn for her own good. Trying to tackle a new tomb - regardless of whether or not it was an actual tomb - when you weren’t on top of your game was a recipe for disaster. Not to mention that while she was the best when it came to dealing with wards, Harry had her beaten when it came to traps. Especially traps that combined magic and mundane means.

    As Auntie put it, dealing with traps was as much an art as it was a science. Hermione had the skills, and she certainly had the body, but she wasn’t quite as good at thinking on her feet - or at reacting without thinking when a moment’s hesitation would see you flattened beneath a ton of polished stone.

    But that why they were a team. He smiled at her, squeezing her arm briefly, before approaching the opening she had created. He cast a Bubble-Head Charm, just in case - Auntie had almost died to poisoned air, once, and he still had to suppress a shiver when he thought about that fungal spore incident he’d heard about from Ulbrich during their visit to the Curse-Breaker Camp in Egypt a few months ago. Danger was part of a Curse-Breaker’s job, but to die slowly as your body was consumed by mushrooms…

    Well, they were prepared for that - Hermione had read all the expedition reports and explorer’s accounts she could find while Ron had asked Ginny and Luna about dangerous animals native to the Amazon and Harry had talked to every Curse-Breaker they knew who had been to the area - small as that number had been. But Harry’s spells didn’t show any spores or Burrowing Wasp Nests in the vicinity. The air at the entrance actually felt rather dry - compared to the humidity of the jungle, of course.

    He flicked his wand - no spells either. Which didn’t mean that there were no traps, of course. He crouched down and studied the ground. No patterns in the dust. No tell-tales of triggers, magical or mechanical. The walls had inscriptions on them, unfamiliar ones. But he couldn’t detect any spells other than preservation charms nor did he spot any minuscule gaps that might propel poisoned blades at anyone passing by.

    Taking a deep breath, he entered the tunnel - or hallway, since this looked like part of a building. No traps went off for the first few yards. “Smooth stone,” he reported. “Covered with runes and charms. No curses so far.”

    “Oh… those are entirely unknown runes. If we can call them runes - it might actually be a new language!”

    Harry didn’t have to turn around to know Hermione was gushing over the inscriptions. A moment later, she started taking pictures. “Watch the flash,” he snapped. It wouldn’t do to be blinded at an inopportune moment.

    “If this was the entrance, then there should be a trap. There’s always one at the entrance,” Ron, bringing up the rear, commented.

    “Not always,” Harry corrected him.

    “The wards would certainly qualify,” Hermione added. “And this seems to be the entrance - there is only one way to go, and there’s nothing here. Of course, the Atlanteans might have built dead ends for various purposes, but common sense would suggest that this was the entrance.”

    “Damned sloppy of them to forget the red carpet,” Ron said.

    “Not even a welcome mat.” Harry wouldn’t be outdone by his friend when it came to nonchalance.

    “That would certainly be trapped,” Ron replied. “Can you make anything of these runes?”

    Hermione scoffed. “Nothing so far. There are some faint similarities to cuneiform, but that might merely be a shared ancestry.” He heard her tap the wall with her wand. “But this… It looks very similar to an Ancient Greek symbol for curses.”

    “Great,” Harry said, looking down the corridor. “Let’s hope it means ‘do not cast curses in the hallways’!”

    Ron laughed, but Hermione merely snorted. “Unfortunately, I don’t think that this was a school - I doubt that the Atlanteans built schools outside their island. They were said to be rather isolationist according to the Greek and Egyptian sources we have.”

    “They had an empire,” Harry pointed out as he scanned the rest of the corridor for curses.

    “Outposts, mostly. Or so we assume,” Hermione replied. “Possibly colonies - but they might well have centralised magical education to better protect their secrets.”

    Harry nodded. For such an old and legendary culture, there was very little known about them. Which he considered rather suspicious. He shook his head and focused on his task. There was the slightest… He held up his hand.

    His friends grew quiet at once.

    “Trouble?” Ron asked.

    “The dust here looks… different,” Harry replied. He bent down. There was a line crossing the hallway where the dust was just a little elevated. Slightly off-colour, too. Pit trap. “Pig time,” he said as he stood.

    “Alright.”

    They retreated to the opening - or entrance - and Harry conjured a pig in the hallway, right behind the suspicious line. A moment later, the entire section of the floor there fell away, taking the pig with it. And then the animal’s panicked squeals were abruptly cut off.

    “Spike pit. A classic,” Ron said, leaning back as the trap swung closed.

    “They didn’t add an enchantment to cover the trap with dust again,” Hermione said, pointing at the now revealed trapdoor. “That might indicate that this wasn’t meant to last after the Atlanteans left, but was meant to protect the area behind it in a manned outpost.”

    Harry nodded. He knew what that meant. “It’s a vault.” He grinned.

    “Probably,” Hermione amended. But Harry saw that she shared his optimism.

    “A vault? Merlin’s beard, that means even more traps,” Ron said.

    Harry nodded. The best things always had the most traps. “Now let’s get past this one!”

    He slowly approached it. They could easily jump past the trap - but the Atlanteans would have anticipated that. Cascading traps - get past the first and trigger the next - were not uncommon. Most also accounted for brooms and carpets. He looked up and smiled. Few, though, remembered to trap the ceiling.

    Twenty minutes later, he was upside down, hanging from ropes stuck to hooks hammered into the ceiling - there were Anti-Sticking Charm spells on it - and staring at the floor behind the trap. As he had expected - there was another line a few yards back. And the walls had more spells on them, too - and less dust. Probably something to deal with brooms - if Atlanteans had had brooms.

    Best not to chance it. “Time for pigs to fly,” he said as he climbed back to his friends.

    “The Atlanteans definitely knew about levitation charms,” Hermione said a minute later.

    “And they weren’t playing around,” Ron added.

    Staring at the smear left on the ground and the stain on the ceiling - the floor hadn’t fallen away, but had shot up, crushing the pig against the ceiling - Harry had to agree. He turned to Hermione. “Any chance you found the key to pass through the traps yet?”

    She shook her head. “Without knowing the language or the exact spells used, it’s pretty much impossible.”

    Harry nodded. He had expected that. “So now we’ll have to test if climbing across the walls is safe.” That would take a few more conjured animals.

    “We’ll have to skip that part when telling Ginny and Luna about this,” Ron said, shaking his head. But he was already pulling out climbing gear.

    This wasn’t the first time they had to resort to muggle methods, after all. There was a reason why all of them wore muggle clothes for their work - well, other than Hermione following Auntie’s example. Not that Harry was complaining about that - his girlfriend looked very attractive in a tank top and short-shorts.

    It still took them longer than Harry liked to get past the trapped area since they had to hammer a lot of hooks into the stone - which was harder than granite - and the walls provided no hand- or footholds.

    But they did reach the other end of the hallway, where stairs leading down awaited them.

    Stairs that looked rather suspiciously clean, in Harry’s opinion. He studied the ceiling. No spells, but… He narrowed his eyes, then used the enchantment on his glasses to zoom in. Yes. Another trapdoor - in the ceiling this time.

    “Poison or rocks?” Ron asked, looking up as well. “What do you think?”

    “The stairs are magically reinforced,” Hermione told them. “Structurally - that wouldn’t be needed if it were a liquid of some sort that would cover the stairs when the trap goes off.”

    “It’s a spiral staircase,” Harry said. “Giant boulder is my bet.”

    “That sounds overly complicated,” Hermione remarked. “And not as effective as other methods.”

    “Probably backed up by magic,” Harry said. “Let’s stand back. I’ll send another pig in.”

    “The ALF will come after us if they ever find out,” Hermione muttered.

    Harry sent the pig down the stairs. Half a minute later, a giant boulder did indeed fall from the ceiling and roll down the stairs. Once more, the pig’s squeals were cut off by a squelching noise. Harry clenched his teeth. “Wait for it…” A moment later, he heard a crash - the boulder must have reached the bottom. And then fire filled the stairs, rushing up towards them. Cursing, he flung himself against Hermione, pushing her to the ground moments before the flames reached the top of the stairs. Most of the fire shot past them, scorching the ceiling, and their charms handled the rest. Mostly.

    “Blimey! They’re really not kidding around,” Ron said as he put out a smouldering spot on his trousers.

    “Almost got the ropes,” Harry said, patting himself down.

    “Almost got you,” Hermione snapped as she pulled out her medkit. “Turn around!”

    “I’m fine!” Harry retorted. He was, too - he was barely singed. Nothing more serious than a Floo travel mishap.

    But, of course, Hermione wouldn’t believe him until she had personally verified his state of health.

    He sighed as her wand moved over his body. Just because he had been a little overly optimistic once or twice after a crash in a Quidditch match…

    *****​

    Ron Weasley shook his head, chuckling, as Hermione both treated Harry’s minor burns and verbally tore him a new one. Harry probably would never learn not to downplay his injuries. Some girls were impressed by that; Hermione wasn’t among them. Ari probably wasn’t either.

    He clenched his teeth. He hadn’t seen her since the morning after Harry had talked to the snake. As far as break-ups went, this was far from the worst - she hadn’t tried to kill him or curse him, after all - but he couldn’t understand why she had run away. They had been good together.

    Sighing, he studied the stairs while Harry got treated. The trapdoor in the ceiling had swung closed again - that could have been done by a counter-weight, but Ron would bet it was a spell. A quick detection spell confirmed it. Which meant that the boulder could easily be conjured. And that meant that the trap had probably already been reloaded, so to speak.

    Ron shook his head. “Unless we want to climb down along the walls of the staircase, we’ll have to disable the trap.” He studied the ceiling. “Conjured pillars should do it, if we use enough of them. Probably a metal plate as well.”

    Hermione frowned as she finished treating Harry’s wounds. “Unless they’ve got spells ready to deal with that. So far, the Atlanteans have been quite well prepared for magical workarounds.”

    “Conjured pigs worked well,” Harry pointed out.

    That made Hermione frown, of course - she hated being proven wrong. Ron spoke up before she could defend her thesis - they were in a tomb, or vault, not at school: “Let’s just test it.”

    As it turned out, the Atlanteans hadn’t prepared a counter to his idea. The pig they sent in reached the bottom of the stairs safely - or so it seemed. Ron still felt the urge to keep looking over his shoulder, wand ready to conjure enough stone to stop the boulder, as they descended the stairs.

    But they reached the room at the bottom - a hallway - without trouble. And a massive door at the end of it. Ron would have cheered - if not for the fact that the pig they had sent ahead was nowhere to be seen. “Another trap.”

    “Another trap,” Harry confirmed. “We’ve had trapdoors in the floor and trapdoors in the ceiling. Guess this time, it’s the walls.”

    As yet another conjured pig proved a minute later, it wasn’t the walls - it was magic. The pig had barely reached the middle of the hallway when it was hit by a green curse from the ceiling that killed it, followed by what looked like a Vanishing Charm. “Efficient,” Ron commented to hide how much the sight had shaken him.

    “Someone managed to use the Killing Curse in a trap?” Hermione voiced his thoughts. “But the emotional component needed to cast the curse can’t be replicated like that…”

    “The Atlanteans might not have been aware of that.” Ron’s quip earned him a glare from her.

    “Let’s focus on how we can bypass or disarm that trap,” Harry said.

    “If it’s a Killing Curse, it can be blocked by a solid object - which will usually be destroyed by the curse, though,” Ron said. “We’ll have to disarm the trigger.” He looked at Hermione. She was their expert for such things.

    “It’ll take some time to analyse it,” Hermione said.

    “And it’s late already,” Harry added. “We’d better rest so we can tackle the trap and the door tomorrow.”

    Hermione looked like she wanted to object, but nodded after a moment.

    She had to be really tired, Ron thought.

    *****​

    Amazon Rainforest, August 5th, 2001

    Ari hadn’t returned. And, after five days, Ron Weasley doubted that she ever would. He sighed as he followed Harry and Hermione to the site. They hadn’t spent the night apart but looked well-rested anyway.

    He wasn’t jealous - he simply missed Ari. And he had yet to understand why she had left - she wasn’t a coward; he knew that well enough. So why had she run away?

    He was still pondering this as they reached the vault door. Over the last two days, they had installed conjured catwalks to bypass the trapdoors in there, once they knew there were no special countermeasures waiting at the other end of the hallway. And, of course, they replaced the conjured pillars that blocked the boulder trap every day before taking the stairs - it was better to cast one more spell than you needed than one less, as Bill used to say.

    He sighed, then told himself to focus on the job at hand - Hermione was almost done with the vault’s protections. It had taken her close to two days - impressive, given her lack of familiarity with Atlantean magic.

    He sighed again. Ron knew he was a good wizard - he had the N.E.W.T.s and the experience to prove it - but, sometimes, he felt a little superfluous. Hermione was the best Curse-Breaker among them, and Harry was the better wizard overall - and also knew more about muggle methods than Ron. Between the two of them, they made a perfect team. Like Petunia and Sirius, or Bill and Fleur.

    They didn’t need him. Of course, there had been moments - quite a lot, actually - where Ron had pulled his weight, and then some. He wasn’t holding them back or weighing them down. But it would be nice to be the best at something.

    “Done!”

    He looked up. Hermione was standing, wiping some sweat from her face, and beaming as if Harry had proposed to her.

    “It’s still locked,” Harry said.

    Hermione snorted and flicked her wand. A moment later, the door started to slide into the wall, small specks of dust being shaken loose and falling to the floor as a circular opening was revealed.

    And behind it, shelves loaded with…

    “Scrolls! And tablets!” Hermione exclaimed. At least she managed to restrain herself from rushing into the vault until Harry had checked for traps and Ron had blocked the door from closing again.

    “Ripclaw will be furious,” Ron said as he followed them into the vault. “There’s no treasure.”

    Hermione scoffed and glared at him as though Ron shared that view. “This is the greatest treasure of them all! Atlantean documents! Even the Library of Alexandria doesn’t have as much written material from Atlantis as we’ve found here!”

    Ron nodded. “I know.” How could he not, with Hermione lecturing them for weeks about Atlantis? “But you know goblins - if it’s not precious metal they don’t care.”

    “Short-sighted,” Harry said. “So this is a field library? Kind of small for that.” The vault was about four by four yards. With a large pillar in its centre.

    Hermione bit her lower lip. “I can’t tell without further research. It could be an archive. These could be records. Or perhaps orders.”

    Ron narrowed his eyes. That pillar… It made no sense, structurally - he knew enough about construction thanks to having helped his parents with The Burrow. And it didn’t look like it was part of the room either. He circled the pillar, then whistled. “Look at this! There’s a crystal ball!”

    “A crystal ball?” Hermione was frowning as she joined him, followed by Harry.

    “Not the kind used for Divination, I think,” Ron said. He had seen more crystal balls than he had ever wanted to during his short-lived relationship with Lavender at Hogwarts, and this didn’t look like those.

    “You’re right,” Hermione said. “There’s a sort of mist inside. I wonder…”

    Harry interrupted her. “Someone’s coming. My Alarm Charm just went off.”

    Ron muttered a curse under his breath as he moved to the vault’s entrance. “We need to get outside, or they can trap us here by vanishing the pillars.”

    “Yes,” Harry agreed. “Hermione…”

    But their friend was already summoning scrolls into her backpack. “Go ahead - I’ll be right there.”

    Harry looked like he was about to argue, but Ron pulled him away. “Let’s go!” In a lower voice, he added: “She won’t be in the line of fire that way.”

    They sprinted up the stairs, wands out. If they reached the hallway above before the intruder, then they would be fine.

    “If this is Lena Kraft…” Ron heard Harry mutter.

    “Can’t be her - she’s usually bothering Petunia,” Ron replied. Almost there...

    “Ron?”

    His eyes widened. He knew that voice! “Ari?”

    “Ron!”

    He reached the top of the stairs. There she was. “Ari!”

    But she was staring at him, trembling. And panting. “Ron! You must flee!”

    “What? Is there another Boiúna?” Harry asked. “We can deal with them.”

    Ari shook her head, almost violently. “No can deal! Must flee! My tribe coming!”

    “What?” Ron asked.

    She was crying. “My tribe guardians here. No one allowed. You no flee Boiúna, you enter, they know. Now they coming. To kill.”

    “How many are coming?” Harry asked.

    She sniffled.

    “All.”

    Except her, Ron thought.

    *****​
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2018
  2. XanderSan

    XanderSan (The Guy in the Snow)

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    Looking forward to seeing how this goes. To be honest, I was expecting something like 'Hermione takes the place of Lara Croft during a research trip with parents' but this is good too. I hope you go into more detail about the curse breaking side of things.
     
    Starfox5 likes this.
  3. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Well, since this is a sequel to "Petunia Evans, Tomb Raider", that would have been a little awkward. There'll be more details about Curse-Breaking, though I don't want to repeat too much from my latest story, "Harry Potter and the Lady Thief", where breaking through wards was handed in detail.
     
  4. Threadmarks: Chapter 2: Jungle Shuffle
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 2: Jungle Shuffle

    ‘For a civilisation as famous as Atlantis, surprisingly little is known about the Atlanteans. We can be reasonably certain that they were the first amongst the ancient civilisations to learn magic, predating the Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures by at least half a millennium, and that their island was located somewhere in the Atlantic - in or near the Caribbean is the most common assumption, since the few Atlantean ruins that have been discovered were all either in the New World or on the western shores of Africa and Europe. That their island was destroyed in a cataclysm in the late Bronze Age is also generally accepted among scholars, though a few dissenters claim that the entire island was hidden instead - sealed off from the world.
    We know that their contemporaries, namely the Phoenicians, Greek and Egyptians, held them in very high regard and considered them to be the most powerful wizards on earth. However, given the isolated location of Atlantis in a time without sophisticated magical travel, and in light of the fact that they had clashed violently with the very cultures praising their magical prowess, it is hard to say whether those tales have any truth to them or were but attempts to portray any victories against them as even more impressive.
    But even taking this into account, there are several reasons why those assessments of their contemporaries nevertheless seem reasonably well founded. Firstly, the Atlanteans were certainly a very advanced civilisation to be able to create an empire that spanned the Atlantic. They must have had the most seaworthy ships of their time and the magic necessary to navigate the oceans for weeks, if not months, out of sight of any land. Secondly, they had the martial and magical might to conquer and hold territories separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Thirdly, while they didn’t leave anything but ruins devoid of any scripture or magic, myths and legends about them nevertheless span three continents.’

    - Excerpt from ‘Magic: A History Book I: Pre-Wand Civilisations’ by Archibald Bilius Peverell, London, 1832

    *****​

    Amazon Rainforest, August 5th, 2001

    “All of her tribe? How many are they?” Harry asked as Hermione Granger joined her friends. And the native witch.

    “I don’t exactly know - we never visited her village,” Ron said.

    Hermione scowled as she rolled her shoulders to adjust the straps of her backpack. Of course Ari wouldn’t bring Ron to her village if her tribe wanted them gone! A lot of what had seemed like a cultural gap now made much more sense.

    “Five times five times five wands,” Ari answered.

    A hundred and twenty-five wizards and witches. That was worse than Tunis and Constantinople put together. At least numerically. She glared at the witch. “The Boiúna was your attempt to scare us away, wasn’t it?”

    “Yes.” Ari nodded as if it were nothing. “Used scent from other Boiúna. Not know Harry could talk to her.” She shook her head. “Must flee! Quick!”

    “How long until they are here?” Ron asked.

    “Not long.”

    Hermione scoffed. Of course, the tribe wouldn’t have clocks. It didn’t matter. “Let’s get out of here, check the camp if we have time, then apparate.” She should have disabled the Anti-Apparition Wards inside the ruins. It would have taken a few hours longer, but they would have been able to leave immediately.

    “Yes.” Harry nodded. “Let’s go.” He didn’t let Ari out of his sight, Hermione noted. Neither did Ron, though probably not for the same reasons.

    She had to force herself not to rush. Over a hundred wizards descending upon them - in their homeland, where they knew the terrain and Hermione and her friends didn’t - was a daunting prospect. But Ari would have told them if they were already surrounded, wouldn’t she? She might not have a watch, but she certainly had a sense of time - the witch knew how to brew potions, after all, as they had found out two weeks ago, when Ron had needed an antidote to the poison of a magical frog which wasn’t fully countered by a bezoar.

    But if this were a trap, if Ari wanted to lure them into the open, away from cover… It would be the last thing the other witch would have done. Hermione would ensure that.

    But when they reached the exit, no hail of curses met them, nor did their spells reveal anyone hiding in the underbrush surrounding the ruins.

    “Alright,” Harry said, “let’s get to the camp. Keep your eyes open and your wand ready.”

    Hermione snorted - as if she had to be told that. Though that was Harry, exactly the way she loved him.

    But then Ari transformed - or shifted shape. Hermione quickly aimed her wand at the big cat, though the jaguar only flared her nostrils before changing back. “No time! Must flee now! Smelt tribe.”

    Ah. Hermione briefly - very briefly - wondered if she could duplicate that feat with a Supersensory Charm. Then she snapped: “Alright, let’s apparate to the base camp.”

    “I’m not leaving Ari!” Ron declared. He turned to her. “Will you come with us? I can take you with me with Side-Along-Apparition.”

    “Cannot.”

    Hermione clenched her teeth. Taking a member of an Amazon tribe to the settlement in Magical Brazil wasn’t a good idea. But unless Ari’s tribe were more forgiving than Hermione assumed, given everything she had read about the natives of the Amazon rainforest, they couldn’t leave her here.

    “You can’t stay!” Ron exclaimed. “They’ll punish you!”

    “No, no. Cannot disappear,” Ari explained.

    What? Hermione’s eyes widened. She quickly focused on a spot two yards to her left and tried to apparate. She failed. “They’ve blocked Apparition!” she announced.

    “What?” Harry whirled round, his wand flashing. “There’s no Anti-Apparition Jinx!”

    Ron flicked his wand. “No one in range either.”

    Hermione gasped and cast a detection spell of her own. No jinxes. None of the usual spells to prohibit magical transportation. But… “The entire ground is covered by a spell,” she whispered. A similar spell to the ones she had disarmed inside the ruins - but far more powerful. How had she missed that?

    “What?” Harry turned his head. “Does it cover the ruins?”

    “No.” Ari shook her head. “Covers jungle. Domain of tribe. Ritual. No disappear. No fly.”

    A spell that blocked all forms of magical travel, including levitation? And over an area that large? Hermione knew what that meant - they couldn’t flee and were about to be attacked by over a hundred wizards and witches. But she couldn’t help feeling awe at such a feat - the natives of the Amazon rainforest were most certainly not a primitive magical civilisation as some explorers had claimed. This had to be Atlantean magic!

    *****​

    “Where are they coming from?” Harry Potter asked, scanning the treeline closest to their position.

    Ari pointed towards the northern part of the ruins. “Village that way. Flankers, too.”

    “An area of effect that large… how could they have done it? Did it grow slowly over time? But there’s no known way to achieve that,” Hermione muttered.

    They were about to be surrounded, and she was trying to analyse an unknown spell! There had been times when her ability to focus on Curse-Breaking in any situation had saved the three of them, but Harry didn’t think this would be one of them. “We need to move now!” he snapped. “You can analyse the spell later!”

    “Movement in the underbrush!” Ron yelled. “They’re trying to flank us.”

    Or they were trying to herd them into an ambush. But to stay would mean getting surrounded. “Move!” Harry yelled, flicking his wand to conjure a thick, green smoke at the edge of the ruins to break the enemies’ line of sight. “And hex any jaguars on sight!” he added, with some perfectly understandable glee.

    Ron and Ari took point, followed by Hermione, with Harry bringing up the rear. If they could outrun the flanking natives until they entered the jungle, and with Ari as a guide and some - a lot - of conjured obstacles to delay pursuit… It would be close, but doable.

    “Enemies ahead!” Ron yelled, dropping to the ground. A moment later, spells flew towards them, most going wide but one blowing part of the ruins they were using as cover into rubble. More rubble.

    Harry cursed under his breath.

    Ron rolled to the side, behind another part of a still standing wall. “We have to break through their line. If we let them stop us, we’ll be encircled here. We need to get into the jungle!”

    “The jungle is their home!” Harry snapped back as he made his way to Hermione, who was crouching behind a toppled old tree trunk.

    “Yes. But they’ll still have more trouble finding us in there than out here,” Ron snapped. “And Ari can guide us.”

    Which meant that although entering the jungle would put them at a disadvantage, Ron was right. “You break through their lines, I’ll cover us.” He didn’t wait for a reply but started conjuring walls randomly between them and the treelines, leaving the area in front open.

    “I’ll cover them in smoke!” Ron yelled.

    Harry barely noticed him move as he started conjuring snakes. As many as he could. If Ari’s people thought the Boiúna would have scared them away, then let them deal with hundreds of the most venomous snakes Harry knew! Bless Hermione for taking him to the reptile house in London, even if she hadn’t been at all amused at Harry freeing the boa constrictor to take with them to Brazil.

    More spells flew at them, from all sides now, but between the walls and the smoke Ron had cast, none of them came even close to hitting any of the group.

    But that would change as they closed the distance to the jungle and the - presumably - waiting native wizards and witches, Harry knew. If Auntie were here, she would probably rake the treeline with a light machine gun. Make the natives keep their heads down until Harry and his friends had made good their escape. But none of their group was good enough with guns to manage that - between learning magic and tomb raiding, muggle skills had been a little neglected. And Auntie frowned on using automatic weapons without the necessary training, after Sirius’s little incident.

    Fortunately, magic offered alternatives. A series of explosions and faint screams made him glance over his shoulder. As expected, Ron and Hermione had sent Blasting Curses into the canopies of the closest trees, the explosions sending wooden splinters as well as dust, smoke and shredded foliage down on the waiting natives.

    And, apparently, at least two jaguars and a wizard or witch who had been lying in ambush up in said trees. Harry winced at the sight, then clenched his teeth. Ari’s people were trying to kill them; Ari had said so herself. It wasn’t Harry or his friends’ fault at all.

    And the tribe hadn’t even warned them off, first.

    Harry still felt guilty - a little - when he started blowing up the walls he had conjured earlier, to make the other natives closing in on them back off. But as Auntie had taught him - by example, mostly: If someone wanted to hurt you and yours, you only worried about them after you were safe.

    He dashed round another broken pillar, then weaved through some rubble, his wand flashing back and forth, adding more smoke to the area around them, until he caught up to his friends. They were huddled behind one of Hermione’s conjured walls - Harry recognised her style.

    “My walls and snakes won’t stop them for long!” Harry yelled as he jumped into cover next to Hermione.

    “Right,” Ron replied. “We’ve caught them by surprise, but they had a second line ready - and gone to ground. If we charge in, we’ll get swarmed.”

    “Poison too. Darts,” Ari added.

    “Probably from poison dart frogs. Bezoars might not work.” Hermione’s comment was as informative as it was unhelpful.

    “We could use fire to drive them away,” Hermione ventured.

    “Fire no good. Easy handled.” Ari shot the idea down, earning her a frown.

    And Fiendfyre, which wasn’t easily rendered harmless with a spell, would turn on them, Harry knew. They wouldn’t be able to escape in the middle of a forest. Not with magical travel blocked.

    But time was running out - there were Blasting Curses going off behind him; the tribe must have encountered his snakes. Snakes…

    Harry grinned, baring his teeth. “I know what we’ll do! Hermione, cast the strongest Engorgement Charm you can! Ron, you need to cast a Colour Change Charm and turn it black as soon as I’m done.”

    “What?” Ron blinked. Hermione, a little quicker to realise Harry’s plan, cursed.

    He grinned and flicked his wand. “Serpensortia!”

    A moment later, a green anaconda, the biggest snake native to South America, appeared in front of him. Ari hissed and took a step back, but Ron was already casting, turning the snake’s scales black.

    “What?” the snake asked, confused.

    “Wait,” Harry told her. He nodded at Hermione, but she had anticipated him. A swish of her wand turned the snake from large to huge and made Ari whimper.

    The anaconda didn’t look exactly like a Boiúna, but with all the smoke filling the area, it would be impossible to tell the difference. Harry grinned as he conjured a small set of stairs and mounted the animal, using a Sticking Charm to stay on top of her. “All aboard!”

    Hermione joined him at once. She wrapped her arms around him for a brief hug, squeezing his free hand. Ron took a little longer - he had to practically push the trembling Ari - but they managed.

    Harry’s grin grew wider as he addressed their new mount: “Charge!”

    And then they were racing through the rest of the ruins into the jungle. Screams and yells rose up in front of them as the giant snake smashed through the underbrush, breaking younger, smaller trees as if they were twigs. Harry saw a dozen natives scatter in panic, only a few of them having the presence of mind to send spells at the group. He returned fire, stunning a witch who held her ground, before they were past the tribe’s line and inside the jungle proper.

    Just as Harry had planned.

    *****​

    Ron Weasley had experienced a lot in his life, despite his young age. Riding a giant snake through the jungle while being chased by a tribe of hostile wizards and witches was a new experience, though. One he could have done without, too. But as much as he’d like to blame Harry for coming up with yet another crazy plan that endangered them, he had to admit that it had gotten their small group out of a quite sticky situation.

    But as Harry’s plans were wont to be, it wasn’t perfect. After they had recovered from the shock, the natives had given chase. And the giant snake left a matching trail - Ari’s people couldn’t miss it, and while the engorged anaconda was much faster than anyone unfamiliar with snakes would expect, it wasn’t faster than sprinting jaguars. Especially in the jungle.

    “Hold tight!” he said to a still shivering Ari in front of him - she was stuck to the snake like the rest of them, but she might dispel that - and twisted his upper body until he could look behind him. Yes, there were jaguars behind them - and gaining.

    Gritting his teeth, he reached into his enchanted pocket - a birthday gift from Hermione - and pulled out a handful of caltrops. The next time their mount bucked, going over a rock, he threw the caltrops into the air, then flicked his wand, multiplying them by the dozens. He cast a Banishing Charm right afterwards but didn’t manage to time it just right, catching them on the way down and sending them into the ground behind them rather than further back.

    Cursing, he conjured a cloud of smoke over the area. A few more such clouds followed, without caltrops - if a native stepped on a caltrop in the first cloud, they’d be wary of the next ones. Or so he hoped - Ari’s tribe might be too fanatical to care.

    Best to go with the worst case. “We’ll need to lose them!” he yelled. “Get off the snake and let them chase it while we sneak away!”

    “We’ll need decoys on the snake,” Hermione replied.

    Ron shook his head even though she wasn’t looking at him. “We’ll be invisible beforehand!” He didn’t wait for an answer and cast a Disillusionment Charm on himself, then on Ari. By the time he finished casting a Human-Presence-revealing Spell, Harry and Hermione had disappeared as well, only floating markers showing their location.

    With a little luck, the tribe would think they jumped off already and stop to look for their tracks. Although with dozens of them chasing after Ron and his friends, they could spare a number for that and keep up the pursuit. “We still need to escape and evade them!” he yelled.

    “Not fast enough,” Ari said. “No good in jungle.”

    He knew that. But they couldn’t stay on the snake - not when a single Finite might turn it back into a normal-sized one. Sooner or later, someone would get close enough. If they had a muggle car… no, the jungle was too dense for that. Bikes would work, but they didn’t have those either - an oversight they’d have to correct at the earliest opportunity. Provided they survived this.

    He tried to think of a way to escape as the snake traversed another clearing. They didn’t have a muggle balloon, and creating one with magic would take too long. And he couldn’t think of any other muggle vehicle that might…

    His eyes widened. “Hermione! Do you have the zodiac?”

    “Yes!”

    “Ari, is there a river nearby? A rapid one?” Ron asked. They could do this!

    “Yes.”

    Perfect. “Tell us how to get there!” he yelled. “Then we’ll jump off and use the zodiac to flee!”

    With Ari’s shouted directions, which Harry relayed to the snake, it took them about five minutes to reach the small river. “Get off!” Ron yelled, undoing the Sticking Charm that held him on the snake as it slid into the water. By the time he pushed off, his feet and lower legs were already underwater.

    A moment later, a zodiac appeared in the middle of the river - Hermione must have jumped off rather than slid off. Ron quickly swam towards it - the current was already dragging it away, so he had to exert himself more than expected. Judging by the markers he saw, Hermione and Harry were already in it. That left him and Ari. And Ari had transformed to swim faster.

    “Hurry!” Hermione yelled.

    Something hit the water next to his head. Then something else, even closer. Darts, Ron realised. Poisoned darts. He redoubled his efforts. But he was still trailing behind the zodiac when Ari climbed inside - fortunately, the rubber had been reinforced so her claws didn’t shred it.

    Suddenly, he felt his shirt and pants drag him along - halfway out of the water. A second later, he crashed into the boat, bruising his shoulder and ribs against the wooden bench. Harry’s Summoning Charms were very powerful but not as precise as they could be. Or gentle.

    He groaned but got up despite the pain just as Hermione started the engine. “Can we lose them?”

    “We have to,” Harry told him. He turned to Ari. “Where does your tribe’s territory end?”

    The witch changed back. “After fall.”

    “Fall?” Ron had a sinking feeling in his stomach.

    She nodded. “Yes. Water fall.”

    Ron cursed. No one had said anything about a waterfall!

    “And the spell ends at the waterfall?” Hermione asked.

    “Spell?” Ari asked.

    “I can see it,” Harry yelled. “Drop the Disillusionment Charms!”

    Ron looked up, then cursed again and did so. There was the waterfall. And they were racing towards it, caught in the current.

    “The spell that blocks magical travel!” Hermione yelled.

    “Yes. After fall,” Ari replied.

    Ron looked at Harry. They could still get off. Banish a rope to the rocks at the riverbank. Stick it there, and use it to drag themselves out of the water. But Ari’s tribe was still too close. He nodded.

    Harry nodded back. “Everyone, hold on to the zodiac! We’re gonna fly!”

    “No!” Hermione yelled.

    But no one was listening to her. Ron grabbed Ari and held her, one arm wound around the rope tied to the bench. And Harry was pushing Hermione down, cutting off whatever she was about to say.

    Then they shot out over the waterfall.

    “Wingardium Leviosa!”

    And kept going.

    *****​

    Hermione Granger clenched her teeth as the zodiac she, her friends and Ari were riding shot out over the cliff and started to fall. She had to cast a spell, and Harry lying on top of her with all his weight - their Shield Charms having cancelled each other out - wasn’t helping. Although now that they were falling, she had enough leverage to push him...

    “Wingardium Leviosa!” Harry yelled.

    A moment later, her breath was forced out of her chest as the zodiac stopped falling and Harry’s full weight was pressed onto her again. And he didn’t immediately get off once the zodiac’s flight stabilised.

    She rammed her elbow into his ribs, causing him to groan - and, finally, get off her - and she managed to breathe again.

    “Hermione, please don’t hit Harry when he’s keeping us from falling to our deaths.”

    She glared at Ron as she sat up. “He was suffocating me.”

    “Sorry.”

    Harry didn’t sound sorry. But he was focusing on steering their improvised flying device.

    “Are they still chasing us?” she asked, looking back at the top of the waterfall. “Or will they give up now that we have left their territory?”

    “Don’t see anyone there. But if they disillusioned themselves…” Ron let out his breath.

    “Chase you still,” Ari said.

    “Then we need to land at once, so we can apparate.” Hermione bit her lower lip, then forced herself to stop - that was a bad idea while flying. Especially with Harry steering. Madam Pomfrey hadn’t been amused at having to fix her lip in fourth year.

    “We can apparate right now,” Ron said.

    “I’m not losing the zodiac,” Hermione told him. “We already lost the tent.” And her spare travel library with it. Granted, she had another in her backpack, but still… It was the principle of the thing.

    “Alright. Hold on!”

    Hermione barely had time to grab the rope wrapped around the bench after hearing Harry’s words before the zodiac dived down towards the river - as fast as, or even faster than, Harry in a Wronski Feint.

    Fortunately, Ari’s screams drowned out Hermione’s own.

    They landed in the river, hard enough to throw her off the bench, and with a splash that left everyone drenched. Hermione refrained from drying herself off and checking for leeches. There were more important things to worry about right now. “We need to reach the riverbank!” she yelled, finally recasting her Shield Charm. They had to get away before the natives arrived and blocked magical travel again. She pushed Ron and Ari away and lunged for the engine, which was, fortunately, still running.

    “Don’t see any pursuit,” Harry said. “Nothing in range.”

    Ari changed, then changed back. “No smell but wind wrong.”

    “At least there’s no ambush waiting, then,” Ron said.

    Then they hit the riverbank, and Hermione jumped out of the zodiac. “Hurry!” she yelled, even though the others already out. She quickly shrunk the zodiac and stuffed it into her backpack. “Base camp, now!” she snapped, then focused on the destination.

    A moment later, she felt the familiar sensation of being pushed through a small pipe, then she appeared in a clearing hundreds of miles away.

    Popping noises announced the arrival of Harry, Ron and Ari. Hermione sighed with relief and pulled her backpack off.

    She had to set up her spare tent set. And check her friends and herself for wounds and leeches.

    *****​

    An hour later, the camp was set, and everyone was healed, dry and free of parasites - there hadn’t been leeches, but, apparently, the river had been infected with a magical variant of water fleas that liked human blood. Nothing an ointment couldn’t handle, though.

    After a last check with a magic mirror for anything stuck in her hair, Hermione Granger left her and Harry’s room in the tent. Harry was already cooking in the tent’s kitchen, and the smell of frying meat - chicken - made her realise just how hungry she was.

    “Forgot to eat again, hm?” he asked with a smile.

    She snorted - Harry knew her too well. “You were with me the whole day; you didn’t notice either.”

    He laughed. “Guilty as charged!”

    She stepped up to him, wrapped her arms around his chest from behind and rested her chin on his shoulder. “The discovery of a century is just too distracting,” she said.

    “Did you check what we found yet?”

    “No. I wanted to ask Ari a few questions first.” Since her tribe apparently guarded the ruins, they might know more about the group’s findings. The scrolls hadn’t been cursed - but they were dealing with magic lost millennia ago.

    He nodded. “She’s outside with Ron. I’ll be done in ten minutes.”

    “That’ll be long enough,” she said, placing a kiss on his neck before stepping away.

    He snorted, clearly not believing her, and she pouted - that had only happened one time! Two times, but it hadn’t been her fault. Or three, at most.

    Huffing, she left the tent. Ron and Ari were outside - her friend was sitting on a tree trunk, with the witch in his lap, whispering in her ear. Hermione refrained from frowning. The native witch had warned them, after all. If more than a little late. And she had conjured some clothes after losing her loincloth in her transformations earlier.

    Hermione cleared her throat as she approached them. Ron turned to look at her. “Dinner time?”

    “In ten,” she replied, then conjured a low chair for herself and sat. “But I’ve got a few questions.” More than a few, actually - but some could wait.

    Ari looked at her. “What?”

    Hermione knew that the other witch didn’t speak English very well, but even taking that into account, Ari sounded a little rude. “Why was your tribe attacking us?”

    “You no leave ruins.”

    She forced herself to smile. “I mean: Why couldn’t we explore the ruins?”

    “No one allowed. We guard it.”

    Hermione frowned. “But why is no one allowed?”

    “Danger. Great danger.”

    Her eyes widened slightly. “Danger? Do you mean the wards?” No, that didn’t make any sense - the natives had attacked them; they hadn’t tried to save them.

    Ari shook her head wildly, her long hair hitting Ron in the face. “No. Danger buried there. No one but masters allowed. We guard.”

    “The masters? The Atlanteans? Your tribe was ordered to guard the outpost by the Atlanteans?”

    Ari was the one frowning now. “What Atlanteans?”

    Hermione took a deep breath before she lost her patience. “Those who told you to guard the place, were they the ones who built it?”

    “I not know. Masters made us.”

    Hermione blinked. ‘Made’? Had the Atlanteans created a magical race? But how… That was… It would explain their shapeshifting talent. Unless she misunderstood Ari - there still was a language barrier, and they were discussing magical concepts and history. But…

    She opened her mouth to ask a clarifying question...

    ...and was interrupted by Harry.

    “Dinner!”

    *****​

    “We really need an expedition vehicle,” Harry Potter said as he served dinner with a flick of his wand. “One like Auntie and Sirius have - or a better one.”

    “We would have lost it today,” Ron replied as he picked two steaks for himself, then put two more down on Ari’s plate. “No roads to use, and we couldn’t fly away.”

    “Then we need an amphibious vehicle. One that can swim,” Harry added when he saw Ron’s puzzled look.

    “Ah.” His friend nodded. “That would work, yes.” He grabbed the bowl with the mashed potatoes.

    “We have more important things to talk about than cars,” Hermione said, frowning at them, then looking at Ari. “We need to know what this ‘danger’ is that your tribe is supposedly guarding. And who your masters are or were.”

    Ron returned her frown, then smiled at Ari. “First, I think, we need to know what happened between you and your tribe, Ari.”

    The witch nodded. “Tribe wanted kill you. I didn’t.”

    “So you rushed to warn us.” Ron reached out and held her hand.

    She nodded.

    “And what will happen now? Will your tribe punish you?”

    Harry thought the answer to that question was obvious. Judging by Hermione’s expression, she shared his opinion.

    “I betrayed tribe. They kill me.” Ari slowly nodded.

    “They won’t.” Ron shook his head. “We won’t let them.”

    “You leave.”

    “You can come with us.” Ron - belatedly, in Harry’s opinion - looked at him and Hermione. Ron’s expression clearly told them that they better agree with him, or else.

    Harry dutifully nodded as he started to eat. Ari had warned them - and risked her own life for them. There was hardly a better test for her loyalty. “Of course.”

    Hermione nodded as well, though a little slower. And Harry didn’t think that that was due to her eating.

    “Cannot leave,” Ari said, shaking her head.

    “Of course you can - we already left your territory,” Ron insisted.

    She kept shaking her head. “Not allowed.”

    “Why not?” Ron asked the question Harry wanted to ask.

    “Masters’ orders.”

    “Your ‘masters’ are still around?” Ron blinked.

    “When was the last time you saw them?” Hermione added before Ari could answer.

    “They left. Long, long ago. Will return.”

    Hermione scoffed. “If your masters were the Atlanteans, then they won’t return. Atlantis sank millennia ago.”

    “Masters won’t drown.”

    Ari looked resolute, Harry thought. Almost as stubborn as Hermione, when she thought she was right. Which, he had to admit, she often was.

    “Did your masters build the ruins we explored?” Ron asked.

    “Yes.”

    “You said they ‘made’ you,” Hermione had stopped eating. “How?”

    “Magic.”

    Harry had to refrain from grinning at Hermione’s expression. The witch scowled. “Yes, that’s a given. But what did they do to ‘make’ you?”

    Ari didn’t answer right away. She was clenching her teeth and looking away, Harry noticed.

    “You don’t have to tell us,” Ron said, squeezing her hand.

    “It secret,” Ari said.

    “Like the ruins?” Hermione asked.

    Ari glared at her, and, for a moment, Harry feared the other witch would attack Hermione. He grabbed his wand, just in case. But after a moment, Ari sighed. “Not same.”

    “What is more important, keeping the secret of your origin, or keeping the ruins safe?” Hermione leaned forward - she was never one to back down when she wanted to learn something. “If you were made to guard the ruins, then the ruins’ secret is more important, right?”

    “Danger.” But Ari nodded. “More important.”

    “And we already explored the ruins and found the archives.” Hermione’s smile wasn’t quite triumphant, but it came very close. “There’s no point in guarding the ruins any longer.”

    It wasn’t quite true - they hadn’t searched the whole area for more rooms hidden underground. But Harry understood Hermione’s plan.

    Ari, though, glared at her and bared her teeth. Ron squeezed her hand again. “You don’t have to answer her question. She’s just very determined to know everything.”

    Harry reached over to squeeze Hermione’s thigh before she could contradict Ron. That earned him a glare, but he merely smiled in return. Ari was, if not everyone’s friend, certainly Ron’s girlfriend and not a stranger.

    “The Atlanteans are gone. They haven’t been seen in millennia,” Hermione tried again. “You do not need to keep their secrets any longer. You’re free.”

    “I cannot leave. Danger.”

    “What danger is there? To you? To others?”

    “To tribe.”

    Harry saw Hermione clench her teeth and patted her thigh. “Let’s drop the subject and eat.”

    The others agreed, though it was a far quieter meal than usual. At least until the pudding.

    *****​

    Ron Weasley loved his friends, but sometimes, he could hex them. Hermione was too stubborn when it came to acquiring knowledge, and Harry tended to indulge her because Hermione often managed to find clues about lost tombs. But this time, she wasn’t browbeating a greedy wizard in Constantinople trying to fleece them but Ari, who had chosen to betray her people to save Ron and his friends. The witch deserved better than that.

    He finished the treacle tart Harry had made and stood. “Let’s go for a walk, Ari.”

    After a moment’s hesitation, she nodded. “Yes.”

    Hermione opened her mouth, but a glare from Ron shut her up. “We’ll be back later.”

    Outside, he took a deep breath, then turned to Ari with a smile. “Sorry about that. She tends to get a little fixated on what she wants to know.”

    “Ah.”

    They walked over to the other end of the clearing, to the edge of the wards Hermione had placed around their camp. “You know, we’ve dealt with danger before,” he said after a moment of silence.

    Ari didn’t say anything. She was looking up at the sky, where the first stars were appearing as the sun was setting.

    Ron waited. He knew better than to push her.

    She sighed and turned to look at him. He saw her eyes reflect the dimming light, like a cat’s. “You no understand.”

    Ron nodded. And waited. She had chosen him and his friends over her tribe once already.

    Ari looked away again and ran her hands over her arms. “Master chose us. Made us.”

    He nodded again, schooling his features.

    “Chose fiercest beasts in jungle. Made us.”

    Ron’s eyes widened. “Jaguars?”

    She nodded, once more looking at him. “Masters changed us. Gave this body.” She placed her hand on her chest.

    “Ah.” That explained it.

    “We jaguars. Look human. Understand?”

    “Yes. But you also act like humans. Talk like humans.” Ron smiled. “Human enough for me.”

    “But no humans!” she hissed. “Jaguars.”

    He shrugged. “One of my teachers was a half-giant, another a half-goblin.”

    “What giant? Goblin?”

    Ah. “Goblins are small people with sharp teeth and long ears.” He conjured a rock, then transfigured it into a statue of a goblin. “They look like this.”

    She hissed. “Bad spirit!”

    “Well, they are rather grumpy and greedy,” Ron agreed. “And giants look like this.” He transfigured the statue. Just as tall as this tree there.” He pointed at a tree nearby.

    She blinked. “That tall?”

    “Yes.”

    She stared at him with her mouth open. “Know half-giant?”

    “Yes.” He grinned. “I didn’t ask how his parents did it.”

    She nodded, grimacing.

    “He’s not the only one - the headmistress of a school is also a half-giant. And my brother’s married to a half-bird.” Though no one would dare call Fleur a ‘half-bird’ to her face.

    “Half-bird?”

    “She is a Veela. They can change from human to bird and back.”

    “Oh. Like us.”

    “Perhaps. No one knows.” If the Veela knew then they hadn’t told anyone. Although… if the Atlanteans had created Ari’s people, they might have created the Veela as well.

    “Your brother married bird.”

    “Yes.” He really hoped Fleur would never find out what he’d said. “My family doesn’t mind. Neither do my friends.”

    “Ah.” She nodded, brushing a strand of her hair back behind her ear. “But birds aren’t dangerous. Jaguars are.”

    “She can throw fireballs,” Ron replied. “And she’s French. She’s very dangerous.”

    “Oh.”

    He pressed on. “And the best friend of Harry’s father is a werewolf.”

    “Werewolf?”

    “He changes to a wolf-monster under the full moon.”

    “Like us?”

    “No. It’s a curse.”

    “Ah.”

    “So, you see - you can come with us.” He smiled at her and reached out, placing his hand on her shoulder. “You won’t be alone.”

    He felt her tense as he took a step, putting both hands on her shoulders, facing her directly. “Your nature doesn’t change anything. Not for me, not for my friends, not for my family.” Well, Ginny and Luna would be as bad as Hermione about a new species. But they weren’t here, and Ron could explain that later. Much later.

    She drew a deep breath, then embraced him, wrapping her arms around him with enough force to make it uncomfortable. He didn’t mind, though - she needed this. Needed him. She didn’t cry, but he heard her sniffle as she buried her face in his chest and he ran his hands over her back.

    They stood like that for some time, and he felt her slowly relax in his embrace until she raised her face at him.

    “You sure Harry no half-snake?”

    *****​

    Amazon Rainforest, August 6th, 2001

    “Transfigured jaguars…” Hermione Granger shook her head as she pushed her teacup, left over from breakfast an hour ago, a little further away, making room on her desk for more notes. “No, it can’t be a simple transfiguration.”

    “I wouldn’t call creating a new species ‘simple’,” Harry said from his desk, where he was writing a letter to Petunia and Sirius.

    “I would, actually,” Hermione replied. “By all accounts, the Quintapeds were created by a family of rather inept wizards, and they are supposedly breeding true.” She sighed. “But, while they are considered a magical creature, they do not show any particularly magical talent or power. Ari’s people, however, are not only able to shapeshift into jaguar forms - or into human form, if her tribe’s legends are indeed correct - but can use wands. That goes far beyond what you can achieve with transfiguration.”

    “What we can achieve with transfiguration. The Atlanteans might have been able to do more - they are supposed to have mastered magic like no one else,” Harry said.

    Hermione sniffed. “That was the opinion of their contemporaries, the Egyptian wizards, and the Ancient Greeks - and we know that their knowledge of magic was rather limited compared to ours. What was impressive to them would be rather primitive today. None of them had wands, after all. And the protections on the ruins, while very powerful due to their age, were not as advanced as contemporary wards.”

    “And yet you don’t know how to recreate Ari’s species,” Harry retorted with his familiar grin.

    She scowled. “Crossbreeding species has been banned for good reason. And I focused my studies on Arithmancy, not on Care of Magical Creatures.”

    “You didn’t neglect it either, though.”

    “Of course not!” As if she’d neglect any subject! “But it’s not my strongest field.” Then she slumped. “But yes, I can’t think of a way to duplicate such a feat. Jaguars aren’t a species that can breed with humans, unlike goblins and giants.”

    “Or Veela,” Harry said.

    She glared at him - she knew what he meant. “The similarities between Ari’s tribe and the Veela are obvious.”

    “Can’t wait to ask Fleur about this,” Harry said, chuckling. “Or Luna and Ginny.”

    “I think they’d be a little biased,” Hermione said. The two witches still hadn’t really warmed up to Fleur. “And Fleur might not want to talk about her species’s origin. If she even knows anything but legends - the Veela have been around for as long as Ari’s tribe.”

    “Which is interesting in itself,” Harry remarked.

    “While I’m certain that ‘Atlanteans created the Veela’ would be a very nice headline for The Quibbler, contrary to popular belief, Mr Lovegood requires more than mere speculation to publish an article,” Hermione pointed out.

    “But that means that the Atlanteans could know magic we don’t,” Harry said.

    “Yet,” she corrected him.

    “And then there are the wards Ari’s tribe used,” he added, “that covered their entire territory - and which were not part of the ruins’ protections.”

    “They might have been growing more powerful - covering a larger area - with age,” she said. Then she sighed. “But, yes, I admit - this might be of more than purely historical interest.”

    “No treasure, though.”

    “Knowledge is the greatest treasure,” she retorted.

    “The goblins disagree,” he replied.

    “Sod the goblins!” She scowled. “They only care about gold and precious metal.”

    “And about screwing over wizards and witches,” Harry added.

    “Another reason for not working for them.”

    “That’s not possible as long as they have the monopoly for excavations in Egypt.”

    “I know.” She sighed. At least this expedition wasn’t on behalf of Gringotts.

    “But neither the goblin’s greed nor the nature of Ari’s origin are the reason for your current mood, are they?”

    She sighed again. “It’s the scrolls and tablets we took. I thought my knowledge of ancient runes would be enough to decipher them since I thought I recognised some of them. But it’s not enough.”

    “Ah.” He nodded. “I see.”

    She frowned at him.

    “Which means you’ll have to ask Ari for help.”

    She glared at him. He didn’t have to say it out loud.

    And he most certainly didn’t have to smile.

    *****​

    “This ‘protection’. This ‘blood’. This ‘land’. This ‘magic’.”

    Hermione Granger took notes as Ari labelled rune after rune. The other witch couldn’t read the Atlantean script, but she knew many of the runes as ‘holy symbols’ used by her tribe’s shaman or loremaster. Hermione still didn’t know if Ari really were the descendant of a transfigured jaguar, but there was no doubt that the connection between her tribe and the Atlanteans reached back as far as the time of Atlantis. They hadn’t simply stumbled upon some old ruins and decided to guard them after encountering lethal wards, which had been one of Hermione’s alternative theories.

    “This ‘fire’. This ‘mountain’. That all.”

    That was all? Those were barely two dozen runes. Hermione forced herself to smile. “Thank you. That was very helpful.”

    Ari nodded at her. They stared at each other for a moment.

    “You his friend.”

    “And you’re his lover,” Hermione replied. And that was the extent of their relationship - both cared for Ron, but not for each other.

    Ari nodded again and left Hermione’s room - presumably to rejoin Ron, who was writing letters to his family while Harry cooked.

    Hermione studied the scrolls she had again, comparing them to her notes. Some looked like trade receipts. Probably. And that would indicate other outposts. But she had no way of finding them. If only there were a map among the documents they had recovered. Or a manual for the crystal ball. Or even a reference she could link to a known location. She was certain that one rune was the name of the ruins - it appeared on top of what had to be supply lists, and very often in other documents, and she had seen it on the walls as well - but without a reference or any other way to gauge whatever units the Atlanteans used to measure distances it wouldn’t tell her anything.

    Fire...mountain… Hermione blinked. “Volcano.” She nodded. “Fire mountain - that has to be a volcano. And that means…” She quickly looked through the stack of notes - copies of the original scrolls she had recovered; only a fool would risk original artefacts unnecessarily. There! And there!

    Those had to be two different volcanoes - and that had to be the distances that separated both from the ruins in the jungle.

    She got up and rushed out of her room.

    “Harry! Ron! I need an atlas of the Caribbean! I found another outpost!”

    *****​
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2019
  5. RedX

    RedX Know what you're doing yet?

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    Very interesting so far. I find myself split between "the Atlanteans really were that good', 'the Atlanteans were just good for their time and had a few neat tricks", and... the dark horse theory... "the Atlanteans really were that good, because they were time-displaced wizards from The Future".
     
    Najdrox, wichajster and Starfox5 like this.
  6. Threadmarks: Chapter 3: Cut-throat Island
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 3: Cut-throat Island

    ‘The Caribbean Sea might be famous - or infamous, at least in many civilised magical nations - for the houngans who rule several of its islands, but, contrary to popular opinion, the territories controlled by houngans, chief among them Jamaica and Hispaniola, actually make up only a small part of the area. As one of the first parts of the New World to be conquered by the Conquistadores, many of the islands were parts of Spain for centuries, and the greater part of them, in particular Cuba, are still under Spanish control.
    A very significant fraction of the magical settlements in the Caribbean, however, are composed of small enclaves, often founded by pirates in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. While a number of them have been destroyed in the conflicts of the New World, many more have managed to survive the area’s more violent conflicts and are nowadays considered members in good standing of the International Confederation of Wizards.
    That recognition, bitterly fought by Spain and many of the other already established countries in the New World, was greatly facilitated, of course, by the fact that large-scale piracy, persistent rumours to the contrary notwithstanding, died out in the nineteenth century due to various causes, which forced the economies of these enclaves to adapt. These days, fishing, potion ingredients and even tourism have replaced piracy as the main source of income for most Caribbean nations. However, an independent traveller would be well-advised to keep their wand ready when sailing the Caribbean Sea, as smaller acts of piracy still occur quite frequently, and not all kidnappings can be blamed on the houngans’ traditional way of recruiting new apprentices.’

    - Excerpt from ‘Atlas of the Magical New World’ by Melchior Steiner, Berlin, 1954

    *****​

    Trinidad, Cumucurapo, August 10th, 2001

    “We should have hired a muggle skipper,” Harry Potter muttered as he shifted his weight on a wooden chair in what was said to be the best tavern in the capital of Magical Trinidad. Since the tavern made the Leaky Cauldron look like a luxury restaurant, Harry didn’t want to visit the other taverns. “I don’t like dealing with people who still dress like pirates.” And probably acted like them as well.

    Hermione frowned at him. “We talked about this already - we can’t use magic around a muggle skipper, and that would make it very difficult to find the outpost’s ruins. Especially if they are protected by Muggle-Repelling Charms.” Ron opened his mouth, but she glared at him. “And we’re not going to obliviate people we hire of everything they saw and did.”

    “I was about to say that the Atlanteans didn’t have to use Muggle-Repelling Charms since there was no Statute of Secrecy to enforce,” Ron said, “so there shouldn’t be any.”

    Harry saw Hermione blink. Then she slowly nodded. “That’s a good point, though they might have still used such charms to keep muggle intruders away.”

    “They might not have known such jinxes,” Harry cut in.

    Hermione frowned some more. He knew she was caught between agreeing with him and contradicting him. The former would support her stance that the Atlanteans’ magical knowledge was not as advanced as their own, the latter would allow her to avoid admitting that it was unlikely that there would be Muggle-Repelling Charms at the ruins of the outpost - or even port - they were seeking. Quite the quandary for her.

    After a moment, she sighed. “I guess we can’t tell for certain until we reach the location.” With a glare at Ron, she added: “That means we cannot risk taking a muggle with us.”

    Ron grinned. “I wasn’t the one who proposed that.” He looked at Ari. “I prefer not to hide our magic. Especially since you’re not yet used to mingling with muggles.”

    The witch nodded. “But I no like - I don’t like - mingling with people here,” she said. Harry saw her nostrils flare. “Smelly.” She glared at Harry. “And no jinx!”

    Harry refrained from correcting her, even though the Bubble-Head Charm wasn’t a jinx, no matter how much Ari likened it to a blinding hex when he had cast it on her for the first and, so far, only time. “No jinx,” he agreed with a toothy smile.

    Her glare intensified. “And no mocking, either!”

    “Yes, Harry. I don’t think you’d do half as well as Ari when learning an entirely new language,” Ron added.

    Harry frowned in return. His friend had grown rather protective of a witch who had almost mauled Harry with her claws twice.

    “Oh, stop sulking!” Hermione shook her head. “We just need to hire a skipper with a boat and then we can leave this… location.”

    “And dress normal again.” Ari nodded, pulling at the shirt Hermione had duplicated for her.

    Harry almost chuckled at Hermione’s change of expression. “Those clothes are normal,” she said, pursing her lips.

    “No other wear these,” Ari replied, looking around.

    “They’re normal muggle clothes,” Hermione explained.

    “We no muggles. They no muggles.”

    “And it’s a traditional outfit for Curse-Breakers.” Hermione’s smile looked both forced and too toothy, in Harry’s opinion.

    “Curse-breaking clothes?” Ari looked surprised.

    “Harry’s aunt is a famous tomb raider and wears the same clothes,” Hermione said. “And she’s a squib.”

    Ari gaped - first at Hermione, then at Harry. “You half-squid?”

    Harry sighed as Ron and Hermione laughed. “A squib can see magic, but cannot use magic,” he explained.

    “Muggle.”

    “Not exactly.” He shook his head. “Muggle-Repelling Charms do not work on them.”

    “Half-muggle?”

    “No. Well, yes, in a certain way,” Harry admitted.

    Fortunately, a man approaching their table interrupted Harry’s increasingly confusing explanation. He was dressed like most residents of the town - like a pirate, in other words - and when he smiled at them, gold teeth flashed.

    “I’m Cap’n Ryan. Heard yuh lookin’ fuh a good ship.” He tipped his broad-brimmed hat. “Dancing River de bes yacht fuh hire in de Caribbean.”

    Harry was very strongly tempted to ask if she had made the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs, but managed to control himself.

    Though, looking the man over, Harry couldn’t help wishing once more that they could hire a muggle skipper instead. Or knew how to handle a yacht themselves.

    *****​

    “Dancing River take yuh anywhere on de Seven Seas, no matter de weather. Her charms widstan hurricane dat blow away de big muggle ships, an she never meet a Spanish patrol she could nah easily outrun. Whatever be in her hold reach its destination, me word on it.”

    Ron Weasley didn’t like ‘Cap’n Ryan’. The man’s bragging reminded him of McLaggen, which wasn’t a good thing. Of course, McLaggen had been almost as good as he’d claimed at Quidditch and had almost secured them the cup when Harry and Ron had had to quit the team to fight in the war against Voldemort. But that had been Quidditch - this was Curse-Breaking. And ‘almost’ breaking a curse usually had the same result as completely failing to break that curse - death.

    On the other hand, all they needed from Ryan was transportation. And Ron had asked around - according to what he had heard, Ryan wasn’t as good a sailor as he claimed, but he was among the more experienced captains on the Caribbean Sea. And he didn’t have a reputation as a pirate, even though he certainly looked like one. Although that might just be the local fashion.

    He cleared his throat. “We only want a cruise around the Caribbean, nothing involving smuggling or trans-Atlantic shipping.” Not that Ron knew anyone who would actually ship anything with a ship when there were other forms of transport available. Even muggle planes were faster.

    “A A, treasure hunters.” Ryan also grinned too often for Ron’s taste.

    “What makes you say that?” Harry asked with a frown.

    “Yuh de Boy-Who-Lived. Nephew of Dr Evans,” Ryan replied. “Curse-Breaker fuh Gringotts. I don’ tink yuh be on vacation here.”

    “I didn’t think you’d read the Prophet in Trinidad,” Harry said with a deep frown.

    Ryan shrugged. “Everyone in de Caribbean keep tab on Dumbledore - if dey smart. When he die, de houngan go back to dey old habits, an ting be interesting in dis corner of de world.” He cocked his head. “More interesting dan usual, at leas.”

    Hermione muttered something about Skeeter Ron didn’t catch, but, judging by her scowl, it wasn’t complimentary - his friend had hated Skeeter ever since that ‘gold-digger’ article.

    Ari looked lost. “Dumbledore?”

    Before Ron could answer, Ryan whistled. “Yuh no hear of Dumbledore? Yuh live under a rock? Or…” His eyes narrowed. “Perhaps isolated? In de jungle?”

    “No business of yours,” Ari spat, baring her teeth.

    “Eh-Eh! Looking fuh El Dorado, is we?” Ryan chuckled. “I tink you be more smart dan dat, Mr Potter. No one ever foun de city. An yuh know why? Because it don’ exist. It be ruse to lure de Conquistador into de jungle, where dey die.”

    “Wrong!” Ari snapped.

    “We’re not looking for El Dorado,” Harry said.

    “Of course not. But yuh lookin’ fuh someting.” Ryan was still grinning.

    Ron really didn’t like the man. But now he knew too much - or thought he knew too much. “We’re looking for a discreet and skilled skipper,” Ron said. “For two weeks, maybe longer if the fancy strikes us.”

    “Well, long as yuh pay, de Dancing River take yuh anywhere yuh wan’ go.”

    Ron looked at his friends. Hermione was pursing her lips, but she wouldn’t want to go back on her decision to hire a wizard skipper. Harry was frowning, but he hadn’t sent the other wizard away - probably aware, like Ron, that if they did that, Ryan would spread the story to anyone who bought him a drink. Ron nodded at Harry when their eyes met - he didn’t like Ryan, and he didn’t trust the man very far, either, but he was certain that any one of their group could defeat Ryan without help should that become necessary. And that would mean they would get to save on his fee, and might even keep the boat.

    He didn’t check with Ari - his girlfriend was too inexperienced with anything outside the rainforest to be able to make an informed decision here.

    Harry leaned forward. “So, let’s talk gold.”

    *****​

    “I no trust man,” Ari stated as soon as they had left the tavern. “Greedy. Smelly. Like Conquistadores.”

    Ron Weasley chuckled a little. “Well, the Conquistadores are long since gone.”

    “Technically, the name merely fell into disuse - the Spanish soldiers still exist,” Hermione cut in.

    “Yes!” Ari agreed at once. “Need guard jungle.”

    “I need to guard the jungle,” Ron corrected her.

    She nodded. “Still no trust man.”

    “Do not trust that man,” Ron said.

    She smiled at him. “Exactly.” He narrowed his eyes at her, and she giggled. Obviously, she was making great progress in English.

    “So, what do you think Ryan will attempt? Demand more money once we find something? Demand a cut? Steal our gear? Poison our meals?” Harry asked.

    “Call in his friends?” Ron added.

    “I would be surprised if he had any friends,” Hermione said, scoffing. “He seems to be a truly despicable person.”

    “We didn’t have to hire him,” Harry pointed out. “We could have obliviated him, and no one would have cared.”

    “Until they started asking themselves whether we did it to them,” Hermione shot back.

    “If he betrays us, I reserve the right to say ‘I told you so’,” Harry said.

    “You agreed to hire him,” Hermione replied.

    “Under duress.”

    “Agreeing with our reasoning isn’t acting under duress.”

    Ari scowled. “If treason, we kill him.”

    “That would be ‘if he betrays us, we’ll kill him’,” Ron told her.

    “And we won’t kill him,” Hermione said. “Unless it’s the only way to protect ourselves.”

    Which had, unfortunately, happened quite a few times in their career so far, Ron remembered, pressing his lips together. He didn’t think Ryan would be such a threat, though.

    Ari tugged at her shirt again. “New clothes now?”

    “What’s wrong with them?” Hermione asked.

    “Not mine.”

    “Those are yours,” Hermione said. “You can get other clothes, but your tribe’s clothes can’t be worn here.”

    “Stupid.” Ari scowled and tugged at her shorts.

    Ron noticed Hermione looking at him as if this was his problem. Or his fault. It wasn’t.

    *****​

    Hermione Granger glared at Ron. Ari was his girlfriend, and so it fell to him to explain to her why she couldn’t walk around in a loincloth - at least not in a wizarding village that was populated by people celebrating their pirate traditions. Hermione was all for respecting different cultures, but you also had to be practical, and prancing around half-naked was just asking for of all sorts of trouble. And it wasn’t as if the clothes Ari was wearing were particularly restricting, either! Hermione was wearing the same top and shorts, after all.

    But this wasn’t the time to lecture her friend or his girlfriend. She took a deep breath. “We have more important things to do than worry about clothes,” she said.

    “No worry when no clothes. Change destroy clothes anyway.”

    Hermione clenched her teeth together as Harry chuckled. Ron was still not helping, so she addressed the recalcitrant witch: “We cannot attract attention. If you change, or walk around in your tribe’s clothes, people will notice and might try to rob us. Or follow us and try to plunder our site.” Which basically was the same thing, as far as she was concerned - and as her experience had shown.

    “Kill them then.” Ari sneered. “No problem.”

    There might be something to the prejudice that natives of the Amazon rainforest were bloodthirsty, Hermione thought. Or this might be Ari’s jaguar nature bleeding through - whether or not she was actually descended from a transfigured predator or merely thought so, it would certainly influence her worldview.

    And it would most certainly cause trouble if Ari weren’t reined in until she grew used to the magical world outside her home. Since Ron wasn’t picking up her hints, Hermione addressed him directly: “Please explain to Ari why we can’t simply kill our way across the Caribbean Sea.”

    Ron rolled his eyes at Hermione before answering. “Well, we could,” he said, “but we shouldn’t. It causes more trouble than it solves - usually.”

    Ari snorted, obviously not convinced.

    “We’re here to get a boat so we can check out another site, not to wage war,” Harry added.

    “When you go hunting, you want to hunt, not get distracted by fighting, right?” Ron’s explanation had the witch nodding, at least.

    “Still no understand why clothes problem.”

    “Because your people have a certain reputation,” Hermione explained. Or, rather, the wizards and witches native to the Amazon rainforest had a reputation, but it was close enough. “They are rumoured to guard riches lost in the jungle.”

    “That true. That is true.” Ari nodded.

    “Yes.” Hermione smiled, showing her teeth. “But it means people associate your presence with treasure - like Captain Ryan did. And here that means trouble.” And in most other locations as well.

    “Clothes no hide me,” Ari pointed out.

    Hermione sighed as Ron corrected ArI’s English. As much as they owed the witch, who had nothing left but them, this was very frustrating. “They hide enough that it’s not too obvious. Now let’s get ready for our trip - we need to organise our gear. Ron can answer any further questions you might have.” And Ron had better answer, if he knew what was good for him - Hermione had to focus on organising the next part of their expedition now!

    Hermione nodded at Ari and Ron, then increased her pace, heading for the harbour. Captain Ryan’s yacht wouldn’t be ready yet, but they could use the time to buy a few more supplies - and start fake rumours about their destination. Just in case.

    “She jealous?”

    Hermione gritted her teeth. The witch had no one left but them, she reminded herself. And Hermione had more important things to do than explain to Ari that no, she wasn’t jealous.

    *****​

    The shop - ‘de bes shop in de Caribbean fuh all tings sailin’’, as the stuffed parrot stuck on the perch next to the door kept saying in a dozen languages - looked like it came straight out of a pirate movie. Stuffed fishes and other animals hung on the walls or from the ceiling, oars, ropes, life preservers and other naval paraphernalia filling the spaces left open between them, and shelves full of various knick-knacks turned the room into a small maze.

    Hermione Granger kept her wand drawn.

    “Wouldn’t look out of place in Knockturn Alley,” she heard Harry mutter as they made their way to the counter in the back.

    “Let’s hope the resemblance is only superficial,” she replied.

    “I wouldn’t mind finding another encrypted treasure map.” Harry grinned. “That got us the funds for this expedition.”

    “It also almost got us killed,” she shot back. “And the first time we hadn’t even left the Alley yet.”

    She didn’t point out that Sirius would have advanced them all the gold they needed, and then some, if they had asked - none of them wanted to depend on others for financing their expeditions. Not even on Sirius. You didn’t become famous and respected by riding your parents’ coat-tails.

    “Hello dere. Yuh lookin’ fuh souvenir?” The man behind the counter, dressed like a pirate straight out of a movie, smiled at them, revealing yellowed teeth with several gaps.

    “No,” Harry replied. “We’re looking for supplies for a trip.”

    “Hard tack an rum?” The man’s chuckles ended in a wheezing cough. “I jes’. Wha yuh need?”

    “A comfortable tent, charmed against all manners of insects and vermin,” Harry said.

    “And some snake and caiman repellents,” Hermione added.

    “Mm-hm. Goin’ to de jungle?”

    “No,” Harry replied, a little too quickly. “Perhaps later,” he added as if it were an afterthought.

    Judging by the man’s grin, he didn’t believe Harry.

    Which was precisely what they wanted him to think, of course. The more scavengers and robbers searching for them in the rainforest, the fewer would find them on the open seas.

    *****​

    “Two bottle of Cuba’s Bes Crocodile Repellen - so good, crocodiles goin’ extinck in Cuba! Tree pack of Irish Incense, guarantee to drive away all snakes from yuh camp! An one Timbuktu Travel Tent, a veritable canvas palace, including bath an love nes! Just de ting for dose tropical nights!”

    Harry Potter forced himself to smile as the shop owner wiggled his eyebrows with a lecherous grin at him and Hermione. “Indeed,” he said.

    “I think that’s all,” Hermione added in a prim voice.

    “Might I interest yuh in something else? Perhaps a Boat in a Bottle? Many a pirate save from drowning when dere ship sink by carrying dis bottle wid dem! Wah abou genuine Shrunken Sage Heads? Dey offer de wisdom of de jungle, an dere advice save many an explorer! An fuh jus a few Eights more, I trow in a Translating Talking Head!”

    “I think we have all we need,” Hermione repeated herself.

    Harry, though, looked at the bottles. Those had potential, as Sirius would say. “How much for one?” he asked.

    The shop owner flashed him his gap-toothed smile again, and they started to haggle.

    *****​

    “Honestly, Harry,” Hermione started as soon as they had left the shop. “Three ships in bottles?”

    Harry Potter shrugged. “We certainly could have used them in the jungle.”

    “We have a zodiac,” she replied as they walked towards the port.

    “Three more boats won’t hurt. And they’re bigger and more seaworthy.” And they weren’t made of rubber. Magically reinforced or not, Harry hadn’t forgotten what had happened to his inflatable mattress when he had tried to turn it into a boat on the Nile. The things people threw into that river…

    Hermione huffed. “One would have been enough.”

    “You’re just thinking of the books you could have bought with that money.” Harry grinned at her.

    “It’s not as if this town has a bookshop worthy of the name,” she replied. “Half the stock was fake treasure maps and the other half fake pirates’ diaries.” She sniffed. “The locals might not be pirates anymore, but they still try to rob tourists.” She frowned. “Though, apparently, some might prefer a more direct way of taking our money.”

    She had spotted the two men tailing them as well, then. Harry nodded. “How do you want to do this?”

    “I would prefer to avoid violence,” Hermione said. “Let’s just stick to the main alley here until we reach the port. They shouldn’t start anything in broad daylight. Also, please hand over the incense.”

    It was Harry’s turn to frown. “That’s a dark item,” he replied, glancing at the two men to check if they were keeping their distance. “We should destroy it.”

    “It’s not a dark item,” Hermione retorted. “It repels snakes. It doesn’t even curse them.”

    “That nasty incense hurts their Jacobson's organ. It’s barbaric!” Harry shot back. “Not to mention that a snake wouldn’t hurt us without provocation.” Snakes were smarter than that.

    “Their idea of ‘provocation’ doesn’t fully align with ours,” she said.

    “That’s not their fault.” Harry scoffed. “I haven’t ever met a snake that wanted to hurt a human.”

    “That’s because you’re a Parselmouth.” Hermione shook her head. “You’re not exactly objective.”

    Harry huffed and glanced over his shoulder again. The two men had disappeared. “Do you think they’ve abandoned their plans?” he asked, lowering his voice despite their privacy charm.

    “It would be smart of them,” Hermione said.

    “But you don’t think they are that smart,” Harry finished her thought.

    “Robbing explorers ready to enter the rainforest doesn’t seem like a smart way to make a living.” She sighed. “Unless you buying the bottles convinced them that we’re easy marks.”

    Harry frowned. “That was a completely rational decision. It’s useful equipment. I can think of several uses even on land.”

    “Anything a conjured pig couldn’t do?”

    “Yes.” He nodded firmly even as he glanced at the mouth of the side alley they were about to pass and slid his wand into his hand.

    “Anything we couldn’t duplicate with a conjured structure?”

    Harry knew without having to look that Hermione was smiling. He was almost relieved when he saw the two men who had been following them standing in the side alley with wands drawn and so didn’t have to answer her.

    His first Stunner shattered the closer robber’s Shield Charm and his second took him down. Hermione had been a little slower, as usual, and so Harry’s third Stunner reached the other man just before her second.

    “Pathetic,” Harry said, shaking his head.

    “Ey-Ey! How dare yuh attack me crew!”

    Harry turned and saw a group of wizards and witches walking towards them. The apparent leader loudly sucked his teeth and then yelled: “Nah, man… no one curse me crew but me! Drop yuh wands an surrender, if yuh know wah good fuh yuh!”

    Harry was about to answer that they could take his wand from his cold, dead fingers when Hermione sealed off the alley with a conjured wall.

    “Take dem down, yuh scurvy dogs!” he heard the pirate yell. A moment later, the wall was blown apart by a Blasting Curse.

    But Harry and Hermione were already sprinting down the main alley, weaving around a group of staggering drunks.

    “If Ron hears of this, he won’t let us forget it anytime soon,” Harry snapped as they rounded a corner.

    “We’ve got more to worry about than that,” Hermione shot back, jumping over a row of flower pots on her side of the alley and barely avoiding running straight into a waiter from the café there.

    “I’m just saying.” Harry flicked his wand and covered the ground behind them in oil.

    Hermione ducked her head as a spell glanced off her shield. She rounded the next corner and knelt down. “Tripwire!” she spat, swishing her wand back and forth as Harry covered her.

    A moment later, they were running again.

    “Follow me!” Harry yelled.

    Surprised yells, followed by angry shouts informed them that either or both of their improvised traps had worked as Harry dashed into a narrow side alley, closely followed by Hermione. They took the next turn - an even narrower alley, barely a yard wide - and were forced to duck when it turned into a small tunnel with part of a house above it, before emerging in a dark yard barely five yards across.

    “This way!” Harry hissed, pointing at an old, wooden fence that cut the yard in half. He jumped up, grabbed the top of the fence, then pulled himself up to straddle it. Just in case Hermione needed help. Which she didn’t. They jumped down on the other side and entered yet another narrow tunnel-like alley, running beneath lines that probably once held laundry. After a few more turns, he stopped. “I think we lost them.”

    “I think we’re lost,” Hermione replied.

    He ignored that - they weren’t lost. Not really. They still had a heading. Of sorts. “Ron won’t ever let us forget this,” Harry muttered as he started to look for the best way to the harbour.

    “He can’t say anything - we’ve got half a dozen pirates after us. He had an entire clan of jinns after him in Tunis,” Hermione replied.

    Harry nodded. Even if the pirates beat them to the harbour, they could take them.

    *****​

    “What this?” Ari asked. “Many people.” She pointed across the railing to the dozen or so wizards on the pier next to them.

    Ron Weasley looked at them, then at the other dozen on the next pier and shook his head. “I don’t know what this is, but I’m certain it’s Harry’s fault.”

    “If yuh get me in trouble wid de law here it goin’ cost extra,” Ryan added from where he was checking the yacht’s enchanted rigging.

    Ari frowned at the man. “We have deal.”

    “Dis my home port,” Ryan shot back. “Deal goin’ be altered.”

    “There won’t be any trouble with the law,” Ron interrupted. “None that they can tie to you, at least.”

    “McKinnon no chupidee,” Ryan retorted. “Why yuh tink dey occupy de pier? Dey know yuh together.”

    “They suspect,” Ron corrected him. “Or they’d have tried to arrest us.”

    “Dat’s cause I pay dem,” Ryan muttered.

    Ron shrugged. “As long as they don’t bother us.”

    “But they bother Harry?” Ari said.

    “If they did, we’d hear the explosions,” Ron said, not entirely in jest. In truth, though, he was a little more worried than he let on - usually, Hermione kept Harry out of trouble. If this was more than some random tough trying to prey on tourists…

    He felt the enchanted mirror in his pocket vibrate. Grinning, he cast a privacy charm, then pulled it out and activated it, hidden from view by his hand. “What trouble did you stumble into?” he said as soon as Hermione’s face appeared.

    She huffed. Good - they weren’t in real trouble, then. “It was all Harry’s fault.”

    “Wasn’t!” he heard Harry protest.

    “We’ll be meeting you outside the harbour,” Hermione went on.

    “I don’t think they have anything as fast as our Firebolts,” Harry added. “If they even manage to spot us during our take-off.”

    Ron looked up at the sky. “There are a few brooms up there.”

    “I saw,” Harry said, still not visible in the mirror. “None of them are any good. Even Hermione could outfly them.”

    Hermione’s expression told Ron that Harry would pay for that quip. “So, tell the skipper to cast off and head out - we’ll track you down once he’s on the open sea.”

    “Alright.” After a moment, Ron added: “Be safe.”

    “You too.”

    Ron kept the mirror in hand - no need to let anyone catch a glimpse - and addressed Ryan: “Head out on a southern course.”

    The captain of the yacht didn’t ask any questions. He either understood that Harry and Hermione would join them later or else didn’t care - Ron couldn’t tell which.

    *****​

    The Caribbean Sea, August 10th, 2001

    Captain Ryan might be a braggart and a drunkard - Ron Weasley had seen him guzzle at least half a bottle of rum - but his yacht, the Dancing River, was a fine vessel. About sixty feet long, one mast, rigged for speed, she cut across the waves like a knife. And extensive Extension Charms granted her enough room below deck to house everyone comfortably while leaving enough cargo space to empty out a pharaoh’s tomb. Of course, thanks to enchanted trunks and Shrinking Charms, there was no need to actually use that space, even in the unlikely event that they decided to trust her skipper.

    He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He liked the smell of the sea. Especially after the smell of smoke and worse in the port. It was almost peaceful. Certainly more peaceful than the port, even though Harry and Hermione hadn’t had any trouble escaping it on their brooms and rejoining them.

    “Stupid boat! Stupid sea!” he heard Ari complain to his right. He glanced at her, checked that she wasn’t bending over the railing too far - the first time she had done that, she had fallen overboard - then looked away when she started to retch. “Stupid sea make me sick!”

    “Landlubber! Yuh got no sea legs.” Ryan’s cackling laughter ended - as usual - in a cough.

    “Four legs enough,” Ari muttered, glaring at the skipper as she tugged on the straps of her bikini.

    Ron put his hand on her arm. She couldn’t show off her jaguar form. “You’ll get used to it,” he told her. “It just takes a while to adjust.” That’s what Hermione had said. Ron hoped that his friend was correct.

    “How much longer?” Ari asked.

    “To the site?” Ron looked back at Ryan, who was sitting behind the steering wheel.

    “We be dere in de morning,” the man replied. “Provided de pickney witch doh make no mistake an de weather hold.”

    There were no storms brewing - they had checked the muggle news. And Hermione didn’t make mistakes when it concerned calculating coordinates. Ron reached out and wrapped his arm around Ari’s shoulders. He felt her tense and shiver. “Let’s go get some sleep,” he told her.

    Ari shook her head, then glanced at Ryan. “Don’t trust skipper. No sleep until he sleep,” she hissed under her breath.

    “I’ll keep watch,” he told her. “Trust me.”

    She tensed again, then she nodded. “No stay up all night,” she said, leaning into him. “Have to swim tomorrow.”

    “Don’t worry,” he told her, pulling her against him and placing a kiss on her head. “It’ll be a breeze.”

    *****​

    The Caribbean Sea, August 11th, 2001

    Hermione Granger checked their position with her magical sextant. Captain Ryan might swear that they were where they were supposed to be, but she needed to ascertain that for herself before she and her friends dived into the sea.

    “And people say Astronomy is useless,” Harry commented as he joined her on deck, yawning.

    “No knowledge, ever, is useless,” she replied.

    “Not even Teen Witch Weekly’s fashion advice?” His tone told her that he was grinning.

    She sniffed. “It’s useful for understanding people like Lavender.” Finishing her calculations, she put the sextant down.

    “So?” Harry asked.

    “We’re where the outpost was according to the notes we found,” she replied. “Very close to an underwater volcano.”

    “‘Kick 'em Jenny’?” Harry snorted. “I still can’t believe anyone named it that.”

    “It’s supposed to be a reference to the very rough waters that can be encountered here,” she told him. “It might just be luck that it’s ideal weather for diving at the moment.”

    He nodded. “One of the possible reasons for the sinking of Atlantis was a series of volcanic eruptions. Do you think this was related to that?”

    “It’s possible, but without Atlantis to examine, we cannot tell at this point.” She looked down at the dark sea. “It’ll be hard to find anything, though.”

    Harry scoffed. “If there were sea snakes with whom I could talk…”

    She rolled her eyes at him. “There aren’t.” Sea snakes, as Harry knew - better than her; he was the one obsessed with everything that slithered - were only native to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. “And we’re not setting a few breeding pairs free,” she added.

    He frowned. “They’d prosper here.”

    “Could they even dive that deep? It’s over 600 feet to the summit, according to the muggle charts.”

    Harry didn’t answer, which meant the snakes couldn’t dive that deep.

    She stretched. “Well, I’m going to take a nap until breakfast. You’ve got the watch.” She kissed him on the cheek, then walked towards the stairs leading below deck.

    *****​

    “You mad. Too dangerous.” Ari shook her head so violently, her long hair whipped around her head, obscuring her face. The witch had also taken a few steps away from the railing, Hermione Granger noted as she tried to hide her amusement.

    “It’s not dangerous. We learned the right spells for this years ago,” Ron said. “We tested them in the Black Lake when we were students, and the lake is almost as deep as the volcano here.”

    “I don’t know spell,” Ari said.

    “And someone has to stay on the yacht,” Harry added. “Just in case.”

    Ari nodded emphatically. “He betrays, he dies!”

    “Let’s not kill the only one with experience in sailing on the high seas,” Hermione said. While she was confident that she could deal with whatever anti-theft spells Ryan had put on his ship, none of them had any sailing experience. Of course, in a pinch, they could use their booms, and Grenada was close, but… Hermione would prefer not to get involved with what others might deem piracy or murder.

    “Unless you can’t help it,” Ron added. “Your life is worth more than his.”

    Ari flashed her teeth in a rather cruel-looking smile at hearing this, then hugged Ron.

    Hermione sighed and resumed checking her gear. Contrary to Ron’s assurances to his girlfriend, even with magic such a deep dive wasn’t exactly without risk. Attacks by animals were among the least of the dangers they might face, especially once they found the ruins of the Atlantean port. Fortunately, she had been preparing for just such a trip for months. Spells, potions, enchanted diving suits and diving masks that not only let them see perfectly at those depths but also let them communicate with each other and served as diving watches. Of course, they would also be wearing muggle diving watches. Just in case - you couldn’t be too careful as a Curse-Breaker, as Petunia had taught them, and muggle gear could make all the difference in an emergency.

    Though, she reminded herself, at the depths they would have to reach, muggle gear wouldn’t save them if magic failed. She fought down the sudden fear that this conjured up. She was a Curse-Breaker; danger was their business, as Bill always said. Calculated risks were fine.

    She stood and adjusted her diving suit, double-checked that her knife and wand were secure, then grabbed her mask and flippers. “Let’s go.”

    Harry stood and gave her a one-armed hug, followed by a quick kiss, before both of them put their masks on. Ron took a little longer to disentangle himself from Ari’s embrace but joined them at last at the railing.

    “Testing, testing,” Hermione whispered as she slipped her flippers on.

    A moment later, she heard Harry’s answer through her mask. “Receiving you loud and clear.”

    “Same here,” Ron added.

    “Good. Time to start this expedition!” Harry announced, then jumped into the water.

    Ron was next, and then it was Hermione’s turn.

    The water was warm and - in the morning’s light - clear. That would change rapidly, of course, but her spells would allow her to ignore it. And the Bubble-Head Charm on the mask was working, as were the charms on the suit. She spotted Harry and Ron, already descending, beneath her and kicked her legs to catch up, scattering a swarm of small fish.

    Soon the water grew colder and dark, and she activated the spells on her mask to see without light. Her suit’s enchantments kept her warm enough. Harry, as fearless - or reckless - as usual, hadn’t even slowed down and was still swimming straight down. She tried not to think of what kind of animals prowled these depths - sharks for certain - and followed.

    After what felt like an eternity, she heard Harry’s voice: “I see the ground… You were right; it’s the crater of a submerged volcano.”

    Of course, she had been right! Hermione nevertheless felt both relief and pride. “Can you see any ruins?” If they had been covered in lava, that might be impossible, but perhaps some structures had…

    “Yes. I see houses, actually,” Harry answered.

    “Same style as in the jungle?” Hermione asked.

    “No. And they aren’t ruins.” Harry sounded grim.

    Not ruins… Hermione looked around. Something moved just outside the range of her detection spell. More than one something. Her eyes widened when she caught a glimpse of a slim, finned tail - and slender, human-looking arms.

    Hermione felt her stomach drop. There was only one species which fit that description: Caribbean sirens. They had found a settlement of the elusive and dangerous magical creatures.

    And the sirens had found them.

    *****​

    “Silencing Charms!” Harry Potter yelled, tapping his mask with his wand as the sirens surrounded them. The charms would block the sirens’ song while Hermione’s spell would let them still hear each other - he didn’t plan on losing his wits and becoming easy prey for the creatures. That done, he glanced over his shoulder. When he saw Hermione behind him, he relaxed a little - he could protect her better when she was close. She wasn’t weak, of course, but he and Ron were better in a fight.

    And judging by what he knew of Caribbean sirens, a fight was quite likely. Unlike the Scottish selkies, the sirens had a reputation for drowning sailors - both in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. They hadn’t attacked yet, though they had them surrounded. Boxed in. Probably trying to find the best way to attack them.

    Harry kept moving his head as he held his position, tracking the slender forms as they swam back and forth. The path to the surface was blocked by half a dozen. Far more were below them and around them - but was that a weakness or a trap? Did the sirens want them to take the obvious escape route into an ambush they had prepared?

    Well, they would be disappointed. Harry looked around, studying the enemies’ formation. Yes. A Cannon-Blast Spell cast in their midst would do the job. That would disorient the sirens long enough for Hermione to take down the Anti-Apparition Jinxes. Probably hurt the sirens as well, since the spell was far more powerful when cast underwater. The Silencing Charms on their masks should protect Harry and his friends - to some degree. It was still dangerous, but there wasn’t a safer alternative. If they let the sirens swarm them, they’d be dead.

    He took a deep breath. “Alright. Here’s the plan: We’ll…”

    “I’m turning off my Silencing Charm,” Ron interrupted him.

    “What?” Harry and Hermione yelled in unison.

    “I can’t hear them with the charm. And if I can’t hear them, we can’t talk,” Ron went on.

    “Ron! These are Caribbean sirens!” Hermione pointed out.

    “I know,” Ron replied. “I learned a little Mermish when Harry was in the Tournament, so I should be able to understand them.”

    “Selkies and sirens are different species!” Hermione snapped.

    “But both are merpeople,” Ron said. “Anyway, I’m going to talk to them.”

    “Ron!”

    “Wait!”

    But Harry’s friend was already swimming towards the closest siren - without his wand in hand!

    He clenched his teeth in frustration. Without the charm, Harry’s best spell against the sirens would hurt Ron as well. “I’m going to kill him if he gets us killed,” Harry muttered.

    “That makes no sense,” Hermione replied.

    “Just like Ron,” Harry said as Ron started to talk in Mermish.

    The charm on their masks prevented Harry from hearing the sirens, but judging by the body language he could observe, the siren was responding. Unlike selkies or merrows, sirens looked like humans with a fishtail replacing their lower body. Beautiful female humans, as far as Harry could see - as expected. According to what he knew, sirens had few males and kept them as safe as possible.

    “What are they saying?” Hermione asked after a few minutes.

    “I don’t speak Mermish,” Harry replied.

    “I wasn’t asking you but Ron.”

    “Sorry,” Ron answered, “I forgot you wouldn’t understand me.” Harry saw him holding up his hand. “They’re the Southern Fire Mountain School. They live on the volcano and were worried we were going to attack them.”

    “Who’d be so stupid as to attack an entire tribe - or school - with three people?” Harry muttered.

    “Apparently, they’ve had bad experiences with ‘surface dwellers’,” Ron replied. “I’m explaining that we’re not here for their pearls or gold, but looking for ruins.”

    “Wait! What if they’re guarding the ruins?” Harry said. They would be far worse than Ari’s tribe.

    “Unlikely,” Hermione told him. “The volcano wasn’t submerged when the Atlanteans built a port here.”

    “But they might have…” Harry started to point out that the Atlanteans could have created another guardian tribe after the volcano had sunk when Ron interrupted him again.

    “Can you keep it down a little? It’s distracting.” Ron went on to talk in Mermish without waiting for an answer.

    Harry clenched his teeth again. He hated having to wait, unable to do anything, while his friends were in danger. They were surrounded by dozens of sirens! If they reacted like Ari’s tribe to questions about the Atlanteans…

    Hermione appeared at his side. He glanced at her, then checked their rear. The sirens weren’t closing in. When he glanced back at her, she reached out and squeezed his arm, smiling at him through her facemask.

    He took a deep breath. He had to trust Ron. Ron had sweet-talked a jinn in Tunis into helping them break into a sealed tomb, persuaded the favourite wife of a sultan in Constantinople to allow them a look at the family archives and won over a jaguar shapeshifter in the Amazon rainforest.

    And each time, they had ended up running from a mob.

    Harry closed his eyes for a moment. They were doomed.

    *****​

    After half an hour of Mermish back-and-forth, Ron finally turned back to Harry and Hermione. “So, Marisha - that’s her,” Ron said, pointing at a busty blonde siren, “is the school’s leader.”

    The siren smiled, exposing teeth that were just a little too sharp to look human. Harry Potter refrained from aiming his wand at her and nodded, smiling in return.

    “I really hope that’s not a threat display,” Hermione muttered.

    “Anyway, she told me that there are Atlantean ruins at the bottom of the mountain, but they are buried,” Ron went on.

    “Probably covered in lava when the volcano sank,” Hermione said. “That will complicate things. Excavating ruins at that depth…”

    “Marisha’s school did that already,” Ron interrupted her. “They recovered the ‘tablets with the ancients’ wisdom’, as they call them. They’re in their temple. She said she’ll let me see them if I take part in a ceremony.” He smiled. “Sharing’s a big thing in their religion, or so I understand.”

    “Just you?” Harry asked.

    Ron shrugged. “Sorry, she said only I would be welcome. But don’t worry - I’ll take pictures of the tablets and Hermione can analyse them.”

    “They might not allow cameras,” Hermione pointed out.

    “Then we can use the Pensieve at Hogwarts,” Ron replied. “Dumbledore still owes Harry, doesn’t he?”

    “He mostly owes Auntie,” Harry said. “But are you certain you understood her correctly?”

    Ron spread his hands. “Well, they have a rather special accent, and my Mermish isn’t perfect, but I’ve asked several times - I’m sure I got the gist of it.”

    Harry’s smile froze on his face. “That’s what you said in Tunis.”

    “That’s why I asked several times this time - trust me, this will go smoothly.” Ron grinned.

    Harry winced.

    *****​
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2018
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  7. wichajster

    wichajster Getting sticky.

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  8. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Ships are female.
     
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  9. wichajster

    wichajster Getting sticky.

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    Ops, I thought that he referred to the captain, not the ship.
     
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  10. Threadmarks: Chapter 4: Sirens of the Caribbean
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 4: Sirens of the Caribbean

    ‘One of the features that distinguish the Veela from humans - apart from their ability to transform into giant bird-like creatures - is how they procreate. There are no male Veela; any offspring of a Veela and a muggle or wizard is either a muggle or wizard, if male, or a Veela, if female. This is, among the sapient magical beings at least, unique to the species. And, contrary to certain earlier speculations, it has been conclusively proven that this is not a form of sexual dimorphism - the male offspring of the Veela are indistinguishable from normal humans and wizards, lacking any special qualities or magical talents - nor is it the result of rituals or spells during pregnancy or conception. The Veela are a true-breeding all-female species.
    However, the origin of the Veela is still the subject of speculation - not even the Veela themselves seem to know how they came to be; their legends speak of the Greek gods mingling with humans and giving birth to nymphs, the ancestors of the Veela. Since recent research has revealed the ancient Greek gods as particularly powerful - for their epoch - wizards and witches, but not gods, and therefore unlikely to produce magical creatures as offspring, this can be safely discounted. But this does leave the question of whether they were a naturally occurring species or a magically created one unanswered - even close examinations of Veela haven’t shed light on that subject.
    Some Magizoologists have cited the fact that only female sirens have been observed as evidence that they are related to the Veela instead of to the other merfolk, but such theories remain mere speculation. The sirens share a similar language with the selkies and merrows and the bodies of all three species, especially the tail fins, also show distinct similarities. I tend to share the prevailing opinion that sirens do indeed have two sexes, but give birth overwhelmingly to females, the few males forming harems as they remain in the schools’ homes, protected and isolated from all dangers, while the females roam the oceans. It must be admitted, though, that there is no evidence for this theory either, other than observations of selkies and merrows and extrapolation from species with similar social structures to the sirens, such as spirit lions. Research into this matter is severely hampered by the aggressive and reclusive nature of sirens, and most tales of sailors who survived an encounter with either Caribbean or Mediterranean sirens have been revealed as pure fabrication.’
    - Excerpt from ‘The Magic of Life - a Guide to Magical Creatures and Beings’ by Coleen Rowles, London, 1961


    *****​

    The Caribbean Sea, August 11th, 2001

    “...and here is the ancient wisdom,” Marisha said, gesturing at a row of tablets lining the walls inside the room.

    At least that was the gist of what Ron Weasley understood. Some nuances got lost when you hadn’t mastered the language. But she was smiling at him, and waving him on. “Thank you,” he said in Mermish, returning her smile. That was one of the phrases he had learned perfectly from Hunts-The-Carps in the Black Lake.

    “Anything for you choose,” she replied.

    Ron blinked. That was a very generous offer - but hadn’t she said he could see them, earlier? “Just looking,” he said.

    She nodded. “Watch.”

    He pulled out the camera Hermione had enchanted to work underwater. “Making pictures of wisdom. For sharing.”

    “Yes. Sharing good.” Marisha nodded, her long, blonde hair forming a halo around her head. “Ceremony after.”

    “Yes.” He tried not to look at her bare chest. That would have been impolite. Sirens weren’t like Ari’s people, where looking into the eyes was a challenge. Besides, he had a task to do. But he needed better light for that. The tablets were illuminated by softly glowing lights above and beneath them - the same lights that covered most of the school’s settlement on the volcano’s slopes, and which had been extinguished when Ron and his friends had been spotted. Too soft for decent pictures.

    Ron drew his wand - slowly - and cast a Wand-Lighting Charm that lit up the room.

    Marisha jerked.

    “Just light,” he explained.

    “Ah. Powerful.”

    “Just a charm,” Ron said. It wasn’t anything special.

    “Powerful.” She ran her hand over his arm.

    Ah. “You should see Harry,” he said.

    “Harry?”

    “Nothing.” He shook his head, then started taking pictures of all the tablets. This would take a while.

    *****​

    “Ceremony sharing now!” Marisha said, tugging on his hand as soon as Ron Weasley had stashed the camera.

    “Sharing?” Ron asked, hadn’t this been about sharing the wisdom of the ancients? Which did look like the Atlantean tablets they had recovered in the rainforest.

    “Ceremony sharing now!” Marisha repeated, adding more words Ron didn’t quite catch or understand.

    But, while half of her was human-shaped, half of the siren was a fish tail about as long and heavy as Ron - a few flicks of her tail fin, and he was dragged out of the room into the main area of the temple.

    Where about half a dozen sirens were waiting, beaming at him in the soft light. “I expected more,” he said as Marisha dropped him in the centre of the temple.

    “More?” She giggled. “No stand more. Seven powerful.”

    ‘Seven powerful’? That sounded more like a ritual than a ceremony. And there were seven sirens here, but with Ron, they were eight. He looked around. ‘No stand more’? That didn’t make any sense. He blinked. Or had he misremembered Hunts-The-Carp’s lessons? ‘No stand more’… She meant ‘No man could last more’!

    His eyes widened. “Mating?” he asked.

    Marisha nodded. “Sharing mate! Powerful!”

    Ron gasped - he had a girlfriend! And he was pretty certain that Ari would mind such sharing. Mind very much, and very violently, too.

    He tried to apparate as the sirens closed in. It didn’t work. “Harry! Hermione! I need the Anti-Apparition Jinxes gone right now!” he yelled in English.

    “What?” Harry asked.

    “They want to mate with me!”

    “What?” Hermione yelled.

    “Merlin’s balls!” Harry cursed.

    “Wait! Wait!” Ron yelled in Mermish. “Need strip!” He tapped the sleeve of his diving suit. “No can mate in this.”

    “Vanish!” Marisha said, drawing her wand.

    “Expensive!” Ron yelled. “Strip!” He started to - slowly - unzip the suit. “Any time now, Hermione,” he whispered under his breath.

    “These aren’t jinxes,” Hermione answered. “These are wards.”

    Which meant she wouldn’t be able to get rid of them before the sirens swarmed Ron. And he had no intention of getting into a ‘mating ball’ as if he were one of the snakes Harry liked so much. He had to get out. But he couldn’t outswim Marisha, much less the rest of the sirens.

    And he could only drag out unzipping his suit for so long. Maybe he could imitate an octopus and conjure ink, blinding the sirens, and sneak away? No, that wouldn’t work. He would still be too slow… Octopuses! What had Ginny told him about them? Some of them swam by ejecting water from their bodies at high speed.

    Ron wasn’t an octopus, but he had a wand. And he knew the Water-Making Spell.

    As the sirens started to reach for him again, he pointed his wand down, alongside his leg.

    “Aguamenti!”

    *****​

    “Ron! Ron! What’s happening?” Hermione Granger heard Harry yell through her mask as she desperately tried to find a weakness in the sirens’ wards.

    But it was pointless. She couldn’t crack these protections in time. Not in time to save Ron. And if she started to unravel them, floating in front of the volcano, the sirens would notice - half a dozen were keeping an eye on her and Harry.

    She clenched her teeth. “We have to do something.” She wouldn’t leave Ron to his fate.

    “Alright. You create a diversion, and I’ll go in,” Harry said.

    She saw him already starting to swim away. “No!” she snapped. “You won’t have any chance by yourself.”

    “I won’t be alone once I get to Ron.”

    “You’ll be dead before that. We can’t unravel the wards and we can’t beat so many sirens,” she all but yelled. “We’ll go together, or not at all!”

    He hesitated, as she saw while blinking back the tears in her eyes - before the charms on the mask took care of that.

    “I’m coming… Watch out! Aaahhh!”

    “Ron!”

    Hermione didn’t know who yelled louder - Harry or herself - when they spotted a figure shooting up from the village below them, racing through the water. Ron. But how…

    “Jet propulsion!” she blurted out as she realised what Ron was doing. “I’m so stupid!”

    “Or Ron’s a genius,” Harry said.

    Below them, the sirens were moving - half a dozen coming towards them. Harry flicked his wand, and a moment later, the water between them and the onrushing creatures seemed to flicker, and the sirens reeled, holding their heads.

    “Ahhh! Merlin’s balls! Warn me before you do that!” she heard Ron yell. “My ears!”

    “He didn’t have a Silencing Charm up,” Hermione said. “He was talking to the sirens.”

    Harry muttered a curse. But Ron disapparated anyway - presumably to the surface. “Let’s go!”

    A moment later, both of them followed Ron.

    They appeared on the surface - a bit off in her case, causing her to fall a few yards into the water, but she managed to spot both Harry and Ron during her fall.

    She didn’t see the Dancing River, though.

    “Hermione?” she heard Harry ask.

    “I’m here, near you!” she replied - the waves weren’t particularly high, but tall enough to hide her.

    “Hermione? Harry?” That was Ron.

    “We’re all here,” she said, digging in her pocket for the zodiac.

    “Hermione? Harry?”

    “Great… he’s still deaf,” she muttered, unshrinking the boat.

    No sooner had she climbed into the zodiac than Harry appeared above her, on his broom. “We need to move fast,” he said. “Get your broom.”

    “Get Ron first!” she told him. “I need to heal his eardrums.”

    “Ah, there you are!” Ron had grabbed his own broom and was flying towards her. “Can you heal my ears? I think I’m deaf.”

    Hermione swallowed her first reply. A few minutes later, her friend’s hearing was restored - she had also used the opportunity to check that the charms preventing decompression sickness had worked as they should - their zodiac was stashed in her pocket again, and they were all on brooms in the air. Just in case the sirens were pursuing them.

    “Where are they? If that pirate hurt Ari…” Ron growled. “And how did he manage to beat her?”

    “It’s his ship - he probably had it trapped,” Harry said.

    “There were no traps,” Hermione told him, gripping the shaft of her broom tightly. “I checked.” She didn’t have to add that she wouldn’t have missed a trap prepared by the likes of ‘Captain Ryan’.

    “There could have been muggle traps,” Harry said. “Or poison.”

    “Not poison - she would have smelled it. And she had a bezoar on her at all times,” Ron said.

    “And I don’t think he had much experience with muggle traps either,” Hermione added.

    “But the ship’s gone. Ari wouldn’t have let him abandon us.” Ron shook his head. “Not if she could have prevented it.”

    “Mate…” Harry started to say.

    Hermione blinked. “But Ari doesn’t know anything about sailing ships. Or about magical sailing ships.” She dug out her compass and checked the wind’s direction - and the waves. “If something happened to Ryan, she would have been unable to steer the ship.”

    “Ryan most likely had the ship protected against anyone other than him taking control of it,” Ron said. “No matter what they knew about sailing.”

    “Perhaps,” Hermione agreed. A Curse-Breaker like herself would have been able to deal with such protections, of course. And Hermione had read enough about sailing to know how to handle the ship - or keep it in place. She checked the charts in her notes, and the time, then pointed north-east. “If the floating anchor got cut loose, then the yacht would have drifted in that direction.”

    “I can see it!” she heard Harry say.

    Hermione looked up and saw him flying a few hundred yards above her. She frowned.

    Ron chuckled. “Sometimes, it’s easier to just look. She couldn’t have drifted too far while we were underwater, could she?”

    Hermione’s frown deepened. Ron was correct, of course, but she still felt cheated. “Her, Harry. Ships are female,” she corrected him as he rejoined them.

    “Let’s go!” Ron said and shot off before either Harry or she could say anything in response.

    On their Firebolt IIs - gifts from Sirius - they didn’t take long to reach the drifting yacht.

    “There’s Ari!” Ron yelled. “Ari!”

    Hermione saw the witch on the yacht wave and heard her yell: “Ron!”

    Ron dived at the deck as if he were a Seeker chasing a Snitch, and, for a moment, Hermione feared he’d crash. He levelled out, though, jumped off, and then the two were embracing each other.

    Next to the badly mauled corpse of Captain Ryan.

    *****​

    Bill always said that a Curse-Breaker had to keep cool no matter what, and nothing fazed Auntie, but Harry Potter couldn’t help wincing when he landed on the deck of the ‘Dancing River’, a few yards from what was left of Captain Ryan. It looked like Ari had transformed and mauled the man in her jaguar form, although there were curses that could result in the same wounds - dark curses.

    He stepped around the pool of blood surrounding the corpse and addressed the witch. “What happened?”

    Ari pulled away from Ron and frowned at him. “He attack, I kill.”

    “He attacked you? Are you hurt?” Ron blurted out.

    Ari didn’t seem hurt - and she wasn’t wearing anything that would hide any wounds, in Harry’s opinion.

    The witch shook her head. “No. Was faster.”

    “Did he try to curse you?” Hermione, who had landed as well, asked.

    “Yes.” Ari scowled. “He miss. I change.”

    “Why did he do that?” Harry asked.

    The other witch shrugged. “He don’t say.”

    “‘He didn’t tell me’,” Ron corrected her.

    “You no are here,” Ari replied.

    “While I would never say anything to discourage learning, I think we have more urgent problems than language lessons,” Hermione said. “The sirens will reach us soon unless we manage to sail the yacht.”

    “Sirens?”

    “Half-fish witches who tried to mate with Ron,” Harry explained.

    Ari hissed so loudly, for a moment Harry thought she had transformed. “Mate?”

    “I escaped,” Ron said, rather hastily. “But they can swim fast.”

    Ari looked like she wanted the sirens to catch up to them, snarling at the sea. Harry shook his head. “Hermione, see if you can crack our late captain’s protections,” he said. “We’ll keep an eye out for the sirens.”

    Hermione nodded. “And do something about the body,” she said as she walked towards the steering wheel.

    “Should we vanish it?” Ron asked.

    Harry pondered that for a moment. Vanishing the corpse would make them look guilty in the eyes of the authorities. On the other hand, he didn’t think keeping the body around would help either. And he didn’t trust the authorities in the area anyway. “Yes, let’s clean this up,” he said. Auntie would have done the same. “But we’ll have to explain in the next port.”

    “Do we?” Ron asked, swishing his wand.

    “We will look like pirates if we bring back Ryan’s yacht without him,” Harry said.

    Ari scoffed. “He attack, he lose, ship ours.”

    Yes, they would definitely look like pirates if Ari told the story. Harry sighed. Perhaps they could claim Ryan died in a siren attack? He blinked. The sirens hadn’t attacked them. How many of their attacks were actually them defending themselves or people blaming them for murders?

    He snorted. He was starting to think like Hagrid - or Luna. As Ron cast a cleaning charm on the blood left on the deck, Harry stepped to the railing and looked at the sea. He didn’t spot any sirens - or anything else - beneath them, but that didn’t mean anything.

    After a few minutes, Hermione walked towards him.

    “How’s it looking?”

    “If we all work together, about an hour,” she replied. “The protections aren’t particularly powerful or complex, but there’s a lot of them, and Ryan apparently felt that he’d rather see the yacht sunk than stolen.”

    Which meant they couldn’t just trigger the defences with a conjured animal. “If the sirens arrive before we’re finished…” He sighed. “We’ll have to fly.”

    Hermione nodded. “I just wish we didn’t have to flee from yet another site,” she said.

    “Oi!” Ron frowned at them. “It’s not my fault!”

    “This time,” Harry replied.

    “Probably,” Hermione added. “Where do we go? Grenada?”

    That was the closest island. Harry nodded.

    “Before, you say Grenada no good,” Ari said.

    “That was because we needed to hire a magical ship,” Ron explained. “Fort Royal isn’t the best place for that.”

    “For Royal?”

    “The magical settlement on the island,” Hermione said. “The muggle parts were renamed St George when the island was ceded to Great Britain in 1763, but that didn’t affect the wizard enclave, which stayed French at the time.”

    Ari didn’t look like Hermione’s explanation had helped. But time was running out. If the sirens caught up and attacked… if they started to sing… Silencing Charms could be dispelled, and if there were enough of the sirens, things would get rather sticky. “Let’s go,” Harry said, summoning his broom.

    “Should we sink the ship?” Ron asked as he and Ari mounted his broom.

    “Left adrift, especially with the protections still active, it represents a danger to other ships,” Hermione said. “A minor danger, to be honest.”

    She was correct. Odds were, the yacht would simply drift off and end up on a beach somewhere - with all the charms on her, she wouldn’t sink. And it was an old, elegant ship. Sinking her would destroy a piece of history. And yet, a minor danger didn’t mean there was no danger. Leaving a magical ship drifting on the open sea might also be seen as endangering the Statute of Secrecy. And there was the risk of more trouble with the law, or what passed for it in the Caribbean, should someone find and identify the Dancing River.

    “Let’s sink it,” Harry said as they rose in the air.

    It took a surprising number of Blasting Curses to sink the ship - apparently, Ryan’s claims about the quality of the yacht hadn’t been mere boasts - but after a few minutes, the broken remains of the hull were disappearing under the waves, and the group was flying towards Grenada.

    *****​

    Grenada, Fort Royal, August 12th, 2001

    Ron Weasley blinked as he woke up - the sun was shining directly into his face, and there was a weight on his chest. A growling weight.

    Ari had, again, changed in her sleep. That was supposed to be a good sign, according to her - it meant her animal side had accepted him as well. A ‘blessing of their union’, she had called it. Ron called it a hundred and fifty pounds of fur and claws pressing down on him in his sleep. Though not where Ari could hear him, of course.

    “Morning,” he said.

    Ari growled without opening her eyes and shifted her weight around a bit without either waking up or letting him get up.

    Sighing, he summoned his wand and poked her until she - finally - stopped trying to brush his hand away and woke up. “Morning,” he repeated himself.

    The jaguar on his chest growled again, then yawned, both front paws coming to rest on his shoulders.

    Then the jaguar on his chest turned into a witch straddling him. “Morning,” she replied with a broad smile.

    “Slept well?”

    She nodded. “Good bed.” And with a wide grin, she added: “Good man.” He saw her tongue slide over her lips as she slid back a little.

    Ron returned her smile and reached up as she bent down to kiss him. They’d be late for breakfast, but who cared?

    Certainly not Ron, not right now.

    *****​

    Ron Weasley heard the yelling before he saw the two wizards - no, one was a witch - facing each other across the street as he made his way towards the table Harry and Hermione had taken in the café. “Another duel?” he asked, taking his seat - and casting a Shield Charm, just in case. The windows were protected, but that didn’t mean they were safe inside the café.

    “Yes,” Harry said just as the fight started and spells flashed back and forth.

    “If there’s one thing worse than the French,” Ron muttered as he took his seat, “it’s French pirates.” Duelling, in the middle of what passed as the main street in Fort Royal, the magical quarter of St. George’s!

    “Really, Ron,” Hermione said, frowning at him as she lowered the Tribune Magique she was reading, “that’s pure prejudice.”

    “It’s not prejudice if it’s a well-founded observation,” Ron replied. “That’s the second duel, and we haven’t even been here for a whole day. They’re even more aggressive than the French!”

    “Why they do fight?” Ari asked, cocking her head to the side and keeping the duellists in view as she sat down as well.

    “It’s ‘why do they fight’,” he corrected her. “I don’t know. Probably over an insult or something.” It didn’t look like a robbery or attack.

    “Ah.” Ari kept watching the fight.

    Ron did as well. This wouldn’t take long. Not at this distance.

    It didn’t. After less than a minute, the witch had her opponent stunned, kicked him in the ribs a few times, spat on him and left, head held high.

    “Stupid,” Ari commented.

    Ron nodded. “Yes. Pointless.”

    “Left enemy alive. He get revenge later,” Ari continued. “Never leave enemy alive.”

    Ron coughed, then noticed that Hermione was frowning at him, as though he had agreed with Ari, and Harry was smirking. He glared at them, then sighed. “Ari, we don’t kill people over insults.”

    “We don’t kill at all, if we can help it,” Hermione added with another frown at him.

    “We only kill in self-defence,” Harry explained.

    “Man was attacking her,” Ari replied. “Self-defence.” She grinned, baring her teeth. “Legal!”

    She had learned that titbit quickly, of course. “It was a duel,” Ron said. “He wasn’t trying to kill her.”

    “How she know?”

    Ron sighed. “She might have known him, or else she saw that he wasn’t using lethal curses.”

    The witch scoffed. “Holding back is stupid. One mistake and dead.”

    She wasn’t wrong, but she wasn’t entirely correct either. But explaining the intricacies of self-defence to a witch raised in the jungle was a little much on an empty stomach. “Well, that’s why you usually strike first with a Stunner, if you can,” he said after a moment.

    Ari snorted, but, fortunately, was distracted by the waitress arriving to take their order. She might have trouble with the legal codes of the Caribbean islands, but she certainly had adapted to modern menus quickly. Of course, she had also tried to order roasted siren for dinner, but, fortunately, the staff had taken that as a joke.

    Ron cast a privacy charm as soon as the waitress had left - sniffing at Ari’s meat-heavy order, of course; as expected from a French witch - and asked: “Did you develop the pictures I took yet?”

    “I did that last night,” Hermione replied. “I haven’t been able to analyse them, yet, though.” The pout she sent at Harry told Ron that his friend had kept her from spending the night translating.

    “Ah.” Ron nodded. “Should we head home for that? Or visit Petunia and Sirius in Egypt?”

    “I think we should avoid Egypt for now,” Harry said.

    “Trouble? Did you get a letter this morning?” Ron hadn’t heard anything from Bill.

    “No.” Harry shook his head. “It’s just… I would rather not risk the goblins getting wind of our discoveries.”

    “They’d try to get exclusive excavation rights,” Hermione added. “And if Atlantis is anywhere near the Caribbean, they’d find a wizarding island in the vicinity that they could bribe to grant them that.”

    “The ICW wouldn’t let them get away with it,” Ron pointed out. “The ruins of Atlantis, the first wizarding empire, controlled by goblins? People would riot.”

    “But while politics tried to settle this, we’d still have to deal with the goblins, and whoever they hired to find the ruins and enforce their claim,” Harry said.

    “Lena Kraft,” Hermione said.

    “Probably,” Harry admitted.

    “No. There she is,” Hermione hissed as she nodded towards the entrance of the café.

    “What?” Ron looked over his shoulder, drawing his wand, as Harry cursed. Yes, there was the Prussian witch, dressed, as usual, in expensive, tightly-cut duelling robes and with her blonde curls styled expertly, standing in the entrance and looking at them with her usual sneer.

    “She an enemy?”

    “Yes,” Harry snapped, his attention on the approaching witch. “Keeps trying to loot our sites. Once sent bandits after Auntie, too.”

    Ron barely managed to grab Ari’s hand before she could curse Kraft.

    *****​

    Lena Kraft. Hermione Granger didn’t even try to hide her sneer as the Prussian witch, her slit robes swishing around her legs with each step, approached their table. That lying, plotting claim-stealer had found them again! Hermione didn’t believe for a moment that this was a chance meeting. “How did she find us?” she asked. She didn’t bother whispering - their privacy charm was still working.

    “Couldn’t have been a spell,” Harry said. “Not her style. Nor her forte. She probably paid people to look for us. The question is: How did she know we were in the Caribbean?”

    “No, we can’t kill her - she hasn’t done anything yet.” Ron, Hermione saw, was still holding Ari’s hand and keeping her from cursing Kraft.

    “We know she’s got a source in Gringotts,” Hermione said. “But we didn’t tell the goblins anything. Someone else must have talked.”

    “Harry said she try kill aunt!” Ari snapped. “That is something.”

    “We can’t prove that,” Ron said.

    “And even if we could, we couldn’t kill her in the middle of the café unless she attacked us,” Hermione added.

    “Well, we could, but we shouldn’t,” Ron said.

    Hermione frowned at him, but a glance told her that Ari had been about to say something, but then closed her mouth again. The witch probably had been about to point that out.

    “Well, however she managed it, she’s here now. How do we handle her?” Harry asked.

    “Ignore her until she goes away?” Ron asked, shrugging. With a grin, he added: “We haven’t tried that, yet, and you know how vain she is.”

    “Mr Potter. Mr Weasley. Miss Granger.” Kraft’s greeting nod was barely perceptible. “Miss Ari, was it?”

    Hermione narrowed her eyes. The Prussian also knew Ari’s name? She must have been tracking them for a while.

    Ari bared her teeth in response and hissed, causing Kraft to recoil slightly. “You attack, I kill!”

    “She still can’t hear you,” Ron cut in. “And I bet that’s annoying her.”

    “It’s only polite to return a greeting, Mr Potter. Although perhaps you wouldn’t know that, having been raised by a squib.”

    As Hermione expected from previous confrontations, Harry ended the privacy charm instead of extending it - experience had taught them that it was better to have witnesses when actually talking with Kraft - and glared at the witch. “I see you still haven’t been able to get over the fact that even without a wand, Auntie’s ten times the Curse-Breaker you are.”

    “She is ten times more famous as well,” Hermione added with a toothy smile. “But then what else could anyone expect? Dr Evans is an archaeologist while you’re just a grave-robber. And not a particularly talented one.”

    “Yes. Bill said if not for the poor fools you hired to do your work for you, you’d have been killed in the Necropolis,” Ron joined in.

    Hermione saw Kraft clench her teeth - the witch was a little too thin-skinned to hold her own against Hermione and her friends in this sort of confrontation - before Kraft sneered. “Petty insults. I guess you haven’t been out of school long enough to grow up.” The Prussian scoffed. “And you’ve picked up a savage as a pet.”

    “I show you savage!” Ari bared her teeth.

    “No need, dear, it’s already obvious.” Kraft’s sneer grew even more pronounced. “At least you’re not walking around naked any more - but then, muggle clothes are barely an improvement at all.”

    Hermione met the witch’s eyes. “Are you quoting Voldemort or Grindelwald? Your bigotry would fit with either.”

    That made Kraft clench her teeth once more. “How quaint - a murderer trying to lecture me.”

    “Murderer?” Harry scoffed. “That’s rich, coming from someone who hired bandits to go after my aunt.”

    “Baseless slander. On the other hand, you hired a dear acquaintance of mine a few days ago to take you out on his yacht, yet returned without him or his ship.” Kraft leaned forward, putting her hands on the table. “I assume you’ll claim he dared to attack four wizards and witches by himself, and so you were forced to kill him.”

    “He attack me, I kill him!” Ari snapped.

    “So you admit it!” Kraft smiled broadly - triumphantly - and looked over her shoulder, raising her voice. “Did you hear enough, Lieutenant de Grasse?”

    Hermione tensed as a burly wizard in blue robes - a Gendarme of Magical Grenada - entered the café, trailed by four more wizards and one witch in similar, if not as ostentatiously decorated, robes. This didn’t look good.

    “Oui,” the Gendarme said. “More than enough to arrest the lot of them until this crime ’as been solved.”

    Definitely not good.

    *****​

    Harry Potter was already moving as the six Gendarmes were still starting to fan out and surround the group’s table. He shot up from his seat, flipping the table with a kick in the same movement, then hit it with a Banishing Charm as Ron dashed to the side. The table shot out and smashed into the Lieutenant, bowling him and two of his Gendarmes over, one of them getting thrown through the door behind him, but missed Kraft by inches. The witch was a lousy Curse-Breaker, but she was very good at evading the trouble she stirred up - she had already darted to the side and dived behind two gaping tourists when the fight started.

    Harry saw Ron roll over his shoulder and come up casting - his Stunner hit one of the Gendarmes who was still gaping before the man could react.

    “Harry! They’re Gendarmes!” Hermione protested - but she also conjured a wall that blocked the curses from the two remaining Gendarmes. And Ari’s charge, which probably wasn’t a coincidence.

    “Don’t, Ari!” Ron yelled over the screams from the other guests as the witch tried to climb the wall. “We’re leaving!”

    “What?” she turned around as Harry used a pair of Bludgeoning Curses to smash another table and drive the Gendarmes back.

    “We’re leaving, not fighting,” Hermione snapped, then ducked as a curse blew a hole in the upper part of the wall, showering them with dust and stone fragments.

    Harry nodded and blew a hole in the window and wall behind them. A moment later, he jumped through it, rolling forward and came up with his wand moving. There was another Gendarme outside, but she was casting healing charms on the Gendarme thrown out through the door earlier and too slow to react. Her wand was still rising when Harry hit her with a pair of Stunners that shattered her Shield Charm and laid her flat on her back.

    “There’ll be more behind the building,” Hermione said as she followed him, side vaulting over the remains of the wall, before sealing the café’s entrance with a conjured wall, “unless they are incompetent.”

    Harry thought the local Gendarmes probably were - after all, they hadn’t surrounded them before making their entrance. But he and his friends wouldn’t head towards the back of the building anyway. He glanced around - the street was emptying rapidly as people fled from the fight. None were apparating, so he assumed that there were Anti-Apparition Jinxes covering the area.

    Ron and Ari jumped through the hole, a yellow curse bouncing off Ron’s shield before they took cover. Harry was about to seal the hole but Ari beat him to it, a flick of her wand closing it with a tangled mess of vines that started to expand on all sides.

    “Need move. Plant paralyses,” the witch said.

    “To the port?” Ron asked, closing the last window, already shattered by flying debris and stray curses, with a conjured wall of his own.

    Harry shook his head as he pulled out his broom from his enchanted pocket. “They’ll expect that.” Kraft, at least, would, in his opinion. “We’ll fly southwards from here, then swing around and head north.”

    “Saint Vincent?” Hermione asked.

    “Yes,” Harry confirmed. “Let’s go!”

    A minute later, they were disillusioned and over the water.

    “Think she bought it?” Ron asked.

    “What?” Ari asked.

    “Kraft. She was almost certainly listening in,” Hermione explained. “That’s her style - can’t break curses, but she’s skilled at spying.”

    “Ah. She thinks we’ll go north.”

    “And we’ll go south instead,” Ron added.

    “West, actually,” Harry said. “Caracas.” The next island south of Grenada was Trinidad, and Harry had no doubt that Kraft had already bribed what passed as law enforcement there since she knew about them hiring Ryan.

    “We’ll run out of countries where we aren’t wanted by the law if we continue like this,” Hermione remarked a few minutes later.

    “It wasn’t my fault this time,” Ron replied. “Just saying - Harry started the fight.”

    “And Ari killed Ryan,” Hermione added.

    “Self-defence!” the other witch said with a sniff.

    “It doesn’t matter,” Harry said. It certainly wasn’t his fault. “If Ari hadn’t killed Ryan, he’d have lied to them and claimed we stole from him, or something.”

    “And he’d have led her to the volcano.” Hermione scoffed. “Although given the sirens’ presence, we might have inadvertently saved her life.”

    “Can change that.” Ari made a growling noise. “Just need turn around.”

    “It was bad enough that we fought the Gendarmes; we certainly won’t go back and commit murder!” Hermione exclaimed.

    “We couldn’t let the Gendarmes arrest us; Kraft had bribed them,” Harry said.

    “That doesn’t change the fact that we’re now wanted in at least two islands in the Caribbean,” Hermione pointed out.

    “Well, if Kraft could bribe them, Sirius could outbid her,” Ron said. “Turn the tables on her.”

    Sirius certainly could - but Harry didn’t want to ask his godfather for help. This wasn’t a serious problem. Not yet, at least. “We can handle it,” he said. “The police in Caracas won’t listen to the claims of those they still consider pirates.”

    “They’re called the Santa Hermandad - the Holy Brotherhood,” Hermione said, “in Caracas and in some other parts of Magical New Spain or its successor states.”

    “I thought the Brotherhood were pirates,” Ron said.

    “No, you mean the Brethren of the Coast,” Hermione corrected him.

    “No difference,” Ari said.

    “That’s probably true,” Ron agreed.

    “No, it isn’t,” Hermione insisted. “The Brethren of the Coast were an organisation of privateers and pirates. The magical part of it fared decidedly better than the muggle part after the Statute of Secrecy went into effect, and many of the Magical nations of the Caribbean trace their roots back to the Brethren. The Santa Hermandad, on the other hand, was an organisation created by the governments of several Spanish magical enclaves in the New World to enforce the law after the split from the muggle authorities, using existing muggle organisations as examples.”

    “Thieves all of them.” Ari obviously was neither impressed by Hermione’s knowledge nor did she agree with Harry’s girlfriend.

    “That’s a generalisation,” Hermione predictably retorted. “And it doesn’t change the fact that they are responsible for enforcing the law in Caracas, where we are headed.”

    Harry sighed silently as the two witches started to bicker. It would be an even longer flight to Caracas than he had thought.

    *****​

    Magical Kingdom of Granada, Magical Caracas, August 12th, 2001

    “They think we’re pirates?” Ron Weasley blinked, then looked around the small tavern near the port of Magical Caracas. He didn’t see anyone who seemed suspicious, but that didn’t have to mean anything. Shaking his head, he forced himself to behave as if he weren’t concerned. Pirates were hanged; everyone knew that. Granted, they had a privacy charm up, but still...

    “They’re accusing us of having committed an act of piracy by killing Ryan and taking his yacht,” Hermione replied as she scratched her head - her wig probably itched as much as Ron’s.

    “I thought the claims of former pirate enclaves were ignored in Caracas.” Ron remembered Harry saying that before Hermione started her ‘discussion’ with Ari.

    “The Holy Brotherhood usually ignore them,” she said. “But they have cooperated in the past to deal with actual pirates. I didn’t expect Kraft to go that far.” Ron saw she was pressing her lips together.

    “Well, it’s a good thing we disguised ourselves before entering town,” Harry said. He acted as if he were unconcerned, but Ron could see that he was fidgeting with his wand - he didn’t do that unless he was very tense.

    They had disguised themselves so Kraft’s spies wouldn’t find them, not because they’d expected that they would be wanted wizards and witches, but Ron wouldn’t point that out. Blaming Harry wouldn’t help.

    “Should have killed them. No more trouble,” Ari said - she almost growled the words at the end. Getting her into the typical robes of a tourist had been a struggle and a half.

    “We should have killed Kraft and all the Gendarmes? I suppose we should have killed all the witnesses as well?” Harry scoffed.

    Ron squeezed Ari’s thigh before she could answer that honestly. “We could have beaten and obliviated all of those in the café,” he said, “but we wouldn’t have been able to find everyone on the island who knew about Kraft’s lies.”

    “So it would have been a pointless fight,” Hermione said.

    “Could have kill Kraft,” Ari snarled. “No more lies.”

    “She doesn’t look like it, but she’s no slouch in a fight,” Ron pointed out.

    “She no fight. Did not fight,” Ari retorted.

    “She’s good at escaping fights,” Hermione said. “Usually by sacrificing the hired help.”

    “Or the duped help,” Harry added.

    Ari scoffed. “What now?”

    “Good question,” Ron said, looking at Harry.

    Who looked at Hermione. “Can you translate the tablets here?”

    She bit her lower lip before answering: “I’ll need to get my library out. And that would not fit well with our tourist disguise if anyone entered our room and saw it.”

    “We could act like we’re on our honeymoon and put up a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign,” Harry said with a grin that had Hermione blushing.

    “You should do that anyway,” Ron cut in. “Would’ve saved me some embarrassment.”

    Hermione snorted. “You don’t get to complain since your affairs usually end with us being chased out of town.”

    “This time it wasn’t my fault!” Ron retorted.

    “Well, Ari killed Ryan, which allowed Kraft to frame us as pirates, and she’s your girlfriend…”

    “He attacked me,” Ari said, interrupting Hermione.

    “Let’s not bicker about whose fault it was,” Harry said. “Let’s focus on what we can do.”

    “We could leave,” Hermione said. “Head home and research our findings without having to disguise ourselves.”

    “That would cost us a lot of time,” Harry said.

    Ron nodded. And it would lead to Ari meeting his family a little too soon for his taste. “And Kraft’s lies might have reached Britain as well.”

    “Or Auntie,” Harry added. “I better write a letter before she and Sirius hear about this from someone else.”

    Ron knew better than to ask about Hedwig - the owl would show up when she was needed, as usual. She didn’t hang around in the tropics. He nodded. “I might have to write a letter as well before Percy hears and tells Mum.” His older brother worked in the Department of International Magical Cooperation and would hear about this.

    “Oh no!” Hermione looked aghast.

    “What? Do you think your parents will believe you’ve become a pirate?” Harry asked.

    Ron doubted that - the Grangers were muggles. They didn’t have much contact with Wizarding Britain, apart from the occasional dinner with Ron’s own family. They had a subscription to the Daily Prophet, but… He winced. “Skeeter.”

    “Yes. If that… that witch hears about this…” Hermione trailed off as she shook her head.

    “Which she will,” Harry sighed.

    “Another enemy?” Ari frowned.

    “Yes,” Hermione said. “She’s a journalist who spreads the worst lies about us whenever she has the opportunity. And no, we can’t kill her either,” she added.

    Ari scoffed. “See? No killing means many enemies. Too many.”

    Ron bit his tongue before he agreed. His family wouldn’t believe Skeeter’s lies, but others would - or pretend they did. And the Ministry… He sighed. “I think returning to Britain is not a good idea right now.”

    “Not until this is sorted out,” Harry agreed. “But that means we’ll have to ask Dumbledore to help us.”

    “Dumbledore?” Ari leaned forward. “The great wizard Cap’n Ryan talked about?”

    “Yes.” Ron nodded. Ari didn’t know much about the world outside her home, and most of what she knew was limited to the Caribbean.

    “He travel through Caribbean decades ago, battle dark wizards? That true?”

    Ron nodded again.

    “That must have been Dumbledore’s trip to the Caribbean in 1957,” Hermione said, “which ended the houngans’ practice of kidnapping magical children to raise as their ‘apprentices’.”

    Ari nodded eagerly. “He fought dark wizards. And he killed, Ryan told,” she added with a scoff. “We go see him?”

    “Even he won’t kill Skeeter or Kraft,” Hermione said. “We know - we fought at his side against the Dark Lord Voldemort.”

    “Who was killed by Auntie!” Harry added.

    “Can she kill Kraft and Skeeter?”

    “Well, she could, if she wanted,” Harry said.

    “But she won’t,” Hermione was quick to add. “Killing is not an option for us, especially not in Britain.”

    “Unless it’s clear self-defence,” Ron pointed out. “But… we’ll have to inform Dumbledore, then.”

    “See him?” Ari beamed.

    “He’s in Britain. We won’t go there until this pirate business is settled,” Hermione said.

    Ari sulked at that.

    “He also doesn’t like killing,” Hermione added.

    “Says you!”

    Ron cleared his throat to stop the brewing argument. “So, let’s get writing and translating, then!”

    The sooner they got started, the sooner this mess would be sorted out.

    Not that, Ron thought, a little more time to teach Ari how to behave around British wizards and witches would be a bad thing. Mum supported Ginny and Luna’s relationship, but Ron didn’t think she would accept his and Ari’s as easily.

    Certainly not if Ari kept talking about wanting to kill people.

    *****​
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2018
    Najdrox, TheEyes, Atropa and 5 others like this.
  11. Threadmarks: Chapter 5: Family Business
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 5: Family Business

    ‘Before the International Statute of Secrecy was officially established in 1692, many countries struggled for control of the New World and its riches - and in a time before long-range magical transportation had been invented, that meant control of the seas. The Caribbean Sea was the location of many battles and even more raids on ships and settlements. It is not at all surprising that piracy soon flourished in the area as countries issued letters of marque, and many pirates played the warring parties against each other.
    The establishment of the Statute of Secrecy didn’t, at first, change that as the new magical countries continued their old conflicts in the New World. However, the differences between wizards and muggles soon became apparent as the magical countries discovered that many of the same spells that allowed wizards to hide from muggles also provided wizarding pirates with the means to hide from the already thinly-spread wizarding authorities - and much more effectively than their muggle counterparts.
    It wasn’t until the middle of the nineteenth century that advances in magical travel, most notably brooms that could handle the rigours of maritime patrols, allowed the countries of the New World to start eradicating piracy. However, even though the brooms allowed the authorities to intercept pirate ships thanks to their superior speed, their efforts were limited by the range of the early patrol brooms and the low number of patrolling wizards, and so many pirates merely shifted their activities to more remote areas. But with innovations such as the British tactic of using ships to serve as bases for broom patrols, which was quickly copied by Spanish and other navies, the leaders of the pirate enclaves could see the writing on the wall.
    In an unexpected feat of political skill, the leaders of the enclaves of Trinidad and Grenada, already suffering from frequent raids by Spanish patrols, managed to form a coalition of the most important pirate enclaves. Leveraging their combined power, and using the opportunity provided by the last British-Jamaican War, they managed to deter the New World’s countries from continuing their anti-piracy efforts long enough to reform their own enclaves and abandon piracy - officially, at least. ‘Renegades’ among them still plied their ‘trade’ for decades more, until brooms such as the Oakshaft 79, which was made famous in 1932 by the first ever Atlantic crossing on a broom, finally put an end to organised Caribbean piracy. These days, the former pirate enclaves are some of the most popular vacation spots for the adventurous wizard, though families with children are advised to stay on the mainland since kidnappings remain common.’

    - Excerpt from ‘Atlas of the Magical New World’ by Melchior Steiner, Berlin, 1954

    *****​

    Venezuela, Caracas, August 13th, 2001

    “Hello?”

    Hermione Granger took a deep breath - through her mouth; the phone booth was a little smelly. But it was as far from the wizarding part of the town as you could get and still be safe as a tourist. “Mum? It’s me.”

    “Hermione! I didn’t expect you to call. Where are you?”

    She winced. She should have expected that that would be Mum’s first question. “I can’t tell you, Mum.”

    “What? Are you… You’re in trouble, aren’t you?”

    Sometimes, Hermione wished her parents weren’t quite so perceptive. “We can handle it.”

    “Like you handled that situation in Tunis? Or Constantinople?” Mum’s tone had grown rather tense. “Who is hunting you now? The Americans?”

    Hermione sighed and rolled her eyes. “No, Mum. We just had some trouble with Miss Kraft.”

    “Again? What did that woman do this time?”

    “She’s trying to frame us for piracy,” Hermione replied.

    “What? Didn’t you tell me that the wizards still hang pirates in the Caribbean?”

    Of course, her mum wouldn’t have forgotten that. Perhaps Hermione should consider telling her parents slightly fewer details about her work. But she had been so enthusiastic about their find, back in London… “I’m not in the Magical Caribbean, Mum.” Which was correct for the duration of this talk.

    “But you’ll return as soon as you hang up, won’t you?”

    Hermione winced again. Caught.

    Her mum didn’t wait for her reply. “It’s bad enough that you break into cursed tombs - one of the most dangerous occupations in the magical world! - but do you have to deal with criminals as well?”

    “Mum! It’s not as if we chose this - it’s all Kraft’s fault. Besides, we can handle it.” Hermione clenched her teeth.

    Mum sighed. “I just worry, Hermione. Curses, monsters, criminals - and now someone’s framing you as pirates… where will this end? I thought you were done with this when Voldemort was killed.”

    “It’s really not the same, Mum,” Hermione said. Her parents had taken a long time to stop bringing up the fight against Voldemort in Egypt. But it wasn’t as if she could have told them in advance about the plans to ambush Voldemort. “Voldemort was a threat to the entire country - possibly the continent. This is just an envious witch trying to sabotage us because she won’t ever beat us otherwise.”

    “She’s framing you for a capital crime! That’s not something to take lightly!”

    Mum wasn’t wrong, of course, but Hermione couldn’t let her worry overly much - who knew what Hermione’s parents would do if they knew exactly what Hermione and her friends were up to? “We’ve got it handled, Mum. Dumbledore will sort this out.” Once they told him about it.

    “Hermione…”

    “Really, Mum. I just called so you won’t get worried should Skeeter write one of her libellous articles again.”

    “Oh, no! She’s involved as well? Of course she would be! You didn’t get caught skinny-dipping with Harry again, did you?”

    Hermione winced. This call would take longer than she had hoped. And she still had to translate - or decipher, to be more precise - the contents of the sirens’ tablets. But her family took precedence. Up to a point, of course.

    “Gabriel! Do you know what Hermione’s involved with now?”

    Hermione closed her eyes when she heard Dad in the background.

    Much longer.

    *****​

    Magical Kingdom of Granada, Magical Caracas, August 13th, 2001

    ...and you don’t have to worry, Auntie - we’re as safe as can be here, and Dumbledore should have this sorted out soon. How is your expedition going?

    Love, Harry

    Harry Potter read through his letter again, then flicked his wand to dry the ink. “There. They shouldn’t worry.”

    Hedwig barked.

    Harry sighed. “Yes, I know they will, anyway.” Auntie and Sirius were rather hypocritical, in his opinion - it wasn’t as if they were playing it perfectly safe, either. Danger was part of the job, as Bill always said.

    Hedwig barked again, then turned her head to look at the letter.

    “I’m sorry,” Harry said as he picked it up and slipped it into an envelope. “I know that you don’t like the tropics.”

    His owl gave him the same look she had given him the only time he had bought a different brand of owl treats.

    He rolled his eyes. “It’s not my fault that Atlantis wasn’t in the Arctic.” She was just being unreasonable.

    Hedwig leaned over and nipped at his ear, but his quick reflexes saved him. “Hey!”

    Unrepentant, she barked again.

    “Alright, alright.” He picked up the letter to Dumbledore and Ron’s letters, then bundled them together. “Deliver Dumbledore’s first, then the Weasleys’ - in Britain - before you go to Egypt,” he said as he shrunk the bundle and stuck it into Hedwig’s mail pouch. “Ow!” He rubbed his head as the owl flew off. “Prickly owl. I was just trying to be helpful.”

    Sighing, he leaned back. Hermione was out, calling her parents. Ron was out with Ari, trying to teach her how to behave like a muggle. Harry snorted - the witch still hadn’t learned how to fit in with wizarding society.

    That left him to work on translating the pictures.

    *****​

    Hermione returned to their room at the wizarding inn half an hour later, and Harry Potter just needed one look at her expression to know the call hadn’t gone well.

    “Parents!” Hermione spat, sitting down on their bed. Then she closed her eyes and sighed, lying down on her back. “I tell them that they shouldn’t worry, but they don’t listen. But I have to listen to them?”

    Harry stood and joined her on the bed. “Should have sent them a letter. They can’t yell at you through parchment.” Well, her parents couldn’t - Molly could send a Howler. Not that she would, since that might endanger Ron.

    “They didn’t yell at me,” Hermione said, turning her head to frown at him.

    “But they wanted to, didn’t they?” They certainly had yelled a lot when Hermione had told them about the battle against Voldemort.

    She sighed, which was answer enough. He reached out and squeezed her shoulder. In response, she rolled over and rested her head on his thigh, looking up at him.

    “It’ll work out,” he said. “We’ll get Kraft’s lies sorted out and then we’ll find Atlantis.”

    She snorted. “We’ll have to translate the pictures Ron took for that. Did you have any success?” she asked.

    If Harry had managed, he’d have told her right away, and she knew it. But he shook his head anyway. “No. I think I figured out another column of supply orders, but that won’t help us.”

    “It could - if we can link the supplies to locations. If it’s a native plant or animal restricted to certain places…” Hermione trailed off.

    “Unless they were also native to Atlantis, which sank in the meantime,” Harry pointed out.

    She sighed once more. “I know. We’ll need to find ties to translations we already know.” She didn’t get up, though. Instead, she closed her eyes again and remained as she was.

    And so did he. For a while, at least.

    *****​

    Magical Kingdom of Granada, Magical Caracas, August 15th, 2001

    “We’ve checked every book in my library and everything we have gathered twice - we can’t translate the pictures you took, Ron.” Hermione pressed her lips together and looked as if she had just admitted to a crime.

    Harry Potter patted Hermione’s thigh. She took any failure too hard.

    “Different language,” Ari said. “Not Masters’.”

    “Well, it’s the same language, but I think the two sets of tablets we found were created in different epochs - there are signs of linguistic drift,” Hermione said.

    “So, what can we do now?” Ron said. “That was our best lead, wasn’t it? We can’t ask the sirens to translate the tablets for us.”

    Harry thought about making a joke about sacrificing Ron for the cause, but Ari’s fierce expression gave him pause. Some beasts you didn’t poke, no matter what Luna claimed.

    “You don’t go to the fishes,” she snarled, gripping Ron’s arm. Harry almost expected to see claws emerge from her fingers.

    “No, we’re not that desperate,” Hermione said. “But we’ll have to go back to Britain to consult other books.”

    “Didn’t you raid even Dumbledore’s private library?” Ron asked.

    She glared at him. “I didn’t raid it; I made copies of selected works with his permission.”

    Harry nodded. “The Headmaster was joking when he compared her visit to the Viking raid on Hogwarts in 1025.”

    “I know,” Ron said. “Unlike her, the Vikings were driven off and couldn’t plunder the school.”

    Harry chuckled with his friend while Hermione glared at them both and Ari looked lost.

    “Vikings?” she asked.

    “Oh, people who raided most of Britain a thousand years ago,” Ron said. “They came in ships and stormed settlements.”

    “Ah.” She nodded. “Conquistadores and pirates.”

    Hermione opened her mouth to correct the other witch, but Harry squeezed her thigh. “So, what library do you have in mind?” he asked. “I thought we’d already visited every library which covers the subject.”

    “Ah…” She cleared her throat. “There’s one we haven’t yet checked.” She smiled. “The library in the Department of Mysteries.”

    Harry blinked. “I didn’t think they let visitors consult their books,” he said.

    Hermione sniffed. “I’m certain that, given what we’ve already found, they’ll make an exception.”

    “And if they don’t?” Ron asked.

    “Then we’ll have to find another way to get the books we need.” Hermione nodded firmly.

    Harry had a bad feeling about this.

    *****​

    Over Britain, Greater London Area, August 17th, 2001

    Ron Weasley wasn’t an ignorant pureblood who sneered at muggles. Between his dad’s passion for all things muggle and Petunia’s exploits, he knew that a lack of magic wasn’t any reason to dismiss something or someone. Muggle technology wasn’t magic, but it worked well. Very well, in fact.

    Unless, of course, it suddenly didn’t work any more. Which could happen, as Dad had demonstrated more than once when he had failed to read the manual for a new device he wanted to show the rest of the family.

    Muggle pilots, though, as Harry, Hermione and Petunia had assured him often, not only did read the manuals for their aeroplanes but knew them by heart. And aeroplanes rarely failed to work anyway. But rarely didn’t mean never. And Hermione, as she usually did when covering a subject, had also covered a variety of aeroplane crashes that hadn’t been the pilots’ fault. Sometimes, aeroplanes just stopped working. With usually fatal results.

    Which was the reason Ron was worried - not afraid, of course, just legitimately concerned - whenever they took a muggle aeroplane to travel. Especially when they were about to land.

    Which they were.

    Harry and Hermione, sitting on the other side of the aisle, weren’t even a little nervous, of course, having grown up mostly in the muggle world. Ron almost sighed, then forced himself to smile confidently and addressed Ari, who was seated next to him and staring out of the window, watching the country beneath them: “Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe.”

    “Yes,” she answered, without taking her eyes off the window. “And more comfort than broom, too. Can sleep and eat - like on boat... on a ship.”

    “Yes, exactly,” Ron said, his smile growing more forced. She doesn’t know much about muggles, and nothing about the differences between technology and magic, he told himself, so she isn’t afraid of a crash.

    It still felt both wrong and unfair that a witch straight out of the Amazon rainforest handled muggle travel better than Ron.

    *****​

    London, No 12 Grimmauld Place, August 17th, 2001

    They had barely appeared in the backyard of Harry’s home when Ron Weasley’s best friend knelt on the ground and hissed. A moment later, about half a dozen snakes were slithering towards him through the grass and hissing back.

    “We’ll just head inside,” Hermione said.

    “Alright. Just catching up,” Harry replied without looking away from the adder leading the pack.

    “He’ll be a while,” Ron explained to Ari as they walked towards the back door.

    “You sure he has no snake blood?” Ari asked, staring at Harry.

    “Yes,” Ron replied, chuckling. “It’s always like that if we arrive in the yard instead of through the Floo network.” As wanted people, they had decided to avoid using Wizarding Britain’s transport network.

    “Hello, Kreacher.” Hermione’s smile was wide and fake, Ron knew, as she spotted the elf in the kitchen.

    “Young Master returned. With friends.” Kreacher’s reply was as honest as Hermione’s.

    “That a goblin?” Ari narrowed her eyes at the elf.

    “Goblin? Kreacher? Kreacher is a house-elf!” He sneered, exposing his teeth.

    Ari matched him, baring her own teeth while hissing at him. “Look like goblin. He looks like a goblin,” she corrected herself.

    “That’s because Ron’s transfiguration needs a little work,” Hermione cut in. “Kreacher, this is Ari, Ron’s girlfriend. She’s a witch from the Amazon rainforest, but that is a secret.”

    “And be polite to her, or she’ll eat you,” Ron couldn’t resist adding.

    Ari’s smile widened.

    “Ron! Don’t encourage her!” Hermione chided him.

    “I’m just warning him,” Ron defended himself. Which was true - mostly. Kreacher was not just a bigot, but also a snob. And Ron didn’t like anyone looking down on his family or friends.

    Ari’s smile merely grew even broader.

    Hermione sighed. “Did anyone send or leave a message for us?”

    “Aurors wanted to see you. Kreacher told them you were exploring Antarctica.” The elf grinned. “Master’s order!”

    That was a little worrying. If Aurors were looking for them, they would have visited The Burrow as well. They probably weren’t staking it out, but… There were a lot of people in the Ministry and the Wizengamot who’d like to hurt Dad, Sirius or even Dumbledore through Ron and his friends, and this wanted business was the perfect opportunity for them to do so without being obvious about it.

    And Ron wasn’t certain if Ari understood that you shouldn’t fight the Aurors in Britain. With all the fighting in the Caribbean, they had set a terrible example, as Hermione would say.

    Not that they had had a choice, of course. That was his story, and Ron was sticking to it. Especially when talking to his family.

    “I guess we’ll have to talk to Dumbledore first, then,” he said. “Or we’ll have to dodge Aurors all the time during our stay.”

    Hermione nodded. “It would make our research in the Ministry a little inconvenient,” she said.

    “We going to see Dumbledore?” Ari asked, beaming.

    “As soon as Harry has finished hissing,” Ron replied. “Which, by the way, is a secret. You shouldn’t tell that to anyone.”

    Ari frowned. “You have many secrets. Cannot talk about Harry’s snake blood, my blood, my tribe, Masters’ tablets, Ryan, sirens… what do you talk to family?”

    “They’ll mostly talk about you,” Hermione replied with a wide grin before Ron could.

    He chuckled, even though it wasn’t that funny. And wouldn’t be.

    *****​

    Hogsmeade, August 17th, 2001

    Hermione Granger studied the small village through her enchanted binoculars. “There’s an Auror… two… just leaving the Hog’s Head Inn,” she heard Harry whisper next to her.

    “Another pair walking past Puddifoot’s,” Ron added. “Did they start adding more Auror patrols on Friday nights? I don’t remember there being double patrols on Fridays. Think they’re looking for us?”

    “They don’t know we’re back in Britain, nor would they know we’re planning to visit Dumbledore,” Hermione replied. She didn’t bother whispering - they had a privacy charm protecting them and they were three hundred yards away from the closest Auror.

    “Even if they’re not looking for us, they’ll still try to arrest us if they spot us,” Harry said.

    “Which they won’t.” Ron chuckled. “The average Auror has trouble spotting themselves in a mirror.”

    It wasn’t quite that bad, but Hermione couldn’t deny that, apart from a few exceptional Aurors, Wizarding Britain’s law enforcement arm wasn’t particularly skilled or talented. “We can’t become overconfident,” she said anyway.

    “Yes, Mum,” Ron replied.

    She glared at him, but he merely grinned in response. If they were still students, they could fly to the school and walk inside without being inconvenienced by the wards. But as things were, they had to sneak inside through one of the tunnels.

    “Stun them?”

    Hermione closed her eyes and refrained from snapping at Ari.

    “Dumbledore wouldn’t like that,” Ron said.

    “Oh.”

    Yes, ‘Oh’. Hermione almost sighed. It would have been easier if they had invited Dumbledore to Grimmauld Place instead of announcing their visit, but doing so now would be like admitting they couldn’t even sneak into their old school - and what kind of Curse-Breakers would they be if they had to admit that?

    “Let’s go through the Shrieking Shack,” Harry said. “None of the patrols are even near there.”

    “Too lazy or too scared,” Ron muttered. “Let’s go!”

    They disillusioned themselves and sprinted over the open field to the edge of the village, then made their way through the back alleys and backyards to the Shrieking Shack. Hermione felt suddenly nostalgic as they reached the old haunted house. Breaking into the shack had been a kind of exam, back during their time at Hogwarts. Mr Lupin - Remus, she reminded herself - had laid down the wards himself, and almost, but not quite, told them to have a go at it.

    He had improved the wards since that time, she noted as she started analysing the protections at the wardline. But Hermione and her friends weren’t students any more - they were experienced Curse-Breakers.

    A few minutes later, they were inside the tunnel, on their way to Hogwarts.

    “No guards here? No traps?” Ari wondered halfway to the school.

    “That would endanger the students who use these tunnels,” Ron pointed out.

    “Or try to use them,” Harry added. “Not everyone is as good as we were.”

    “Not safe.” The witch scoffed.

    “It’s a school, not a tomb,” Hermione replied. “Although the protections were more elaborate and harder to crack during the fight against Voldemort.”

    “We could have gotten through them anyway, of course,” Harry had to add. “But we were busy exploring the Room of Requirement.”

    “Room of Requirement?”

    Hermione sighed as Ron started to explain the room’s properties. They were here to get their legal troubles sorted out and get access to the books needed to continue their research, not to show off Hogwarts!

    *****​

    Hogwarts, August 17th, 2001

    The gargoyle guarding the stairs to Dumbledore’s office moved away as they approached it, without asking for a password or challenging them. As Hermione Granger had expected, Dumbledore was already aware of them - and had likely been tracking them since they entered the tunnel.

    Harry sighed. “Guess that means he isn’t using a variant of the Marauder’s Map,” he said, passing the statute.

    “Or his version is not as easily fooled as Sirius’s,” Hermione pointed out.

    “Or Remus found and closed the loophole we used,” Ron added.

    “Or he too powerful for you,” Ari said as they reached the top of the stairs.

    “It does not matter how much power you have, Miss Ari, but how you use that power. In almost any situation, there’s a solution that negates an enemy’s power thanks to planning, cunning - or sheer luck.” Dumbledore, seated behind his desk, smiled at them. “Welcome to Hogwarts,” he said as he flicked his wand and conjured seats for everyone.

    “Good evening, Headmaster,” Harry said.

    “Thank you for meeting with us,” Hermione added.

    “H-Hello,” Ari managed to say as Ron guided her to the closest seat.

    Dumbledore’s smile grew warmer. “I bid you welcome and offer you the hospitality of Hogwarts, my dear.”

    The formal words - Hermione hadn’t heard them said in earnest ever, but had read about them - seemed to reassure and calm the shapeshifter.

    “I accept,” Ari said, nodding. “Blood for blood.”

    “I do hope it will not come to that,” Dumbledore said. He tilted his head slightly. “As I understand it, you find yourself in a slightly tricky situation.”

    “We’ve been framed for piracy,” Harry said, frowning, “by Lena Kraft!”

    “So I have gathered. How did that come to pass?” Dumbledore leaned forward and steepled his fingers.

    “Captain of ship attacked me, I killed him,” Ari said while Harry was just opening his mouth. “Liar claims we killed him for ship.”

    “Ah.”

    “He was her spy - she knew him and knew we were with him,” Harry explained. “And she had paid off the authorities on Grenada and probably Trinidad as well.”

    “But we didn’t know that at the time,” Ron added. “Not until she sicced the guard on us.”

    “If I knew, I had killed him sooner!” Ari nodded with a deep scowl and bared her teeth.

    Fortunately, the Headmaster didn’t seem to be put off by her bloodthirsty attitude. He even chuckled, Hermione noted.

    “If that is all there is to this, then I think a copy of your memories will suffice to defuse the situation,” he said. “At least outside the Caribbean. I fear that the lure of gold will outweigh the truth in certain corners there.”

    “Not only there,” Hermione said with a frown. The Ottomans had institutionalised corruption, and the mercenary tradition in the Balkans didn’t stop at their authorities. Unfortunately, she doubted that Kraft would be punished for her attempts to frame Hermione and her friends - their actions did look a little suspicious, after all, since they had kept Ryan’s death a secret. For perfectly valid reasons, of course.

    The Headmaster nodded. “Indeed. But I do not think that I am mistaken in assuming that this remains your main area of interest.”

    “No, you aren’t,” Hermione admitted. “We found two Atlantean outposts and managed to translate some of their texts thanks to Ari’s help, but we need more information to decipher the remaining tablets.” She smiled widely. “Is there any way we could be granted access to the Department of Mysteries?”

    Dumbledore chuckled. “I see you remain as bold in research as in the field, Miss Granger.” But then he grew serious. “Alas, the Unspeakables are very unlikely to share their knowledge - somewhat understandably, since they guard some of the most dangerous secrets known to wizardkind.”

    Hermione bit her lower lip. “We have knowledge we could offer them in exchange for access to their archives.” She didn’t like having to do that - there was always the risk of someone beating them to the discovery, and who could say if they would offer all they knew? - but she needed more information.

    “I do not think they would agree to such a trade - nor do I think they would honour it even if they were to agree.” Dumbledore shook his head. “Having discovered that they had been betrayed to Voldemort by one of their own, they have grown far more cautious and suspicious. An overreaction, in my opinion, but an understandable one. However,” he added just as Hermione’s face fell, “I will contact the Department of Mysteries anyway - it will not hurt, and one should not abandon an idea before even making an attempt. Once your name has been cleared, of course.”

    *****​

    London, No 12 Grimmauld Place, August 21st, 2001

    “...and in a rare, almost unheard of, display of efficiency, in just one day, the Ministry declared the warrant filed by Trinidad and Grenada null and void and also filed a complaint at the ICW protesting the abuse of international treaties to level ‘blatantly false accusations against prominent citizens of Wizarding Britain in an obvious attempt to hinder their research on behalf of an unscrupulous competitor’.” Tonks lowered her notebook and narrowed her eyes at Harry Potter. “Dumbledore pretty much ordered the Ministry around for you.”

    Sitting in his favourite armchair in Grimmauld Place’s living room, Harry tried not to grin too much. “I guess he really hates such injustice and abuse of power.” And the Headmaster still felt that he owed both Harry and Auntie for the mistakes he had made in the fight against Voldemort. And, of course, Dumbledore didn’t want Kraft to find Atlantis either - the witch had proven to be both ruthless and amoral, as well as a little more cunning than Harry had thought.

    Tonks snorted. “Sure. Pull the other one.” She leaned forward and frowned. “He hasn’t done this before. What are you three doing that’s so important?”

    Harry clenched his teeth. Tonks was a little clumsy and sometimes behaved as if she were a ditz, but she was one of the best Aurors in the Ministry. “That’s a secret,” he said.

    “Hm.” She looked at the ceiling. “A missing ship.” Of course she would have read the warrant. “A jungle witch. That means it’s either pirate treasure, El Dorado or Atlantis.”

    Harry frowned at the word treasure, and Tonks grinned. “Pirate treasure it is!” she exclaimed.

    “No comment,” he said, refraining from grinning.

    “Sure, sure. My lips are sealed - if you get me a nice necklace or something like that.” She grinned wider. “For my silence.”

    He sighed. “If we find any pirate treasure, you’ll get a necklace. As a gift for Christmas.”

    She frowned again. “Wouldn’t I get a gift anyway?”

    “Sure,” he replied, grinning. “But now I know what to get you. So, now that you have satisfied your greed, how’s life in the Ministry’s service?”

    She shrugged. “Business as usual. Things have been pretty quiet. Your warrant was the biggest news this month. And, of course, Dumbledore’s actions.”

    “Great.” That meant more people would be paying attention to them, Harry knew. That would complicate matters a little.

    “Skeeter’s been in the Ministry today, too.”

    Harry closed his eyes and cursed.

    *****​

    London, Kingston upon Thames, August 22nd, 2001

    “Hermione! Harry! Come in! Gabriel’s going to be a little late - the practice was full this morning.”

    “Mum!”

    Harry Potter smiled as he watched Hermione hug her mother. Apparently, things weren’t as tense as she had feared. Then he saw the Daily Prophet on the table behind Mrs Granger. He already knew the headline, of course.

    Boy-Who-Lived Accused of Piracy and Murder! Dumbledore Forces Ministry to Drop the Case!

    “Ellen.” He nodded at the newspaper after they hugged. “You’ve seen the news, then.” Best to get it over with. Perhaps they should have brought Ari and Ron with them anyway, despite Hermione’s worries about her parents’ reactions to the witch.

    “Nothing but libel cloaked in flowery words,” Hermione spat before her mother could answer.

    “I know, dear,” Mrs Granger said. “But there’s more to this than mere rumour, isn’t there? Skeeter would know better than to outright lie about the warrant, wouldn’t she?”

    “The warrant is based on lies,” Hermione said. “I told you that already! That’s why it’s been dismissed in Britain.”

    “But not in the Caribbean.”

    That had been in the article as well, Harry knew. He shrugged. “It’s not as if the Caribbean is united. And most countries there will take their cue from Dumbledore - they owe him for dealing with the houngans in 1957.” And didn’t want to provoke him. “And the rest would probably go after anyone as long as they’re paid enough gold.”

    “That’s quite a cavalier attitude about being a wanted wizard,” Mrs Granger said.

    He shrugged again. “Bandits by any other name. We can handle them.” Danger was part of the job.

    Mrs Granger pursed her lips in a very familiar manner but - wisely in Harry’s opinion, since Hermione was already gathering steam for another ‘lively discussion, Granger-style’ - didn’t press the issue. “Well, let’s sit down. Gabriel shouldn’t be much longer. What did you find on this expedition?”

    “Oh, we found relics of Atlantis! Actual written records!” Hermione started talking before they had sat. “That alone is an extraordinary find!”

    “Will you be able to publish it?” She meant in a muggle magazine, of course. As much as the Grangers worried about Hermione’s profession, they had framed all three articles published in British Archaeology - and the magazines were permanent fixtures in their practice’s waiting room.

    “Ah… not what we have so far. But if we find other ruins, it might be possible,” Hermione replied. “It would be hard to explain the tablets or the pictures we got to muggles.”

    “That’s a shame.”

    “Still, it’s very exciting. Here, take a look at this…” Hermione pulled out some pictures. “We found them in a buried ruin in the rainforest, in northern Brazil.”

    As they showed off their findings, neither she nor Harry mentioned the circumstances in which they had found the tablets, of course. That would only have started another row.

    And Mrs Granger knew better than to ask.

    *****​

    Devon, Ottery St Catchpole, August 22nd, 2001

    “Why is it called Burrow? Burrows are in ground.”

    Ron Weasley, about to walk towards the Weasley family home, stopped and shrugged at Ari’s question. “Tradition.”

    “And it’s ‘The Burrow’,” Hermione added with a smirk. “Also tradition.”

    Ron glared at his friend. Fortunately, Ari mere nodded, accepting the correction. He cleared his throat. “So… my family can be a little… lively.”

    “Already said so.” Ari tugged at her robes, again. Getting her into them had been a struggle in itself. But not even Hermione would show up for a Weasley family dinner in muggle Curse-Breaker clothes.

    “I know,” Ron replied. “I’m just…” Worried. Nervous. Anxious.

    “No worry.” Ari smiled. “Not going to attack them.”

    He forced himself to nod.

    “Not good for marriage if attacking your family.”

    Ron blinked. He opened his mouth, but snapped it shut before he could blurt out: ‘Marriage? What marriage?’ He had learned that lesson in Constantinople. He heard Harry chuckle and, when he glanced at his friends, Hermione was smiling a little too smugly as well. Of course they would be enjoying this! He forced himself to smile widely. “That’s the spirit. Just don’t eat anything the twins offer you, and you’ll be fine.” Fred and George knew better than to touch Mum’s dishes.

    “Said so already, too.”

    “It bears repeating,” Hermione added. “Fred and George have become worse since they started their shop.”

    “And since we started to easily deal with whatever they invented,” Harry said. He grinned. “Compared to ancient curses, prank spells and potions aren’t really a challenge.”

    Which, of course, the twins had taken as a challenge. Ron sighed. “Let’s go in, or they’ll wonder what’s wrong.”

    “They’ll do that anyway,” Harry muttered. “They always think something’s wrong.”

    Ron wanted to defend his family, but Harry was right. Even though he and his friends weren’t doing anything that Bill hadn’t done as well. Well, nothing Bill wouldn’t have done as well, if he had had their leads.

    He grinned. Finding Atlantis was every Curse-Breaker’s dream, and they were so close to achieving it!

    He was still grinning when he opened the door. “Mum? Dad?”

    “Ron!”

    And here came Mum. Ron braced himself as his mother rushed towards him.

    “Ron! We were so worried!” she exclaimed and pulled him into a tight hug. “When I heard about that warrant, and then read that awful article…”

    “You already knew that we were fine,” Ron said, “and that it was just Kraft causing trouble again.”

    “But not that you were wanted by the Aurors!” She released him. “Arthur and Percy had an awful time at the Ministry dealing with all the rumours!”

    “It was to protect you, Molly,” Hermione cut in. “You could truthfully answer that you didn’t know where Ron was if you were questioned by the authorities.”

    Mum frowned, but quickly smiled - as much as she considered Harry and Hermione part of her family, they were also guests, Ron knew, which meant they had some privileges compared to him. “Oh, where are my manners! Hermione, Harry!”

    More hugs followed.

    “And you must be Ari!”

    “Yes, Mum.” Ari nodded with a smile.

    Mum blinked.

    Ron quickly said: “She’s still learning English, Mum. She’s made great progress, but she’s not yet perfect.”

    “Ah.” Mum nodded. “I’m Molly, dear.” She smiled at Ari.

    “Ari, formerly of the Jaguar tribe.” Ari nodded sharply.

    “Jaguar tribe?” Mum looked puzzled.

    “Dad!” Ron said, a little louder than needed, as he spotted his father smiling at them from the living room. He quickly went to hug him, then waved Ari over. “Dad, this is Ari. Ari - my dad.”

    “Hello, Ari,” Dad said. “Harry, Hermione. Come, sit down.” He waved his wand, and the couch grew wider. “You’re the first girl Ron’s brought home since Hogwarts.”

    Ari perked up at that. “Good.”

    “You met in the rainforest, didn’t you?” Mum said, sitting down next to Dad. Apparently, the meal was already prepared, and she wasn’t needed in the kitchen.

    “Yes.” Ari nodded again. “He came to our territory. Looked for ruins. Met while hunting. Tribe wanted to kill him and friends, but I warned them. Had to leave.”

    Dad cleared his throat while Mum glared at Ron. “I don’t remember you mentioning this in your letter, Ron,” she said with a frown.

    “Ah…” Ron tried to smile. If he claimed that it hadn’t been serious, Ari would be insulted - she had given up her home for them over it, after all. And his parents wouldn’t believe him anyway. “I didn’t want you to worry.”

    “I told you not to leave out the details,” Hermione muttered.

    “As if you told your parents everything,” Ron shot back.

    “I don’t want them to worry too much,” she replied. “They feel bad enough about my career already. But I certainly would have told them all about meeting Harry, if they hadn’t been there when we met for the first time.” She sniffed.

    Ari nodded. “Harry conjured giant snake, and we rode down waterfall while tribe give chase.”

    Now even Dad was frowning at Ron. Bill never had to deal with this, Ron was sure.

    *****​

    “...and then we landed in the river and apparated.”

    Harry had done his best to make the whole encounter with Ari’s tribe sound not quite as dangerous as it had been, Ron Weasley had to admit - but his parents weren’t that easily fooled. Of course, they had heard the story once already, before the rest of the family had arrived and dinner had started.

    “Chased by an entire tribe,” Mum said, shaking her head as she passed out the main course.

    “Sounds like it was an adventure!” Fred grinned widely as his brother nodded. Their girlfriends were less enthused. At least the long-suffering look Alicia and Angelina exchanged made Ron think so. But then, they probably felt like that every day with the twins.

    “It sounds like it was very dangerous,” Mum remarked. “Over a hundred wizards and witches chasing you.”

    “Five times five times five,” Ari corrected her.

    “Thank you, dear.” Mum’s smile was more than a little forced.

    “Pleasure.” Ari beamed, and Ron had to cover up his snort with a cough. He wasn’t the only one.

    “What happened to the snake?” Luna asked in the sudden silence. “Did you just leave it in the jungle?”

    Ron pointedly looked at Harry. Snakes were his business, not Ron’s.

    “The conjured snake?”

    “Yes,” Luna nodded, frowning slightly. “She must have been terribly confused.”

    “For the remaining hours of its existence,” Ron heard Hermione mutter under her breath. Fortunately, not loud enough to be overheard by Ginny or the Lovegoods.

    “I’m sure she was fine,” Harry said. “She had no complaints.”

    “She might have just been too polite to say anything,” Luna replied. “Conjured animals usually are.”

    “That’s because they are conjured creatures and not real ones,” Hermione muttered.

    “I’ll ask the next snake I conjure,” Harry said.

    Luna nodded solemnly. “Good. Too many wizards and witches neglect their conjurations. It’s really inconsiderate of them, and, as the Boy-Who-Lived, you should lead by example.”

    “I’ll keep that in mind,” Harry managed to say with a straight face - though he quickly turned and started talking to Dad about enchanting an amphibious Range Rover.

    And that left Mr Lovegood free to address Ari. “So you are a member of the Jaguar tribe, Miss.”

    “Former member. Cannot return. Dead if I do.”

    “Oh.” The man blinked. “That’s tragic.”

    “I am with Ron, Harry and Hermione now. New family.” Ari grabbed Ron’s arm for emphasis, not that anyone had missed that statement. Ron could see his mum’s eyebrows rise.

    But Ginny asked: “Is it true that all of your tribe can change into jaguars?” before Mum could say anything.

    Ari nodded. “Yes. Ancestors were jaguars.”

    “Werejaguars?” Angelina looked suddenly nervous. And she wasn’t the only one - even though the next full moon was more than a week away.

    “No, they can freely shapeshift into a jaguar, similar to, though not quite like, animagi,” Hermione explained. “They aren’t lycanthropes.”

    “Oh. Can you show us?” Luna asked with a wide smile. “That sounds fascinating!”

    Ari nodded. “Yes.”

    And before Ron could stop her, a jaguar tore through Ari’s robes and almost toppled the table as she got entangled in the shredded robes and slid off the chair. Then she changed back to apologise.

    While the remains of her clothes stayed on the floor.

    *****​

    Dinner at The Burrow was usually lively - loud and boisterous, if Hermione Granger were honest. Ari changing into a big cat and losing all her clothes in the process before changing back into a witch wasn’t exactly helping to calm the usual suspects down - apart from the moment of silence following her display - but it wasn’t quite as disruptive as the ‘field test’ of the twins’ Balloon Bonbons. That had caused everyone to swell in size and float to the ceiling - and toppled the table in the process.

    “Sorry,” Ari said, “I forgot clothes.” She peered at the conjured robes Molly held out to her, then at her original robes, already mended by Ron, but made no move to dress.

    She was checking which she preferred, Hermione realised with a chuckle.

    “Dear?” Molly prompted Ari.

    Ari frowned. “It just get ripped next time I change. And we aren’t public.”

    Hermione chuckled again as Molly turned to Ron. “What have you been teaching the girl, Ron!”

    She decided to help their friend out. “It’s a culture clash, Molly,” she said. “Ari’s tribe changes into jaguars regularly and, therefore, they don’t wear many clothes since they would just get torn anyway.”

    “And they don’t need to wear many clothes anyway, not in the jungle,” Harry added.

    “Yes.” Ari nodded emphatically. “Clothes are hindrance.”

    “A statement I support in full!” Fred added, unhelpfully as usual. Fortunately, Alicia made her displeasure known with a few choice hexes, and George was wise enough not to add fuel to the fire.

    “Oh! Do you mean that they make it harder to change?” Luna piped up. “Perhaps this means there are ties to house-elves. They are, after all, also magically affected by clothes.” She turned to Ginny. “This might shed light on the origin of house-elves!”

    “The Jaguar tribe aren’t evil spirits!” Ari protested with a growl - and dropped the robes Molly had handed over.

    “Elves aren’t evil spirits!” Ginny shot back, as protective as usual of Luna.

    “She’s only met Kreacher.” Ron tried to interpose himself between his sister and his girlfriend. “And he’s an evil little elf.”

    Hermione glared at him. “He isn’t! And it’s not his fault anyway - it’s the Blacks’ fault!”

    “Not Sirius’s,” Harry added. “He didn’t fill Kreacher’s head with that bigoted nonsense.”

    Hermione was about to point out that, in his youth, Sirius hadn’t treated Kreacher well, either when Molly raised her voice.

    “This is The Burrow, not the Wizengamot!”

    She continued in her normal tone: “Ari, dear, please dress.” Molly smiled, but Ari probably only saw bared teeth - she did dress rather quickly, Hermione noted. “Fred, George - behave. We have guests.”

    “Technically, we’re guests too!”

    “I didn’t do anything!”

    Molly’s next glare made the twins cower and their girlfriends chuckle.

    Hermione had faced worse than Molly, of course - a Petunia angry at a completely understandable and not actually that dangerous mistake, which was more like a slightly miscalculated risk, really, was far, far more impressive, overall - but Hermione was a guest, and there was no need to discuss Kreacher at the table. They were still eating, after all.

    Molly nodded. “Now, let’s enjoy the rest of the meal. I’ve prepared butter fried trout.”

    While everyone made appreciative noises, Ari leaned towards Ron. “What is ‘butter fried trout’?”

    “It’s a fish,” Ron explained.

    Ari smiled widely. “Perhaps I can learn recipe and cook sirens. Teach them not to grab you.”

    “Sirens?”

    “Grab you?”

    “Cook them?”

    “You’ve encountered Caribbean sirens? In their native habitat? And didn’t tell us?”

    “Oh, did they try to entice you with their songs? Was it intentional? There is a theory that they don’t really realise the effects of their songs on humans, you know.”

    And the Weasley family dinner once again lived up to its reputation. Hermione told herself that she really shouldn’t have expected anything else.

    *****​

    London, No 12 Grimmauld Place, August 23rd, 2001

    “So, how long do you think it’ll take before we get invited to The Burrow for dinner again?” Harry asked as he put down the teapot in the middle of the table.

    Hermione Granger frowned at him as she filled her cup. “Molly understood perfectly that it was just a cultural misunderstanding.” Ron’s mum wouldn’t teach Ari any recipes, though. Not for a while.

    “I think she just wasn’t willing to drive away the first witch Ron brought home to meet the family in years.”

    Hermione pursed her lips, then took a sip from her cup. “That might have played a part as well.” Although Molly had accepted both Ginny and Luna’s relationship as well as Bill and Fleur’s, Ari was a little bit more exotic or eccentric than either witch. On the other hand, Arthur had his quirks as well. “By the way, what did Arthur have to say about our plans for an enchanted Range Rover?”

    Harry grinned as he buttered his toast. “Oh, he was very enthusiastic. He had a lot of ideas as well.”

    “Great. Does that mean we need to ensure that he doesn’t try to add air-to-air missiles launchers to the car? Or torpedoes?” Hermione snorted and took another sip from her cup before availing herself of a croissant.

    “We could use either, you know. With pirates and sirens, and possibly sea monsters...” Harry shrugged.

    He was being rather evasive. She narrowed her eyes at him. “You did tell him that we’re not looking for a Bond car, didn’t you?”

    “It’s better to have something and not need it than to need something you don’t have, isn’t it?” Harry smiled at her in that endearing, yet infuriating, way of his before taking a bite of his toast.

    She closed her eyes and sighed. “If it doesn’t look like a Range Rover, I’ll be very cross.” An Aston Martin wouldn’t be exactly inconspicuous in the desert or jungle. And a sports car would be even worse.

    “Promise - it’ll look perfectly harmless.”

    And probably pack more firepower than a Typhoon. “Ah, well. It won’t be ready for at least several weeks, though?” She finished her croissant and grabbed another.

    Now it was Harry’s turn to frown. “No. Arthur needs both more time and parts he can’t get without Auntie’s help.”

    Meaning highly illegal weapons.

    “Well, at least we can take a muggle plane to our next destination,” she said and refilled her cup. She was still waiting for the results of Dumbledore’s enquiries, but Atlantis certainly wouldn’t be found in Britain.

    “I’d rather take a charter plane and our future Range Rover,” Harry said. “It’s going to be the Caribbean, after all.”

    Hermione rolled her eyes. “No matter where we head to next, I don’t think we’ll need air-to-air missiles or torpedoes.”

    “That still leaves machine guns.”

    She rubbed the bridge of her nose. “There are many less violent options for dealing with trouble.”

    “A few machine guns in reserve never hurt anyone,” Harry retorted.

    She stared at him. “Hurting people is their entire purpose, Harry. Like dark curses.” Not that some people didn’t deserve to be machine-gunned or cursed, of course. Like Kraft. And sometimes, you really needed either to save yourself. “And none of us has the training to use them as well as Petunia does, anyway.” Even if Harry might think otherwise. And, of course, not even Petunia knew how to use air-to-air missiles or torpedoes. At least Hermione didn’t think so.

    He sighed. “I’ve just got a bad feeling about this expedition.”

    “This isn’t Star Wars,” she told him. “And you’re no Seer.”

    “I’ve been right before,” he protested.

    “We’re Curse-Breakers. You don’t need to be a Seer to know that, sooner or later, we’ll encounter trouble in our line of work,” she pointed out.

    “That doesn’t mean I’m wrong, either.”

    “We’ll take precautions,” she said. As he perked up, she added: “Sensible precautions.”

    Definitely not machine guns hidden up his sleeves or whatever else Harry might dream up.

    *****​

    Hogwarts, August 23rd, 2001

    “I am sorry to have to inform you of this, but, as I suspected, the Department of Mysteries has denied the request to grant you access to their library.” Dumbledore, sitting behind his desk, spread his hands in a conciliatory gesture that also managed to block his phoenix from pilfering the nearby bowl of sweets. “Not even the prospect of acquiring more information about the Atlanteans was able to sway them.”

    Hermione Granger sighed. “As you said - it was to be expected. Thank you again for making the attempt on our behalf.” She bit her lower lip. There were other avenues of research, but they were more dangerous. Although she didn’t know if they were more dangerous than breaking into the Department of Mysteries.

    “However,” Dumbledore went on with a smile as he gently smoothed Fawkes’s ruffled feathers, “I do know a, shall we say, private collector of all things ancient who might have the kind of information you seek. Since, despite my assurances to the contrary, he feels that he owes me a favour as I saved him from being kidnapped during my visit to the Caribbean some time ago, I think he can be persuaded to help you with your research.”

    Hermione perked up. That was a far more promising option.

    “What’s his name?” Harry asked.

    “Matthias Mallory.”

    She took a deep breath. Mallory was one of the most famous - and most private - collectors and one of Gringotts’ best clients. She knew of five auctions where his agents had bought relics the goblins didn’t care for because they weren’t precious metal or jewels. But she didn’t know anyone who had actually met the man. Well, now she did.

    Of course, she didn’t know if Mallory had any Atlantean tablets in his possession - but given his wealth and interests, it was likely.

    “Where does he live?” Harry asked.

    “In Key West.”

    *****​
     
  12. RedX

    RedX Know what you're doing yet?

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    Neat.

    Looks like Ari's sticking around for the adventure, too. Looking forward to more eating-people jokes, and/or not-jokes.
     
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  13. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Indeed - she can't go home, after all. So Ron has to take responsibility.
     
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  14. Threadmarks: Chapter 6: The Collector
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 6: The Collector

    ‘There is a trend amongst certain modern scholars of magical history to blame the past and current violence and instability in the New World on the invasion by Spain and other European countries following Columbus’s famous voyages. It is certainly true that many laymen believe that the New World was populated by peaceful, pacifist civilisations completely unprepared for ruthless invaders wielding guns and wands - both unknown in the New World before Columbus. And the fact that the Conquistadores were outnumbered by the native population to a degree unheard of before or since, yet managed to utterly destroy their foes and subjugate much of the New World, as well as the brutality they displayed, driven by their greed for gold and the secrets of legendary lost or mythical civilisations such as Atlantis and El Dorado, would seem to support such an assumption.
    Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Long before Columbus arrived, the New World was rife with wars in which entire cities were razed to the ground. From the fallen realms of the Mayans to the Incan and Aztec Empires and the alliances of the Northern Nations, bloody conflicts spanned both continents. In fact, the fate of those people subjugated by the Aztec Empire was so dire, the Conquistadores found eager allies amongst every tribe that had been forced to fight in the infamous ‘flower wars’ to fuel the dark rituals of the Blood-Priests in Tenochtitlan.
    But while the destruction of the Aztec Blood-Priests and their dark arts was undoubtedly a boon to the magical world, it most certainly does not excuse the brutality with which the victorious Conquistadores quickly conquered and oppressed their erstwhile allies. The destruction was so complete in parts of the New World that scholars argue to this day about whether or not the local legends of invaders from the east raining down blood and death on the land were the result of native Seers, rather than myths.
    And no one who has studied the matter could dispute that the vast majority of the conflicts that have plagued the New World since the days of the Conquistadores have been the result of European policies and European greed - even the houngans, feared and despised to this day by many in the Caribbean and beyond, are the descendants of enslaved Africans who were carried off, against their will, to the New World by European traders.’
    - Excerpt from ‘The History of the Magical New World Volume II: Post-Columbus’ by Artesia Rosier, London, 1931


    *****​

    Florida, Key West, August 25th, 2001

    “Well, it’s not Smuggler’s Bay,” Hermione said as they walked through a rather upmarket muggle neighbourhood towards their destination, a mid-sized house at the end of the road.

    Harry Potter snorted. “Just because it’s not known to harbour criminals doesn’t mean it’s safe,” he pointed out, which made Hermione snort in turn.

    “I don’t think we have to worry about the criminals here,” Hermione said, “unless they mistake us for the IRS.”

    “IRS?” Ari asked. The witch was wearing cut-off jeans shorts over a string bikini - after seeing a few locals dressed like that, she had steadfastly refused to wear anything ‘more confining’, such as - in her opinion - the sundress Hermione was wearing. Which, in Harry’s opinion, wasn’t confining at all.

    “Ask Hermione - I have no idea. Something muggle, I guess,” Ron said. He was wearing slacks and a polo shirt like Harry. Not the most formal wear, but it should do. After all, Mallory was acquainted with Dumbledore, whose chosen style could only be called ‘eccentric’ if you were feeling kind.

    “Internal Revenue Service - muggle tax collectors,” Hermione replied.

    “Criminals pay taxes?” Ron asked.

    “Taxes?” Ari asked a more basic question.

    “Ask Hermione,” Ron said again.

    “They‘re like tithes you pay,” Hermione explained. Or tried to, as it turned out.

    “Tithes?”

    Harry heard his girlfriend mutter: “Of course not…” More loudly, she said. “Taxes are what you pay to the government so they can work for you.”

    “Supposedly,” Ron just had to add with a grin. “Dad says that the Ministry mostly works for themselves.”

    Harry couldn’t resist. “And the rest of the time, they work for the Wizengamot.”

    Hermione pressed her lips together before answering. “Then Arthur can explain the Ministry to Ari. We have a scholar to meet - something, it seems, of which you all need reminding.”

    With that, she increased her pace and strode off towards Mallory’s home, forcing the rest of them to run after her to catch up.

    Harry was tempted to tease her further, perhaps by asking if she thought that sort of display would impress Mr Mallory, but a glance at her face made him wrap his arm around her shoulder instead.

    She was nervous.

    “Don’t worry - it’ll be fine,” he whispered.

    “That’s not what you said before,” she replied as they arrived at the iron gate barring the way to the premises.

    “Well, I meant more generally,” he said. “Smuggler’s Bay isn’t that far away, after all - lots of criminals around.” Whom Kraft could hire.

    “That’s not really reassuring.”

    “If anyone attack, we kill,” Ari said. The witch’s smile was probably meant to be reassuring, but it looked more like a threat display, as Luna would call it.

    Nevertheless, Hermione looked less nervous. “Well, let’s not kill anyone if we can help it, alright?” she said with a glance at the others.

    “We always try that,” Ron said. “It’s not our fault that it rarely seems to work.”

    “Don’t, Harry!” Hermione snapped.

    Harry pouted - that had been the perfect set-up for quoting Yoda. But Hermione knew him too well. And the quotes as well, of course.

    Sighing, he walked towards the speaker next to the gate. He could almost see the wardline following the wall and fence even without a detection spell - there was a distinct lack of insects in the area.

    “Mr Mallory takes his security seriously,” Ron said. He must have cast a detection spell. Not the most polite action - but then, they were near Smuggler’s Bay. And since Hermione didn’t scold him, she probably agreed that it was justified.

    As did Harry.

    *****​

    Mallory’s house didn’t look particularly luxurious from the outside, in Ron Weasley’s opinion. It was a little larger than the neighbours’, but not by much. Two stories, red shingles, white walls - ‘fake-colonial style’, Hermione had called similar houses on the way here.

    The wards, though… Ron almost whistled at the gleaming spells covering the area. These would be a challenge to break through for anyone, even Bill or Hermione. And there were no spots to attack them from cover - anyone trying to break through would be vulnerable to spells from the house. It wasn’t a perfect set-up, of course - nothing was. But it would certainly be enough to stall anyone long enough for the local wizarding authorities to respond.

    Or whatever mercenaries Mallory had on retainer. They were in Key West, after all - and the magical part of the island wasn’t a very safe place even outside Smuggler’s Bay. A man famous for his collection of relics and his wealth would have more than wards to deal with people trying to rob him.

    Ari sniffed the air, then scowled. “Dog.” He looked at her, and she growled, exposing her teeth. “Stinks.”

    “We don’t eat dogs,” Harry said.

    Ron glared at him. Ari wasn’t about to eat a pet just because, in Caracas, she had once asked if anyone would miss a stray dog.

    “Although some cultures, even in Europe, do eat dogs,” Hermione chimed in. “It’s a traditional dish in some of the Swiss cantons.”

    Not for the first time, Ron wondered just how much Hermione knew. But they weren’t here to discuss cuisine. “Let’s ring the doorbell,” he said, “before Mr Mallory starts wondering why we’re standing in front of his house and looking at his wards.”

    “You did that,” Harry muttered, but he reached out and pushed the button set below the name plaque on the wall.

    “Hello, Mr Potter,” a voice sounded from the muggle speaker there. “You and your friends are expected.” At the same time, the gate slowly swung open.

    “Enchanted to look like muggle technology,” Hermione commented before Ron could ask - his father would have loved to find a way to have such muggle devices work inside wards.

    As they stepped through the gate and over the wardline, Ron expected to feel a slight tingle from the protective spells covering the area - but he felt nothing. And that meant the wards were new, no older than a few decades.

    Although… he saw Ari bare her teeth and heard her hiss. “Problem?”

    “Don’t like,” she said. “Stinks.”

    “The dog?” he asked as they walked towards the entrance of the house around a small fountain in the middle of the driveway.

    “Not just dog.”

    Ron didn’t smell anything. But he wasn’t a descendant of jaguars. He blinked as a thought crossed his mind. Would any children he might have with Ari share her powers? Then his eyes widened. Was he planning to have children with her?

    Then the door to the house opened, and he focused on the man standing there. Tall, slim, greying hair and short beard. Mallory. “Mr Potter. Mr Weasley. Miss Granger. Miss…”

    “Ari,” Ari snapped.

    “Miss Ari.” He took a half-step to the side and gestured. “Please enter.”

    “Thank you, Mr Mallory.” Harry led them inside, Hermione at his side. Ron followed with Ari.

    The entrance hall was smaller than Ron had expected - and he saw no signs of magic. Was their host living in a pure muggle home? However, Mallory ignored the open doors through which Ron could spot typical, if expensively furnished, rooms and led them to a closed door that should lead to the garage. But behind it, the real house began with an entrance hall fit for a manor and other rooms to match it.

    Ron managed not to whistle, but he wanted to - this level of Extension Charms was not common.

    “A necessity,” Mallory answered the unspoken question on Ron’s mind, “since I regularly entertain muggle guests and acquaintances in my home.”

    “Ah.” Ron nodded. Neighbours, most likely. But Mallory wouldn’t have been the first wizard who managed to acquire valuable magical relics from ignorant muggles either.

    “So, effectively, you have two homes,” Harry said.

    “I consider the muggle parts more like an office,” Mallory replied as he led them into a large salon filled with trophies and relics, on shelves as well as directly mounted on the walls. “This is my home. Here I live and work, surrounded by the results of my life’s ambition, so to speak.” He gestured with obvious pride. “Please, sit down.”

    And he had cause to be proud. This was probably the best collection of pre-wand artefacts Ron had seen outside a museum. Or the palace in Constantinople - the Ottomans had scoured their lands for such things in the eighteenth century. Even the couches were antiques - Egyptian, Ron noted. About three thousand years old, by his estimate. The tea service waiting for them - ‘since you’re British’, as Mallory put it - was comparatively young. ‘Only’ about three hundred years old, Ron would guess - Mum had inherited a similar one from her grandparents.

    He hadn’t seen any sign of a servant, human or elf, nor of the dog Ari had smelled earlier, though. And Ari sniffed again, not bothering to hide her frown as she looked around. Ron was about to prod her to remind her of the manners he had taught her when she suddenly stopped and stared at the stele in the corner. “Masters’!” she blurted out before Ron spotted the faded runes on the stone. Familiar runes.

    Mallory smiled broadly. “So, you have found a descendant of the Atlanteans’ servants.”

    And Hermione glared at Ron as if it was his fault!

    *****​

    They shouldn’t have brought Ari with them! Even though Mr Mallory was an acquaintance of Dumbledore’s, not a competitor, Hermione Granger still hated to give out information that might lead others to a site before they had discovered and examined it. Atlantis was supposed to be their big breakthrough - the discovery that would put their names in the newspaper headlines. Well, as Curse-Breakers and archaeologists, not as the Boy-Who-Lived and his friends. Or girlfriend.

    Hermione didn’t want to share the fame. But she needed Mr Mallory’s help, so she forced herself to smile at their host. “You’re aware of that legend?” She tilted her head slightly.

    He nodded. “Amenemhat noted in his travel journal that the Atlanteans enslaved the local tribes near their outposts as servants, not wanting to dirty their hands with physical work.”

    “We’re no slaves!” Ari protested, but Ron managed to shush her.

    Hermione frowned. “I don’t remember reading that in his journals - which were proven to have been forged by Quirinus Julius for his ‘History of Magic’, anyway.” Amenemhat had claimed to have visited Atlantis in his travels, but to have taken a blood oath that prevented him from revealing many details. Which would have been a convenient excuse for a fraud, of course.

    Mr Mallory smiled widely. “The codici that survived in Quirinus’s library were forged. But the one he had with him on his last voyage? That one wasn’t forged.”

    “You found the grave of Quirinus Julius?” Hermione almost gaped at the man. The historian’s disappearance was one of the great mysteries of the ancients - at least according to the other Roman historians.

    Mr Mallory frowned. “Unfortunately, no. I found the remains of a hitherto unknown travel journal of Amenemhat in a bunch of papyri that I bought in Timbuktu, but they lacked any information about their origin. The vendor had merely thrown every scrap of papyrus together into a ‘collection’. It was years before I realised what I had.”

    “You didn’t publish your discovery,” Harry said.

    “I hoped to find out more and didn’t want to risk someone stealing my thunder,” Mr Mallory said with a grin that would have suited any Curse-breaker Hermione had ever met. “Of course, it seems that it’s happened anyway.” He nodded at Ari.

    He was fishing for information. Hermione glanced at Harry, who inclined his head a tiny bit. She shrugged. “We did find an Atlantean outpost, but we only uncovered a few records.”

    Mr Mallory raised his eyebrows. “Any records would be an impressive discovery. And an outpost? With working protections, perhaps?” He leaned forward with an eager expression. “But you need help to decipher your records after your seagoing trip didn’t pan out.”

    He was very well informed. On the other hand, the Boy-Who-Lived being accused of piracy was likely to make the news even in Magical Key West - and Dumbledore’s involvement would certainly make waves in the Caribbean. Hermione nodded. “We need more Atlantean sample texts or records to be able to translate our information.” She nodded at the stele. “The original of that one would be helpful.”

    Mr Mallory’s eyebrows rose again. “Impressive. Most wouldn’t have spotted the forgery.”

    Hermione nodded with a faint smile. It had been an educated guess, but he didn’t need to know that. It was very unlikely that the man would have revealed the real stele to his visitors like this - he would be aware that they could copy their memories and study the stele in detail at their leisure with Dumbledore’s Pensieve, after Dumbledore had just used it to prove their innocence.

    Mr Mallory nodded at them. “I see your reputation is justified.” He leaned back and chuckled. “So let’s make a deal. We both have information that is exclusive, but not very useful by itself.”

    Harry leaned forward. “Yours is - you certainly tried everything and didn’t have any success. However, for us, you’re merely the first option; there are others.”

    “And we don’t know if your samples will be of any use to us,” Hermione added.

    “You don’t know that they won’t, either, though,” Mr Mallory retorted. “And isn’t risk part of your job, as the saying goes?”

    “It’s ‘danger’,” Ron corrected him. “And we prefer calculated risks.”

    “I see.” Mr Mallory was still smiling. He steepled his fingers, apparently content to let them make the first offer.

    Hermione suppressed a frown. The man was a little too smug - though while there were other options, Mr Mallory would be aware that they weren’t good options for her and her friends. Especially not the Ottoman collection.

    “We would certainly share the credit - if your information turns out to be helpful,” Harry said.

    Hermione fought not to frown. It was a fair offer, but she really didn’t like to share.

    But Mr Mallory was shaking his head anyway. “I’m not an archaeologist, Mr Potter. I’m a collector. I don’t want credit, I want relics.” He leaned forward, staring directly at Harry. “I want to walk the ground the Atlanteans did, read what they wrote and own their treasures.”

    “Well, we’re used to Gringotts taking a share of the treasure,” Ron said.

    It was probably meant as a joke, but Hermione didn’t think it was funny. Atlantean relics belonged in a museum, not in a private collection. Certainly not if it was the collection of a man who had sat on important discoveries because he wanted to be the one to discover Atlantis.

    But did they have a choice? She glanced at Harry, and their eyes met. She pressed her lips together. He nodded slightly.

    “Treasure will be guarded,” Ari said.

    “Nothing Mr Potter and his friends will not be able to handle,” Mr Mallory replied. “I, as have others, have followed your adventures over the last few years. Impressive.”

    Harry made a scoffing sound. “Any treasure you take will first be examined thoroughly. And you will let muggle archaeologists examine it for their research.” Which would let them prove their findings to the muggle authorities - in theory.

    “I am a private person, Mr Potter. And my collection is private.” His expression slowly changed into a smile. “But I’m also a reasonable man. I’m certain that there will be relics that you cannot let the muggles see.”

    Hermione clenched her teeth. There would be - magical, still working, relics. Items that didn’t show their age. Information related to magic. Cursed items, of course. But to let Mr Mallory take his pick from among such treasures… He was an acquaintance of Dumbledore’s, she reminded herself. Though not a friend. Was that enough to agree to this?

    It probably would have to be, unless they wanted to break into the Unspeakables’ vaults - or the palace of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. She sighed, and Mr Mallory’s smile widened before Harry agreed - in principle - to the deal.

    She hoped that the texts and relics Mr Mallory had were worth it.

    *****​

    Florida, Key West, August 26th, 2001

    Harry Potter didn’t like Mallory. The man might behave like the perfect host, always ready to help them while they worked on translating the pictures Ron had taken, but Harry hadn’t forgotten the man’s smile as he had pressed them to make a deal. Far too close to a goblin’s toothy grin, in Harry’s opinion - and Harry didn’t like goblins. No one who worked with them did. Too greedy. Too callous. All they cared about were themselves - and their treasure.

    Of course, Dumbledore had referred them to Mallory, and the man was smart enough to realise that if he crossed them, the Headmaster might not be pleased. And Mallory didn’t have Gringotts backing him.

    Despite that, Harry and his friends had declined to stay in Mallory’s house for the duration of their visit anyway. It might have been convenient, but Harry didn’t trust the man. And not just because the house and garden were warded against snakes - Harry knew that some people had an unreasonable fear of snakes. Even though no snake would attack a human without reason.

    And the fact that Ari kept smelling a ‘dog’ - or something she thought was a dog; Harry knew that the witch hadn’t seen or smelled a dog until they had visited Caracas - without any sign of an animal wasn’t the reason either. Mallory might be a werewolf or a dog animagus, but Harry knew very well that neither meant he was a threat.

    Also, that Mallory had made ‘arrangements’ with the ‘regulars of Smuggler’s Cove’, Smuggler’s Bay’s most infamous tavern, might not be the most moral course of action, but it was certainly pragmatic and smart. Harry couldn’t fault the man for caring about the safety of his home.

    But Harry was certain that Mallory was also very pragmatic when it came to everything else. Such as his interest in Atlantean relics.

    And Mallory’s smile was far too much like a goblin’s.

    Not that Harry thought the man would try anything as long as they were still working on the translation. Which, he reminded himself, he should be working on instead of brooding over their host.

    With a sigh, he picked up the picture in front of him and compared it to the symbols on the stele, looking for matches. Or similarities - Hermione had been correct about the language having experienced linguistic drift; as far as they could tell, the stele’s carvings were at least a thousand years older than the tablets they had found in the jungle. Fortunately, the tablets the sirens had gathered seemed to have been created between those two dates and formed a bridge of sorts.

    It was still tedious work - Hermione might enjoy it, but Harry preferred more straightforward tasks. Deciphering codes. Or even dealing with riddles, such as those of the Sphinx they had found in Egypt shortly after the start of their career. The official start, at least - they had, of course, been working, sort of, even during their time at Hogwarts.

    At least they were making progress. He glanced over at Hermione, who was kneeling by the stele, magnifying glass in hand. A strand of her hair had escaped the scrunchie holding it in a ponytail, and she kept pushing it back behind her ear, only for it to fall back into her face as soon as she stretched a little more to examine a particular symbol.

    Harry smiled at the sight.

    “Can you check if this symbol is on one of Ron’s pictures? Harry?”

    He blinked, then nodded. “Sure. Which one?”

    She flicked her wand and conjured a sheet of parchment with a copy of the symbol on it, sending it floating towards him.

    “Thanks.”

    “And focus on the pictures, not on me,” she admonished him - though she was smiling.

    So he grinned as he nodded and started searching through the pictures on the desk. He had gone through half the pictures when Mallory entered - and, for a change, the man didn’t look smug. “Someone’s attacking the house!”

    He didn’t sound smug, either, Harry noted with some satisfaction as he rose and drew his wand. “Did you spot them?” he asked.

    “No, I didn’t. I just noticed the attack on the wards and rushed to alert you.”

    “There are two locations from which a Curse-Breaker can attack the wards while remaining concealed from view,” Hermione stated, stepping up to Harry with her own wand drawn. “The yard of your southern neighbour, around the gazebo. And underwater at your private beach. You already know that, of course,” she added.

    Mallory nodded after the slightest hesitation, Harry noticed. “Of course.” The man seemed to calm down somewhat in the face of their own lack of panic.

    Anyone skilled enough to attack these protections would also know that they would get spotted. So, unless they were fools in over their heads, they would be prepared for a reaction from the house.

    But Harry was planning to disappoint them. He raised his wand and conjured a glowing stag. “Ron,” he spoke, “someone’s attacking Mr Mallory’s house. Beach or gazebo. We’ll provide a distraction.”

    The stag shot off, disappearing through the closest wall.

    Once more, Mallory seemed to be surprised. “Distraction?” he asked.

    Harry smiled. “They expect us to react. And they’ll be prepared. Let’s see if we can flush them out.”

    “But… this is a muggle quarter,” Mallory protested.

    “Don’t worry about the Statute!” Harry smiled at him.

    Hermione groaned. “This isn’t Texas, Harry.”

    He shrugged. “Close enough.”

    “That’s not how it works,” she retorted as they walked towards the door.

    “It will - I have a plan.” That it would also lead to some trouble for Mallory was a bonus in Harry’s opinion.

    “What are you planning?” Mallory asked.

    “Distracting them,” Harry said as he disillusioned himself.

    Hermione sighed as she followed his example. “Stay away from the windows, please.” So she had realised what Harry was planning.

    He grinned as he stepped outside and pulled a shrunken AK-47 out of his enchanted pocket. Hermione was correct in pointing out that they lacked Auntie’s training with firearms - but Harry had shot enough guns to be able to hit the broad side of a barn, or, in this case, a house and a window or two.

    Ron’s voice sounded from the small pin set in Harry’s collar: “The gazebo’s clear. They have to be underwater.”

    Harry grinned. That would make things even easier. He moved to the beach, then turned around and aimed at the house.

    “The police will notice the lack of tracks in the sand,” Hermione, standing near him, pointed out.

    “There will be tracks,” Harry said. “And scuba gear.”

    He started firing at the house before she could reply.

    *****​

    Ron Weasley dropped into a crouch despite being disillusioned as soon as he heard the shots. “What’s happening?” he said after activating the enchantment on his collar. He barely heard Ari hiss “guns” next to him.

    “Harry’s shooting up the house as a distraction,” Hermione said.

    “For the muggle police,” Harry added. “Get to the beach and hit the attackers from behind once they start moving.”

    “Underwater?” Ron asked as he stood and sprinted toward the shore.

    “You managed to deal with an entire school of sirens. You’ll do fine,” Harry replied. Rather casually, Ron felt. “If they surface, we’ll pick them off.”

    “I’m conjuring sharks as a distraction. They won’t bite anyone, but will behave as if they would.” Fortunately, Hermione was more helpful.

    “No like fishes,” Ari muttered. She hadn’t stopped following him, though.

    He pulled out his diving mask, then hesitated. They had spent time at the beach, getting her used to muggles and the sea, but they hadn’t done any diving. And certainly no fighting underwater.

    “Go,” she snapped. “I cover beach with others.”

    He nodded, even though she couldn’t see him. “Be safe,” he said, then pulled the mask on and rushed into the water.

    “How many are there?” Hermione asked before he had even reached the deeper parts of the beach.

    “I’m not there yet,” Ron replied. “Do you have a fix on their position?”

    “Straight out from the house, about fifty yards from the waterline. Ten from the wardline.”

    “Thanks.” He pushed on, diving lower but staying high enough above the seabed that he wouldn’t throw up sand and give away his position. Once he felt the familiar tingle of passing through the wards he turned and swam northwards.

    He didn’t have any trouble finding the attackers - they gave away their positions with flashing spells as they fought the sharks Hermione had sent into the water. He could even spot some human shapes moving - they hadn’t disillusioned themselves. Or not all of them had. But they had conjured or transfigured a wall to serve as cover, and one of them was conjuring more walls and poles to form a cage.

    Ron grinned and waited until they had finished, then cast a Silencing Charm on himself before sending a Cannon-Blast Spell right into the cage.

    The force of the blast sent smashed the people inside against the walls of the cage and threw up enough sand from the seabed to hide the entire area. Ron quickly swam forward again, at an angle to the slowly dissipating cloud of sand. His spell would have dazed and probably knocked out anyone caught unprotected - but if someone had managed to cast a strong Shield Charm…

    He ignored the sharks struck by the spell, which were drifting away, dead or unconscious - though he noted that a number of them were trailing blood, which might attract actual sharks. Dangerous sharks were unlikely to be found so close to the shore, but that didn’t mean it was impossible.

    But wizards were the greater threat. He was already swimming towards the surface, both to change position after casting and to get a better angle of view, when he spotted a marker - no, two - appearing beneath him in the thinning cloud. Too far from where the cage had been.

    And if he could see their markers, they could see his. A quickly cast Water-Making Spell propelled him forward, towards the surface, moments before red and green spells passed through where he had been. He actually shot out of the water, flying through the air for a short distance, before diving into it again.

    Ron took a moment to reorient himself, then flicked his wand and conjured a net around the two markers. Judging by the movement of the net, he only caught one - but that was enough to hit them with a pair of Stunners.

    But the other enemy was swimming towards him, sending spell after spell ahead of them - one struck a glancing blow against Ron’s Shield Charm.

    Ron once more used the Water-Making Spell to rapidly move through the water, evading the rest of the volley, but as long as he was using the spell to move, he couldn’t return fire. And whoever the enemy was, they could aim well.

    Clenching his teeth, he conjured a cloud of ink - a prank spell the twins had invented - using the black liquid to hide his marker from his enemy’s view for a few seconds as he dived lower, then pulled up and flicked his wand, aiming below the other marker and casting Stunner after Stunner.

    He saw the water flicker - a Shield Charm getting hit - and his opponent started to return fire. But Ron was still half-hidden by the thinning ink cloud, and most of the spells coming his way went wide while his own hit the mark. Another flicker, bigger - that would be the shield shattering. And then the enemy stopped casting, and his marker stopped moving.

    Ron still used a net to pinpoint the enemy, then stunned them for good measure. Just in case they were trying to play dead to lure him in.

    Then he swept the area for more enemies and started to collect the drifting bodies of the robbers.

    *****​

    “No, Detective, I didn’t see what kind of boat they used. I hid under the bed when I heard the shots.”

    Mr Mallory played the part of the shaken, innocent victim of an attempted home invasion quite well, Hermione Granger thought.

    “I hid as well,” she said before Detective Barnes could ask her, “as soon as I heard shots. I would never have expected this,” she added. “This wouldn’t have happened in London.”

    Harry nodded emphatically. “Shocking.” He turned to look at the broken window and the holes in the wall behind the terrace.

    She refrained from glaring at him. He was overdoing it.

    Detective Barnes shook his head, his lips pressed together, and turned to look at the beach. “Rodriguez, how’s it look?”

    “Looks like they came from the water, sir,” one of the policemen searching the beach yelled. “Tracks look like flippers next to the spent cartridges.”

    They should, Hermione knew - Harry had used theirs for his deception.

    “And your neighbours didn’t see anything either since your part of the beach is hidden from their view.” Detective Barnes didn’t sound very sympathetic, in her opinion.

    “In hindsight, my landscaping choices weren’t optimal,” Mr Mallory said. “But I like my privacy.”

    “And you have no idea why an armed group of at least four people would land on your beach and shoot at your home with automatic weapons.” Detective Barnes wasn’t asking as much as stating, or so it sounded.

    “No, Detective. I’m a retired historian.” From Mr Mallory’s expression, it looked like he had picked up on that as well.

    “People didn’t see anything - but they heard bombs going off,” Detective Barnes said.

    “Yes. I think they might have planned to blow up my house, but the explosives must have gone off in the water. Or something.”

    Hermione frowned. Ron’s Cannon-Blast Spell had gone off underwater - and the spell’s noise had been muffled to some degree on the surface. And he had only cast it once. No one should have called in several bombs. And the police had shown up very quickly. Of course, some people might have misheard in their panic, but she deemed that unlikely.

    “People don’t bring that kind of firepower for a simple robbery, Mr Mallory,” Detective Barnes said.

    “Perhaps they picked the wrong house? You searched my home, didn’t you?”

    And the police hadn’t found anything since everything important was hidden in the magical part of the house. Together with Ron and Ari.

    “We didn’t find whatever is affecting our equipment,” Detective Barnes said.

    Mr Mallory sighed. “If you had, I’d have been ecstatic - I’ve tried everything to get reception. I even hired an exorcist, in case it was a haunting. But nothing worked. While I am not a fan of television, I do miss BBC World News.”

    “And you and your two young colleagues were working on a translation.”

    “Yes, we were,” Hermione said. “Though we’re archaeologists, not historians. Mr Mallory has a number of fascinating texts in his private library.”

    “You wouldn’t be searching for a sunken galleon full of gold, would you?” Detective Barnes asked.

    “Unfortunately, no,” she replied. “We’re examining pre-Columbian native American languages. By the time the Spanish started to ship gold and silver, this language had already become extinct.”

    “Of course, not everyone might have been aware of that,” Harry cut in. “If some idiot spread a rumour about us looking for pirate treasure…”

    “I see.” Detective Barnes probably thought that they were looking for sunken treasure ships. Which would explain the attack. “Did you mention your profession to anyone after you arrived in Florida?”

    Harry frowned. “We saw no reason to keep it a secret. Not many people are interested in Mayan culture, anyway.”

    Detective Barnes snorted. “Unless it’s about El Dorado.”

    Hermione pursed her lips. “That myth quite likely originated from mistranslated legends of, and about, the Muisca, not the Mayans.”

    The detective shrugged. “I don’t think many will know the difference.” It was clear that he didn’t - and didn’t care. “I advise you to be very careful - this is unlikely to remain the only such attempt if they think you’re about to find a lost treasure ship.”

    “We’ll keep that in mind,” Mr Mallory said. “I might take a vacation until this has been sorted out.”

    Hermione hoped her scowl would be attributed to the fact that Mr Mallory might be forced to leave his home - and not to the possibility that the man might want to come with them on the next part of their expedition.

    *****​

    “Your ‘distraction’ caused a lot of trouble for me, Mr Potter,” Mr Mallory said as soon as the last of the officers had left his house. “I do not enjoy the attention of muggle law enforcement, and it was entirely unnecessary.”

    Harry shook his head. “Did you notice that they were called because ‘shots and bombs’ had been heard? Plural? Someone was hoping that we’d start a fight with whoever was attacking the wards and would then get into trouble with the law once the police showed up.”

    “And afterwards, with the International Confederation of Wizards,” Hermione Granger added, “for endangering the Statute of Secrecy by fighting in a muggle area.” Not much would come from such an accusation, of course; it wasn’t as if they had actually threatened the Statute. But it would have made them more vulnerable to corrupt authorities by giving Kraft’s goons another angle to put pressure on them.

    Mr Mallory’s eyes widened - he obviously hadn’t considered that. “You’re correct.”

    “Of course we are,” Harry said. “It’s not the first time someone’s tried this.” He grinned. “But thanks to my distraction, the muggles will think this was an ordinary robbery.” As ordinary as an attempted raid with automatic weapons and explosives could be, of course.

    “And they will think I’m involved with organised crime or, at the very least, treasure hunting.” Mr Mallory didn’t look happy.

    Harry shrugged.

    Hermione cleared her throat. “They would have thought that anyway, I think. At least searching for lost treasure is a plausible cover and not illegal.”

    “Scant consolation. And the detective was correct - they will attempt to break into my home again.”

    “Well, you can prepare for them,” Harry replied. “Forewarned is forearmed.”

    “I will certainly improve my protections - but I refuse to cower in my home.” He glared at them. “And I shouldn’t have to point out that I wouldn’t be in this situation if you hadn’t visited - whether we had come to a deal or not wouldn’t have made a difference.”

    Hermione pressed her lips together as Harry asked: “So I presume you want to take your vacation with us?”

    “Yes. Since all of us are being targeted, it makes sense to close ranks. And I do not think that whatever bodyguards I might hire would measure up to the Boy-Who-Lived.”

    “How about we interrogate the prisoners first before we commit to a course of action?” Hermione cut in before Harry could reply. Although she had a feeling that the thugs wouldn’t know much, she was certain that Kraft was behind this.

    *****​

    “Who was the witch who hired you to break into Mr Mallory’s home?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “Did she look like this witch?” Harry Potter held up a picture of Kraft flashing her perfect, and probably heavily transfigured, teeth into the camera during the award ceremony at the annual dinner of the Wizarding Society of London for Improving Magical Knowledge .

    “No,” came the response in the dull tones of a subject under the effect of Veritaserum.

    A few more questions netted a rather sparse description of an older witch. That didn’t have to mean anything, of course. Even Kraft would be smart enough to disguise herself when hiring thugs like these. Harry frowned - he had to stop thinking of Kraft as the idiot she had appeared to be in the past; the witch was too dangerous for that.

    “Did she give you any orders?”

    “She wanted us to take down the wards and blow up part of the house.”

    Harry ignored Mallory’s gasp. That didn’t sound like Kraft had planned to loot the house. She must have known that her hired help wouldn’t succeed. Which also meant she had known Harry and his friends were present. But how?

    “Was that all she wanted you to do?”

    “Yes.”

    “Did she say why?” Mallory butted in.

    “Said she wanted to send a message.”

    “What did she tell you to do about me?” Mallory asked.

    “Who?”

    “I’m the owner of this house.”

    “Said to kill you.”

    Harry frowned. That was unexpected. “Have you had any prior contact with Kraft?” he asked.

    “Who?”

    Harry ignored the drugged thug on the chair in Mallory’s study and watched the other wizard.

    “No, I’ve never met the woman. I know of her, of course; she’s quite famous. But our paths never crossed. Of course, I do have enemies of my own.”

    If Mallory was lying then he was a good actor, Harry thought. And if Kraft wanted to kill him - even if it was just in case the thugs actually managed to succeed - then Mallory was more important than Harry had thought.

    “Do you have pictures of them?” Ron asked.

    “They would most certainly disguise themselves, or work through straw men or mind-controlled victims,” Mallory said, in a rather condescending tone, Harry found.

    “Houngans?” Ron asked.

    Mallory pressed his lips together for a moment. “Dumbledore told you, then?”

    “Only that he saved you when you were a child,” Hermione said.

    The older wizard nodded rather curtly but didn’t say anything in response.

    “Any other questions for him?” Harry asked.

    No one had any.

    “We kill him now?” Ari bared her teeth.

    “We don’t kill prisoners,” Hermione snapped from where she had been checking the Dicta-Quill’s transcript.

    “I do not like seeing people who attempted to murder me walk away,” Mallory said.

    “And I don’t like to see people murdered,” Hermione retorted. “We can pass them to the local authorities.”

    “Not with Veritaserum in their blood,” Mallory replied. “It’s not exactly legal to administer that to people unless you’re a member of the Brotherhood.”

    “The potion won’t be detectable after a day or two,” Hermione pointed out.

    “The Brotherhood would wonder why I waited so long to deliver them.”

    “We’re not murdering them,” Hermione said, setting her jaw.

    “They tried murder us.” Ari scowled at the prisoner.

    “What about we use them to strike back at Kraft?” Ron asked. “Alter their memory of the interrogation, explain to them that they were set up and send them back to Smuggler’s Bay. That might keep the next batch of thugs from hiring on with Kraft.”

    Harry doubted that, but it would solve the brewing conflict. “It’s not as if they did us any harm.”

    “The only one who did any damage to my home is you, Mr Potter. First by shooting at it, then by bringing the police inside it.”

    Mallory sounded far too bitter for a man who had just survived an assassination attempt, Harry thought. He shrugged - he still didn’t like the man. “That couldn’t be helped.”

    “I vote for killing,” Ari said, raising her hand.

    “We’re not voting on this,” Hermione said through clenched teeth.

    “No democracy?” Ari asked. “No trial by jury?”

    Harry looked to Ron. Hermione did as well.

    Their friend held up his hands. “Hey - I had to do something when we were stuck in here while you were dealing with the muggle Aurors. So I told Ari about law enforcement and trials.”

    “This isn’t a trial or a vote. We’re not going to murder helpless people,” Hermione repeated herself.

    “What if not helpless?” Ari was quite stubborn.

    Harry placed his hand on Hermione’s shoulder before she lost her temper. “We’ll use them against our enemies,” he said.

    “Ah.” Ari nodded. “And we kill them afterwards? Prevent them from coming back to attack us?” She bared her teeth again. Mallory looked like he shared her opinion.

    Harry rubbed his forehead. His aunt never had to deal with such problems.

    *****​

    Florida, Key West, August 27th, 2001

    “I no trust him. I don’t trust him. Stinks.”

    “Remember, Ari, you have a very sensitive nose. You detect smells humans miss.”

    “No, not that - entire place stinks.”

    Harry Potter cleared his throat. “How about we focus on translating the texts we have?” He tried to sound as acerbic as Snape. Judging by the lack of any reaction, he’d failed.

    “Already said all. All I know.” Ari shrugged. “Someone needs to stay guard.”

    “Stand guard,” Ron said. “And I’m just taking a break for a few minutes.”

    The break had gone on for more than a few minutes by now. But Harry didn’t really want to behave like Snape. He frowned and returned his attention to the texts on his conjured desk, shuffling the pictures of the stele around, then the photos Ron had taken of the sirens’ tablets. They still didn’t make any sense.

    After a few more minutes, the door opened, and Hermione entered.

    “We’ve found another possible translation for this rune,” she said with a tired smile. “I think it means limestone. Mr Mallory agrees.”

    “Limestone?” Harry frowned.

    “It’s a very useful material for construction, some potions and various cosmetics,” she explained.

    He blinked. “Limestone…” He leaned forward, quickly searching the pictures Ron had taken. “This is an order for limestone, then.”

    “Unfortunately, many islands in the Caribbean are made of limestone,” Hermione said.

    “Yes. But not many are big enough to have a deposit ten miles from the coast.” Harry held the picture up. “If we correlate this with other items found on that island…”

    Hermione smiled. “...then we can pinpoint the location.”

    They went to work, ignoring Ron’s “We’ve lost them, Ari.” Meat. Timber - lots of timber. Not much meat. Small animals.

    “Travel times,” Hermione added. “Distances. If there’s a harbour nearby…”

    It took them a few more hours, but they eventually found the most likely location for another Atlantean outpost.

    And Harry cursed.

    It was in Jamaica. The island of the houngans - the bogeymen of the Caribbean.

    *****​
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2018
  15. Threadmarks: Chapter 7: Fair Wind to Jamaica
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 7: Fair Wind to Jamaica

    ‘The rise of the houngans is one of the events that has shaped the Caribbean more than any other. In the span of a few decades, the houngans turned from escaped slaves fighting for their freedom into the rulers of two of the largest islands in the Caribbean. How was this possible in a region that had been dominated for over two centuries by some of the European countries?
    Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t the infamous sympathetic magic of the houngans which was responsible for this remarkable achievement. While the ability to strike their enemies from afar and turn both wizards and muggles alike into mind-controlled servants certainly contributed to their military successes, it was the implementation of the International Statute of Secrecy in 1692 that paved the way for the houngans to become one of the pre-eminent powers of the magical New World.
    Suddenly, the nations of magical Europe were bereft of the resources of the muggles. While that wasn’t as important in Europe itself, it had a huge impact on the balance of power in the Caribbean. The need to both hide the existence of magic and build the infrastructure and governments for the newly created magical countries absorbed almost all of Magical Europe’s means for several years. And even after that challenge had been met, the loss of the muggle ships and manpower prevented the magical nations from easily projecting their recovering power across the Atlantic.
    This opportunity was first exploited by the various wizarding pirates in the Caribbean, who thrived in the decades following the establishment of the Statute of Secrecy. And as their actions exposed the weakness of the colonial regimes, the wizards and witches who had escaped slavery in Jamaica took notice - and started to prepare. Their day came when Wizarding Britain was once more beset by a goblin rebellion in 1752. While Britain struggled to suppress the rebellion at home, the houngans struck, quickly overwhelming the weakened British garrison and settlers in Magical Jamaica. In the following decades, Wizarding Britain tried several times to retake the island, but, each time, the logistical problems of waging war across the Atlantic against both the houngans and opportunistic pirates ensured their defeat until the island’s independence was formally acknowledged in 1827.
    By that time, the houngans had already spread their influence and rule over Hispaniola, and only a falling-out between the majority of the wizarding pirates and the houngans allowed the neighbouring magical nations, many of them having recently earned their independence as well, to curtail further houngan expansion.
    However, to this day Magical Jamaica’s relations with most of the other wizarding nations remain tense. Their practice of kidnapping magical children to raise them as apprentices was only ended after the personal intervention of Albus Dumbledore in 1957, and while rumours that, following the defeat of Gellert Grindelwald in 1946, the dark wizard’s second in command, Herbert Kohlmeier, found refuge in Jamaica were disproved on the same occasion, not many doubted that the houngans would have welcomed the ‘Schlächter von Schlesien’ as long as he shared his knowledge of the Dark Arts.’
    - Excerpt from ‘A History of Magical Conflicts IV - the New World’ By Magdalena Müller, Königsberg, 1978


    *****​

    Florida, Key West, Smuggler’s Bay, Smuggler’s Cove, August 27th, 2001

    “Smells bad. It smells bad.”

    Ron Weasley refrained from sniffing. He knew that it stank inside the tavern - smoke, old sweat and beer. As if the natives had never heard of Air-Freshening Charms. Or, he thought as he looked at the floor littered with puddles and dried stains, any Cleaning Charms. A Bubble-Head Charm took care of the smell for him - but Ari didn’t want to use one.

    “Do you mean the stench of the people present here, Miss Ari, or something else?” Mallory asked, leaning forward.

    Ari frowned at him. “Booze.” She nodded at the closest puddle.

    “Ah.” Mallory sounded oddly disappointed.

    “Why’re we here anyway?” Ari suddenly turned her head and sneered at a man eyeing them from a table nearby. “Don’t trust them.”

    “We need a capable smuggler to take us to Jamaica,” Mallory said.

    “Why? Can fly.”

    Ron flicked his eyes over to the bar, where Harry and Hermione were talking with the bartender. It was taking a little longer than he had expected. Nothing that would be cause for alarm, though.

    “It’s a little far for a broom trip, my dear,” Mallory told her.

    “Can take plane.”

    Mallory winced, Ron noticed. “There are only a few airports in Jamaica where we could land, and the houngans have those watched for wizarding visitors just as, decades ago, they had the ports watched.”

    “And the muggle police will be watching for muggle planes avoiding the airports,” Ron added. He certainly didn’t want to travel in an aeroplane to Jamaica if there were alternatives.

    Ari pouted. “Safer than trusting another pirate.”

    “Despite my unfortunate experience, I think it’s safer to trust a smuggler, all things considered,” Mallory said.

    “As long as you don’t trust the wrong kind of smuggler,” Ron said. Like Mallory had trusted the wrong kind of people in Smuggler’s Bay to make arrangements to keep his home safe.

    The man scowled for a moment before answering. “That is why I’m letting Mr Potter take the lead on this.”

    “They trusted wrong pirate, too,” Ari said.

    Ron glanced at her, as did Mallory, but the witch shrugged. “Can kill this smuggler, too, if betrays us.” She shifted in her seat and crossed her legs - she was wearing Hermione’s outfit again, this time. It didn’t look too out of place among all the local wizards and witches dressed as pirates. And it looked very nice on her, of course.

    Hermione would disagree with Ari. Would point out that killing Ryan had caused them a lot of trouble. But Ron was fed up with Kraft’s thugs. He nodded. “Yes.”

    Ari beamed at him, and he smiled back.

    Sometimes, you had to trust your gut. Bill had said so as well.

    *****​

    Captain Neva - she stressed the title, as had Ryan, Hermione Granger noted, and didn’t give her full name - cut a striking figure. For a character in a pirate movie. Long, bright white hair - probably magically dyed was Hermione’s guess - blood red, ruffled shirt, black leggings, thigh-high boots. And a headband. All she was missing was the eye-patch and parrot and she could start working in Disney World. She looked quite young for an ‘experienced smuggler’, too. And she had an arrogant smirk that would have made Draco Malfoy take notes.

    Hermione didn’t like her but kept her expression from revealing her sentiments. Ari didn’t bother - the witch had been all but growling at the captain. Hermione hoped that that wasn’t a bad omen and that Neva wouldn’t betray them as Ryan had.

    “So, you need passage to Jamaica. That’s a very dangerous trip.” Neva smirked and crossed her legs. “Which means it’s an expensive trip as well. And that I’m ferrying wanted people will add to the cost.” She didn’t have an accent Hermione could discern. Not a native, then, to the New World.

    “We’ve been cleared, and the warrant has been dropped by the ICW,” Harry retorted.

    “I wasn’t talking about the authorities,” Neva replied. “Everyone knows someone has it in for you.”

    “An envious competitor,” Hermione said.

    “Kraft,” Ari cut in with a hiss.

    Hermione refrained from glaring at the other witch; Ari meant well, but she was too impulsive.

    Mr Mallory butted in. “The kind of gutter rats who’d be foolish enough to attack us shouldn’t be a factor for an experienced smuggler like you, Captain.”

    “Everything’s a factor,” the witch countered. “And scuttlebutt says that the crew who attacked your home wasn’t made from bilge-rats, but experienced professionals.”

    Ari scoffed. “Ron defeated all of them alone!” She grabbed Ron’s arm for emphasis.

    Hermione pressed her lips together. Announcing your capabilities like that might be common in Ari’s tribe, but it wasn’t a good idea in Smuggler’s Bay.

    Neva chuckled. “I can see why you didn’t try to hide your identities.” So, the captain was quick on the uptake as well, as Mr Mallory would say. With Kraft aware of their visit to Mr Mallory, and Ari not yet used to fitting in with Caribbean society - or any other society apart from her tribe’s - trying to hide their identities would have been pointless.

    Ari hissed in return. “You betray us, you die. Like Ryan.”

    The Captain’s smile slipped a little, and Hermione saw her tense up. “Is that a threat?”

    “A warning,” Harry said with a smile that didn’t match his words. “We’ve grown tired of being attacked and betrayed.”

    “I see Dumbledore trained you,” Neva replied. “But he was able to scare the houngans by himself. You aren’t.”

    “The houngans aren’t your problem,” Harry told her. “We just need a trustworthy, skilled and discreet skipper to transport us to Jamaica - without anyone else becoming aware of our destination.”

    Judging by Neva’s sudden frown, she must have understood what her problem would be should she betray them. “As long as your gold’s good, my word’s good.”

    “Then let’s talk price,” Harry said.

    *****​

    “You’ve been quite generous with my money,” Mr Mallory remarked as soon as they had left the Smuggler’s Cove. He didn’t seem angry, or so Hermione Granger thought, but he wasn’t making idle conversation either.

    Harry shrugged. “Trying to save money by underpaying your employees isn’t a good long-term strategy.”

    “We’re only hiring the captain for one trip,” Mr Mallory replied.

    “We might hire her for our next leg as well,” Hermione cut in. “And if she thinks we underpaid her, she’s more likely to sell us out to Kraft.”

    Mr Mallory scoffed. “I know her kind. She’ll sell us out as soon as we’re off her ship.”

    “Even if she does, we’ll be on Jamaica at that point,” Harry said.

    Hermione nodded. And they wouldn’t need help to get off the island. They wouldn’t have to worry any more about alerting the houngan patrols to their presence and triggering a manhunt, which would greatly hinder their search for the outpost. Instead, they would be able to simply fly north towards Cuba. On Firebolts, it would be a relatively short trip. Shorter than the average Quidditch match. Hermione doubted that the houngan patrols could match their speed.

    “The Captain could inform Kraft, who could alert the houngans,” Mr Mallory pointed out.

    “I don’t think Kraft would go that far,” Harry said. “That would ruin her reputation in the entire Caribbean.”

    “Probably in the whole New World,” Ron added. “And in a big part of Europe as well.”

    “That would only be the case if her involvement is discovered,” Mr Mallory retorted.

    “She’ll be suspected if something happens,” Harry replied.

    “We’ve taken precautions,” Hermione added.

    “You left a note with Dumbledore, I presume.”

    Hermione didn’t respond to that, but Mr Mallory nodded after a moment anyway. “Still, Captain Neva might be compelled to betray us by other means than bribery.”

    Hermione glared at him. “Are you suggesting that we obliviate her?” She shook her head. “She’ll have taken her own precautions against such a course of action.” Especially given recent events.

    “If you no trust her, no hire her,” Ari said.

    “I do trust the captain - to a degree. Everyone has their price, after all.” Mr Mallory said. “We’re taking a great risk with this expedition.”

    “You can always back out,” Ron said.

    That earned her friend a glare. “I’m no coward,” Mr Mallory snapped. “We’ll have to trust this will not go wrong, yet prepare for the worst. I’m merely pointing out potential problems.” He shook his head and muttered something under his breath Hermione didn’t catch.

    She frowned. Mr Mallory had known their destination long before their meeting with Captain Neva, yet he hadn’t voiced his concerns beforehand. Of course, Hermione knew that he had good reason to be nervous about their trip if he had been kidnapped by houngans as a child.

    But they really didn’t need Mr Mallory trying to obliviate their skipper and causing another incident.

    Especially not on the way to Jamaica.

    *****​

    The Caribbean Sea, near Cuba, August 29th, 2001

    Captain Neva’s ship, the ‘Stiletto’, was slightly smaller than Ryan’s had been, but faster, as far as Harry Potter could tell. And covered with more spells as well. Knowing that did little to calm him, though. They were headed towards Jamaica, after all - the heartland of the houngans.

    He looked up. It was only a few days until the full moon. Granted, the ship would be invisible for the last leg of their trip, so it didn’t really matter whether or not there was a lot of moonlight - they could just as well travel by day, though more muggles would be out and about on the beaches and in the water, getting in the way - but Harry still worried.

    Dumbledore had told them that the reputation of the houngans was quite a bit overblown. That their vaunted magic wasn’t as powerful as most thought, and that their zombies posed less of a threat to a prepared wizard than a muggle. But he was Dumbledore, who had singlehandedly cowed the houngans almost fifty years ago. Harry and his friends were good Curse-Breakers, but no Dumbledores.

    And Dumbledore had kept underestimating Voldemort until the end. If not for Auntie, the Dark Lord might have triumphed in the final battle.

    Harry sighed.

    “What’s wrong?”

    He turned and saw Hermione walking towards him from the ship’s hold. “Nothing,” he replied.

    She frowned. “Do we have to talk about lying about these things again?”

    He looked around.

    She rolled her eyes. “Ron and Ari are below decks, claiming to be studying. Captain Neva’s in her cabin. Your reputation is safe.” She cast a privacy charm anyway, though.

    Danger was part of a Curse-Breaker’s job. It wasn’t for the faint of heart. He sighed again. “I’m just a little concerned.”

    “Worried, you mean.”

    He narrowed his eyes at her. She ignored it and slipped her arm around his waist as she joined him in leaning against the railing.

    “Alright, worried, then,” he said.

    “Don’t be,” she replied, resting her head on his shoulder. “They can’t cover the entire coastline. And once we’ve made landfall, they’ll be unable to find us among all the muggles.”

    “Unless Ari changes and mauls someone with her claws. Or otherwise breaks the Statute.”

    “Ron’s teaching her to pass for a muggle. It’ll be easier since we’ll be posing as tourists,” Hermione said, after a moment’s silence.

    “You don’t like her,” Harry said.

    “I’m merely concerned about her lack of education and self-control,” Hermione replied, though, again, after a small pause.

    “She hasn’t attacked anyone who hasn’t attacked her first,” Harry pointed out. “And she hasn’t caused trouble with muggles either.”

    “She growled at that American on the beach as if she were about to change and attack him,” Hermione said.

    “He was hitting on her,” Harry said, “and he found her reaction amusing.” Which hadn’t pleased Ari, of course, but she hadn’t pushed things further.

    Hermione sniffed but didn’t reply.

    Harry took a deep breath. “She saved us from her own tribe. She’s helped us with our expedition ever since. And apart from killing Ryan, she hasn’t caused us any problems.”

    “I know.”

    “So, why are you so…” He trailed off.

    Hermione remained silent as he waited. Finally, she sighed. “She just rubs me the wrong way, I guess.”

    She could do better than that, so he didn’t say anything in response.

    After a moment, she sighed. “She’s lived her whole life in the jungle, isolated. She hasn’t gone to Hogwarts or any other school. She’s no Curse-Breaker. But just because she’s Ron’s girlfriend, she’s now part of us.”

    Ah. “Ari hasn’t gone to Hogwarts, but she’s no slouch with her wand,” Harry remarked. “And she’s smart - she learns quickly.”

    “We trained for years for this!” Hermione retorted. “We worked hard, we studied - both magic and muggle subjects. All she’s done is… become Ron’s girlfriend.”

    “Sirius wasn’t a Curse-Breaker either,” Harry said, “when he started working with Auntie.”

    “He didn’t join Petunia straight away, though,” Hermione replied.

    He had wanted to, Harry knew. “But he did so as soon as he could. Before he had any idea about Curse-Breaking.”

    “That was because of the war against Voldemort.” Hermione snorted. “I don’t think our current problems with Kraft are as serious.”

    He chuckled at her inadvertent pun. She tried to pull away from him with a huff, but he wrapped his arm around her shoulders. After a moment, she sighed and leant into him again. “So you think she’s got it too easy.”

    “Well, I wouldn’t say that. She’s lost her home, her family, her entire world, in a way. It’s just…”

    He squeezed her shoulder and waited.

    “We’re Curse-Breakers and Archaeologists,” she said.

    “Sirius is no archaeologist. And Auntie can’t even use a wand.” Harry clenched his teeth, hating himself a little for saying that.

    After a minute, Hermione broke the silence. “I guess she can learn. And she can keep Ron from causing trouble with more women. Somewhat,” she added, no doubt having remembered the sirens.

    “You’ll have to teach her,” Harry said.

    She snorted. “That’s Ron’s job. Even if I’m certain that they’re doing something else half of the time. Like now.”

    “Well, tomorrow night will be busy,” Harry said. He slowly turned and moved until she was facing him with her back to the railing. “They’re just using what free time they have.” And if things went wrong tomorrow… Harry could think of worse ways to spend the night before that.

    Judging by her expression before she kissed him, so could Hermione.

    *****​

    The Caribbean Sea, north of Jamaica, August 30th, 2001

    Ron Weasley smiled as he watched the sun setting over the sea. You couldn’t see such a spectacle at home. If Mum and Dad could see this, they would… well, they’d still worry about him, but they might understand his choice of career a little better rather than blaming everything on Bill and Petunia. He took a deep breath, enjoying the fresh air. The sights, the gentle breeze, which turned the temperature from hot to warm… it was almost enough to forget that they’d be sneaking across the Jamaican border in a few hours.

    “Stinks.”

    He barely jerked any more at hearing Ari suddenly speak up next to him - he was getting used to her sneaking up on him, moving silently like a cat. Not that he minded, especially not if she was wearing nothing more than her bikini, like now. “I don’t smell anything,” he said. Not for the first time. “Fish rotting somewhere?”

    “No. Ship stinks.” He saw her sneer. “Didn’t stink before.”

    It couldn’t be the food - ‘Cajun cuisine’, as Captain Neva called it, was a novel experience for Ron and his friends, but he found he liked it, and Ari certainly had taken to it with gusto. “Same as Mallory’s house?” he asked, turning slightly to look around and check where everyone was.

    “Yes.” She wrinkled her nose. “Still not know… I still don’t know… what this is.”

    “Is it the dog’s smell?”

    “No.” She shook her head. “Used to that, now.” Judging by her expression, she still disliked it, though.

    Ron rubbed his chin. It was another two days until the full moon. If Mallory were a werewolf, wouldn’t he be showing signs of it by now? Like Remus when the full moon approached? Although, everyone was nervous as they drew closer to the island. And if Mallory was a werewolf and didn’t tell them… Ron pressed his lips together. As much as he understood cursed people hiding their condition, and that they weren’t the beasts some bigots thought they were, neither Ron nor his friends would forgive Mallory if he endangered them by hiding his curse.

    And if Ari got hurt or cursed because of this… He bared his teeth.

    “You smell it too?” Ari asked.

    “No. Just had a stray thought.”

    “Dog thought?”

    He chuckled. “Not that kind of stray.” Looking around again - Harry and Hermione were near the bow, Captain Neva in the aft at the helm, Mallory was still below decks, he added: “I don’t like it, though. Mallory’s hiding something.”

    “Should ask him? Should we ask him?” she corrected herself. “Secrets are bad.”

    “That would be prying - and revealing that your sense of smell is better than he suspects.” He grinned as he leaned forward and tapped her on the nose.

    Her scowl looked adorable - it was more of a pout, anyway - as she grabbed his hand. “Told you not to do that.”

    He smiled at her. “I couldn’t resist.”

    She growled, but he knew that growl - and she let his hand go as he put his other hand on her hip.

    Too bad they didn’t have the time for more than a few kisses.

    *****​

    “Look sharp, everyone! We’re entering houngan waters now!” Captain Neva’s voice sounded entirely too cheerful for her announcement, in Ron Weasley’s opinion.

    For Air’s too, he could tell by the way she shifted her weight and gripped the railing. He glanced to his right. Harry was acting as if this was nothing, but Ron knew him too well to fall for the act. And if Hermione really were as calm as she looked, she’d be reading a book, not standing next to Harry with her wand out.

    He didn’t know Mallory well, but the man was sweating and gripping the line near him with enough force to whiten his knuckles.

    All in all, they were holding up well, in his opinion. The ship’s very good Disillusionment Charms were helping, of course. He had taken notes - they would want the same quality for their expedition vehicle. He wasn’t quite as impressed by the Silencing Charms, but Captain Neva insisted that they were needed, despite the ship barely making a sound under sails.

    “Land ho!” the skipper announced. “And nary a patrol in sight!”

    “About half an hour to the shore,” Hermione said, “if we keep our current speed.”

    With the wind at their back, it felt as if they were going slow, but the Captain said they were making seven knots - which was roughly eight miles per hour, as Ron had learned while tracking old ships’ courses from their logs.

    “It stinks!” Ari hissed next to him. She was dressed in her ‘tomb raiding clothes’, as she called her and Hermione’s outfit.

    Ron glanced towards Mallory.

    “No, not him - rotten fish.” She sniffed, then pointed towards the stern of the ship. “This direction.”

    Well, they were on the sea. Fish died all the time there. Probably. Ron blinked. “Did the smell appear just now?”

    Ari nodded. “Strong, too.”

    Not strong enough for Ron to smell anything. But since the current and the wind were coming from straight behind them, wouldn’t Ari have noticed it sooner if they have passed over a dead fish? It wasn’t as if they swam…

    Ron hissed. This was Jamaica. The dead could move - or swim - here, couldn’t they? The houngans could control both types of zombies…

    He quickly moved to the afterdeck. Captain Neva was frowning. “What’s up?”

    “We might have picked up some company,” he said. “Zombie fishes.” He raised his binoculars and activated the spells on them, scanning the sea behind them. Nothing… there! Several fins were trailing them. “Sharks!”

    “What? But the spells are working!” the skipper protested.

    “Only fooling eyes and ears, not noses,” Ari said.

    Captain Neva’s cussing made the worst Curse-Breakers Ron had heard in Egypt sound like first-years at their Sorting.

    *****​

    The houngans were using zombie sharks as patrols! Hermione Granger cursed under her breath as she rushed to the railing, recalling what she knew about the animals. They had an incredible sense of smell and also electroreception. “Are they animated corpses or mind-controlled zombies?” she snapped as she reached Ron and Ari.

    “Smell like rotting fish,” Ari replied.

    “Don’t know,” Ron said. “But if they smell rotten…”

    Hermione nodded. It wasn’t as if it made any difference - she had to assume both types of zombies possessed the living animal’s senses. She bit her lower lip. “We need to throw them off the trail. But I don’t know any spell that would mask our scent…”

    “They tracking boat, not us,” Ari said.

    “But they’ll track us if we go into the water,” Hermione countered. They would be useless as guards if they weren’t ordered to track all ships. “We could fly…” She looked up.

    “Zombie birds?” Ron asked.

    Hermione nodded.

    Ari sniffed. “No smell rotten bird.”

    “They don’t have to be animated dead birds,” Hermione pointed out, trying to spot any birds. “They’d be much easier to feed than sharks.” Owls would see very well at night. And some birds had a good sense of smell as well.

    “We don’t have much time,” Harry said. “They’ll have alerted the houngans.”

    “I’m turning around!” Captain Neva announced. “I’m not going to wait until the houngans arrive!”

    Hermione pressed her lips together to keep from snapping at the woman. They couldn’t expect the woman to sacrifice her ship - and herself - for them.

    “We have a passage to the island!” Mr Mallory yelled - he obviously didn’t share her opinion.

    “If we continue we’ll be dead or worse!” Captain Neva yelled back, turning the helm.

    “You yellow witch!” Mr Mallory replied. He drew his wand with a sneer.

    “We’ll get off!” Harry said. “Get your brooms! Hurry!”

    That gave the other man pause, and he cursed as he lowered his wand and stuck his free hand inside his robes. “I won’t pay you if you turn away now!” he added with a glare at the captain.

    “Keep your stupid gold!” Captain Neva snapped. “I’m getting out of here.” The ship was turning away from the coast already. The boom would soon swing across the deck.

    “I’ll drop some blood in the water,” Hermione said as she pulled out her Firebolt. It would - or so she hoped - distract the sharks. That might help Captain Neva in getting away.

    “We should drop the coward into the water,” Mr Mallory muttered. “That’d distract the sharks.” But he was mounting his own broom - a Nimbus 2001, Hermione noticed - and wasn’t threatening the captain any more. “Or bleed her.”

    Hermione, already disillusioned, shook her head and guided her broom up and away from the ship. A flick of her wand sent gallons of blood splashing into the water. She saw the other markers - Mr Mallory had disillusioned himself now as well - floating nearby as they gathered. Behind them, the yacht was making good time, heading away from the shore and now sailing close to the wind.

    “If they are already here, they’ll be waiting on the beach,” Harry said. “Focusing on the yacht, but we can’t count on that. There’ll be more guard animals. Or zombies.”

    “No smell humans - or birds,” she heard Ari say - the witch was with Ron on his broom, as their markers were almost overlapping - “But wind blows from behind. Birds could be in front. Wait - smell people! Behind us!”

    That meant between them and the rapidly moving yacht. There was no one visible there, though - disillusioned houngans on brooms, now upwind of them? Hermione grabbed her binoculars and pulled the loop over her head.

    “We need to…” Harry started to say. “...Dear Lord!”

    Hermione gasped. A fin as tall as a human had broken the surface behind them - and was racing after the Stiletto. And the body beneath it was as big as the yacht. “A megalodon!” she whispered. But how? Then she almost scolded herself. “No, an enlarged great white shark!”

    More huge fins appeared - three, no, four enlarged sharks following the yacht. And they were coming from the shore…

    “They cut her off!” Harry yelled.

    Hermione focused on the Stiletto just in time to see half a dozen sharks ram the yacht, one after another, batting the ship around like seals playing with a ball. She could see the protections of the ship flare up, then an explosion threw up a pillar of water and shredded shark parts next to the ship - and she saw the protections shatter under the blast’s power.

    A moment later, though, the ship was rammed again - and it capsised, almost breaking apart.

    “We have to help the captain!” Ron snapped. He started to fly towards the yacht. Hermione followed him, as did Harry. But they were so far away...

    “No!” Mr Mallory yelled. “Not with houngans around! We need to go!”

    And as Hermione had feared, it was too late anyway - bereft of her protection, the ship was torn to pieces in seconds by the surviving sharks.

    “She’s got on a broom,” Harry announced - even with glasses, he had caught what Hermione had missed. “Disillusioned.”

    But then, explosions started to appear in the air. Flashes preceding them - spells being cast. One, two, three-four…

    Something hit the water. A moment later, another spell struck the same area, blasting a pillar of water into the air.

    No more explosions followed.

    Captain Neva might have escaped, but Hermione didn’t think so. Her friends must have agreed - they stopped flying towards the remains of the yacht.

    “Let’s not let her sacrifice go to waste! We need to move!” Mr Mallory sounded almost hysterical. He had followed them despite his obvious fear, though.

    But he was also correct - they didn’t have any reason to wait any more. They had to move before the flying houngans spotted them. With the yacht gone, the houngans would certainly start searching the area.

    Hermione still felt guilty as she followed Harry’s marker, giving the beach in front of them a wide berth. As much as she would have liked to blame Kraft for this, she couldn’t.

    *****​

    Enlarged zombie sharks in the water, probably zombie birds - zombie owls - in the air, and houngans on the beach. And their ship sunk, their skipper killed.

    Harry Potter pressed his lips together as he flew westward, leading their group in their flight along Jamaica’s coast. The captain had known the risk - she had been an experienced smuggler, after all. She had been familiar with Jamaica’s waters and the houngans’ patrols as well. Supposedly, Harry added - she certainly hadn’t been prepared for what they had seen today.

    Harry and his friends had hired the captain because they hadn’t known enough about Jamaica’s border patrols. But Captain Neva’s death still felt like his fault. If they hadn’t hired her…

    He forced the thoughts away. He had to worry about his friends and himself now. And Mallory.

    “Another fifty miles, then we’ll swing around and fly to the beach,” he said. The enchantment on his collar carried his voice to the rest of their group, including Mallory. Who hadn’t yet learned that he didn’t need to yell.

    Unlike Ari. “No smell of birds or fishes,” the witch reported.

    That didn’t mean they were safe, of course - but the houngans couldn’t be watching the entirety of their coast. Unless they were unlucky, they should be fine.

    Should.

    “That’ll put us past Montego Bay,” Hermione said. “It’s a major tourist destination. If we can slip into the masses there, we’ll be fine.”

    “We need to slip past the border, first,” Harry replied.

    “Owl!” Ari announced.

    “Where?” It couldn’t be Hedwig - Harry had told her not to visit them tonight. He looked around.

    “Towards the beach,” Ari said. “Upwind.”

    “If it spots our brooms…” Mr Mallory broke off.

    He spotted it - it was an owl, but it wasn’t flying towards them. Probably hadn’t seen them, then. Was that… He grabbed his binocs. Yes. “It’s a post owl.”

    “They might disguise their patrols as post owls,” Mr Mallory said.

    “I don’t think smugglers will let post owls pass,” Hermione replied.

    Harry didn’t think so either.

    “We did,” Ari said.

    “We’re not smugglers,” Ron said.

    “Technically, we are,” Hermione replied. “We’re carrying magical supplies.”

    “And we’ll be caught by the houngans if we keep talking!” Mallory exclaimed.

    “My spells keep anyone from overhearing us,” Hermione retorted.

    “And we’re not doing anything but flying straight along the coast,” Ron added.

    “No blame… don’t blame us for your fear.” Ari snorted.

    “Do you want to end like the captain?” Mallory hissed.

    No one said anything for the next few minutes.

    Twenty minutes later, Harry stopped. “Alright. This should be far enough. And there’s a forest behind the beach. We’ll head straight into it. If we get split up, we’ll meet up in the Hilton in Montego Bay tomorrow.”

    “It’s past midnight, so it should be today,” Hermione said.

    Harry snorted as he urged his broom forward and flew towards the beach.

    They were about a mile out, but a Firebolt - even flying slowly enough to not outpace Ron’s, which was carrying two people - covered the distance in no time.

    FLying low enough for their boots to hit the tips of the taller waves, they reached the narrow beach. A moment later, they were in the forest and had to slow down.

    Two hundred yards into the forest, out of sight of the beach, Harry stopped and watched the markers of the rest of the group join him. It looked like they had made...

    “Dogs,” Ari announced.

    A moment later, they heard barking.

    “Bloody hell!” Harry heard Ron curse. “How unlucky can you be?”

    “Very,” Harry replied. “Can they track us if we don’t touch the ground?”

    “We can’t avoid the foliage,” Hermione said, “unless we fly above the canopy.”

    That would rob them of cover. They would have to outpace the hounds.

    “I have a potion that will mask our scent,” Mallory said.

    “Why didn’t you…” Ron started.

    “It only works on people, not ships,” Mallory cut Ron off. “I learned it from a native shaman - his tribe uses it to hunt.” He appeared with a vial in his hand as his spell faded. “Drink this!”

    Harry hesitated a moment. Could he trust Mallory? Not like he trusted his friends. But the man obviously feared the houngans. And he knew Dumbledore wouldn’t let him get away with hurting them - he wouldn’t betray them. Harry dispelled his Disillusionment Charm. “Alright.”

    “Stinks!” Ari complained. “And blood?”

    “Not for long,” Mallory replied. “Just take a sip.” He handed the vial to Harry.

    Harry cast a Poison Detection Charm anyway - it was safe. He took a sip. For a moment, he tasted a hint of metal. Then he didn’t taste anything any more before he felt, for a second, as if steam poured out of all of his pores, engulfing his clothes.

    “That neutralises the scent of your robes,” Mallory explained.

    Harry nodded and passed the vial on, noticing that Hermione was casting a Diagnosis Charm on him before nodding.

    “Worse than Bubble-Head!” Ari complained again. “Everything’s wrong!”

    “Not for long,” Ron said.

    “We need to go now!” Harry spoke up - the dogs were much closer now. If they hadn’t been flying…

    He disillusioned himself again, as did the others, and led them away before the dogs caught up to them.

    *****​

    Jamaica, Montego Bay, August 31st, 2001

    Muggle Montego Bay was packed with tourists. Hermione had told them that it would be, but Ron Weasley hadn’t realised just what that meant until he saw the masses filling the narrower streets of the older parts of the town. He shook his head as he looked at the huge cruise ship anchored in the harbour. “We’ve either got the best or the worst timing in the world,” he muttered.

    “Why?” Ari asked, looking up from the menu of the café in which they were sitting. She couldn’t read well, but the menu had pictures.

    He gestured at the tourists surrounding them in the outdoors café. “We’re pretty much a needle in a haystack here, but they will leave with the ship in a day. Probably less than that. And then we’ll be more conspicuous.” She frowned, and he explained: “We’ll be easier to find.”

    Ari shrugged. “Fine if we’re not easy to find.”

    He nodded. Her mastery of English wasn’t perfect, but she was improving. And she was correct. “You’re right. There’ll be a lot of tourists still around - just not as many as today.”

    “Good.” She sneered. “They smell.”

    “Like Mallory?” he asked.

    She shook her head. “Perfume. Too many perfumes.”

    He didn’t bother explaining the differences between deodorants, perfumes and aftershaves. “You can always ask Mallory for more of his potion,” he joked. She growled at him, and he raised his hands. “Sorry.”

    “Don’t say you sorry - show it!” she replied, holding out the menu and pointing at the most expensive ice cream on it. And they were in a café catering to rich tourists.

    Ron wasn’t poor any more - but shelling out so much money, even if it was just muggle money, still made him wince.

    Ari hadn’t missed his reaction. “Too much?” she asked. “Was joking.”

    But he could see that she hadn’t been joking - or, rather, that she really wanted to try the ice cream. So he shook his head. “Just a stray thought,” he said with his best smile. “Let’s order two.” He could afford it, after all - it wasn’t as if he used much of the muggle money he earned for his part in their discoveries. Most of it went straight back into the ‘pool’ for buying supplies from muggles. Or paying them bribes.

    And, seeing how Ari’s face lit up at his words, it was money well spent anyway.

    Half an hour and smaller than expected, but still respectable, amounts of ice cream later, they made their way through the throngs of tourists - Americans for the most parts - towards the beach.

    “Should not… shouldn’t we help Harry and Hermione?” Ari asked.

    He shook his head. “They don’t need our help - they just have to buy a few supplies. And rent a car.” And without Ari, they were less likely to draw attention.

    “And Mallory?” She asked with a frown aimed at the plastic bottle they had bought from a street vendor.

    Ron shrugged. “He’s resting in the hotel.” Harry had been driving them hard last night, and they hadn’t checked in at the Hilton until this morning. Mallory wasn’t that old - but he wasn’t young any more.

    “Stinks,” Ari muttered.

    “The bottle or Mallory?”

    “Both.” She sniffed. “Don’t like the smell. And Mallory stinks.”

    “Might he be sick?” Ron asked. He had read about muggle dogs being trained to sniff out sick people, but that had been in The Quibbler, so its veracity was a little suspect.

    “Not sure. Don’t know smell. Dog.”

    “Well, he’s no werewolf.” And probably no animagus - Ari hadn’t complained about a bad smell in Grimmauld Place. “Might be his potions - the one last night stank, didn’t it?”

    Ari nodded, then took a sip of her bottle, wrinkling her nose.

    Ron held his soda out to her. The cola’s taste would overpower whatever plastic aftertaste was ruining Ari’s water.

    “Thanks,” she said, then took a mouthful.

    Nearby a family vacated a bench with a good view of the bay, and Ron guided Ari over to it before someone else could occupy it.

    He caught Ari watching the family walk towards the pier. She had a rather wistful expression, as far as he could tell. After a moment’s hesitation, he asked: “Missing your family?”

    “No.” She shook her head, but he couldn’t tell if she was lying. “Wondering about children.”

    He frowned. She knew how… Oh! His eyes widened a little. “You want children?”

    She looked at him as if he had asked if the sky was blue. “You don’t?” She was frowning now.

    “I want children,” he said quickly. “But our work makes raising them difficult.”

    “Leave with Molly until older.”

    That was a practical solution, but… “We’d be away very often.” Ron wasn’t sure if he wanted to be an absent father.

    “Like school.”

    “That starts when they’re eleven,” he replied.

    “Yes. Molly only need to care until then.”

    “If we wait until we have a permanent camp for our work, like Petunia had, we could take the children with us. Until they enter school.”

    Now she frowned at him. “Danger is part of work, you said.”

    “Well, a Curse-Breaker camp is usually safe.”

    “Usually means not always. Goblins are not safe. Kraft is not safe.”

    “Well…” Ron took a deep breath. “We don’t have to have kids right away. We’re still young. We can have kids when things are less dangerous.”

    To his relief, she nodded at that without asking what exactly he meant - he hadn’t really thought about this.

    But he knew he wanted kids. And with her.

    *****​

    Jamaica, Montego Bay, September 1st, 2001

    “Cockpit Country?” Mallory exclaimed. “You said it was an outpost on the coast!”

    “Actually, we didn’t say that,” Hermione replied in the tone she took when she was annoyed - Ron Weasley was quite familiar with it. “Just because the two other outposts we discovered were on the coast doesn’t mean all of the outposts were. And if it had been on the coast,” she added with a slight sniff, “someone would have certainly discovered it already. It’s only logical that the outpost would be hidden in the most remote part of the island.”

    “That’s the houngan heartland!” Mallory shook his head, pacing in the hotel room. “That’s where they built their communities among the Maroons until they took over the island.”

    “Indeed. But after they took control of Magical Jamaica, they spread over the entire island.” Hermione snorted. “Apparently, if you rule a country, living in a small village hidden in the jungle is beneath you.”

    “It’s more likely that the houngans wanted some distance between each other’s homes,” Harry said. “Although Dumbledore mentioned that all of the ruling houngans owned large manors.”

    “Oh, that sounds familiar!” Ron said, shaking his head. Like the Malfoys and the other rich Slytherins.

    “That doesn’t matter - they didn’t abandon Cockpit Country!” Mallory drew several breaths through clenched teeth. “Their most sacred places are located there, protected by their most powerful curses and other defences!”

    Ron wondered, privately, how the man knew that. It certainly didn’t sound like common knowledge.

    Hermione, though, sniffed again. “We’ll avoid any such locations on the way to the ruins.”

    “And if the ruins are part of such a location?” Mallory asked.

    “Well, then we’ll find out just how good their defences are,” Harry said.

    *****​
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2018
  16. RedX

    RedX Know what you're doing yet?

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    Mallory is just all kinds of suspicious. I'm trying to put together the pieces on what his deal is, but not coming up with much. Perhaps the lupine equivalent of Ari's tribe?
     
    Starfox5 likes this.
  17. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Not quite, but close.
     
  18. Threadmarks: Chapter 8: The Lost Cave
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 8: The Lost Cave

    ‘In the second half of the twentieth century, the International Confederation of Wizards developed a reputation as a toothless, pointless committee where the various nations of the magical world send their washed-out politicians if they aren’t willing to retire from politics. An analysis of the reasons for this development shows two main causes for the loss of the ICW’s reputation: First, the lack of any reaction of the ICW to Grindelwald’s War despite the latter’s stated goal of overturning the Statute of Secrecy. It is, at first sight, difficult to understand why the same organisation that condemned the sub-Saharan nations of Magical Africa to extinction for violating the Statute of Secrecy in their fight against muggle colonialism would not move against Grindelwald with the same ruthlessness. The official explanation - that Grindelwald hadn’t actually undertaken any steps towards his stated goal and that he had been planning on ‘overturning’, not breaking the Statute, and, therefore, didn’t present an imminent threat to it - is less than convincing.
    However, one cannot ignore that the ICW does not control any forces of its own, but is restricted to granting its member nations the mandate to take action in its name when a country alone cannot handle a threat any more - and that, historically, the nations of Magical Europe have been the ones to act most often in support of a decision of the ICW. The same nations which were already fighting desperately against Grindelwald’s forces. Of the other member nations, few were willing or able to effectively invade Europe to battle Grindelwald’s Storm Wizards. China and India, the most powerful countries outside Europe, were content to wait and let the Europeans bleed themselves. The New World was too divided to mount an expeditionary force that could have been a threat to Grindelwald - and was, as always, occupied with local conflicts anyway. The other nations lacked the capability to move forces to, much less intervene in, Europe - or were, like the Barbary Coast Enclaves, not trusted to adhere to the limits of a mandate. No one, of course, even asked the Australians.
    Nevertheless, the ICW was blamed for the failures of its member nations by many wizards and witches - especially in war-ravaged Europe. Its reputation would have recovered, though, if not for Albus Dumbledore. It might seem paradoxical that the most famous and most powerful Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards is responsible for the widespread view that the ICW is toothless. Wasn’t it Dumbledore who stopped Grindelwald? Who cowed the houngans, ending their practice of kidnapping children as their apprentices? Who formed and led the coalition which stopped the slaving raids of the Barbary Coast Enclaves?
    Indeed, it was Dumbledore. But he wasn’t acting as the Supreme Mugwump on those occasions, nor with the mandate of the ICW. That the ICW’s power was mostly limited to enforcing the Statute of Secrecy and that the organisation had no jurisdiction over the internal matters of its member states or over conflicts between member states was easily forgotten. And so his impressive actions, testimony to the power of an exceptional wizard to change the course of nations by himself, were not attributed to the ICW. Even worse, from the perspective of the ICW, which had elected Dumbledore to strengthen their position and influence, they were seen as depending on Dumbledore to enforce their decisions.
    - Excerpt from ‘The International Confederation of Wizards: A History and Critical Analysis’ by Bradley Cooper, London, 2000


    *****​

    Jamaica, Cockpit Country, September 3rd, 2001

    Hermione Granger carefully bent another branch with a flick of her wand and peered at the foliage behind it. Her detection spell didn’t show any magic, but that didn’t rule out a buried Inferius.

    She looked over her shoulder. “Ari?”

    The other witch moved closer before changing into a jaguar. Her nostrils flared as she sniffed. She changed back. “No death meat. No oil. Only plants,” she said as she conjured another loincloth and top and vanished the ones she had ripped up while changing shape. So there wasn’t an Inferius waiting patiently for decades or centuries until an unwary intruder stepped over their hiding spot. And no pits with poisoned spikes at the bottom.

    Hermione nodded and got up. “I didn’t see any curses. Harry?”

    Harry moved his wand, and, a moment later, Hermione saw several snakes slither through the undergrowth, a few climbing the trees.

    “Interesting choice of scouting animals,” Mallory remarked.

    Harry shrugged. “They have excellent senses and are native to the area.”

    Mr Mallory slowly nodded, but Hermione couldn’t tell if he was satisfied with the answer. The man looked more than a little tired, even with the various potions he was using to stand the heat and humidity. But they had been walking through some of the worst terrain Hermione had ever seen - a dense rainforest covering countless hollows and shallow caves as well as steep ridges. No wonder neither the Spanish nor the British had ever managed to capture the Maroons.

    But they could handle the jungle. The real problem was the traps and defences of the houngans that littered the area. It had taken them three days to travel twenty miles because they had had to circle around hollows and caves - the ‘cockfighting pits’ that had given the area its name - bristling with curses and buried Inferi and the occasional muggle trap.

    Fortunately, between them, they could deal with all of that, though just spotting and going around the trapped areas took a lot of time. But even though it was slow going, they did advance. They were close to the location Harry and she had found, and the number of trapped and cursed areas they had to avoid had diminished over the last few hours.

    “No one’s following us,” Ron said as she sat down on the ground, pulled out her water bottle and took a swig. “Do you want to switch?”

    She shook her head. “I can do another leg,” she said. She wasn’t that tired yet.

    Ron nodded. “If you’re sure.”

    “I can handle it.” She wasn’t yet tired enough to grow careless or complacent. Nothing the little rest she had while Harry’s snakes searched the area ahead of them wouldn’t remedy.

    A few minutes later, Harry announced. “Nothing suspicious until the cave ahead of us.”

    Hermione nodded and stood, recasting her detection spell. Ari joined her in jaguar form as Hermione passed Harry and knelt down, checking the trail for spells and other magic.

    Nothing. She looked at the big cat next to her. Ari shook her head. Hermione stood and slowly walked ten yards, then stopped and checked for curses again while Ari sniffed the air and searched the jungle for threats.

    It took them half an hour to reach the cave, but they didn’t find any traps or other defences. Until Hermione cast her detection spell and the cave lit up. “Wards,” she snapped, without looking away. Those weren’t the houngan spells she had spotted over the last few days. She hadn’t yet seen protections like these. But she had seen similar ones. In Brazil.

    “We’ve found the outpost,” she announced with a wide, triumphant smile. “And the wards are intact.”

    *****​

    They had found the outpost! Harry Potter smiled, relieved - his and Hermione’s conclusions had been quite sound and fit everything they knew, but they had been, to a certain extent, merely guessing. It would have been quite embarrassing if they had travelled through such a hostile, cursed country only to find out they had been wrong.

    But this made it worth having spent the last two days crawling through the jungle. He moved up the trail towards Hermione.

    “Wards are still active,” she said. “They’re similar to the ones we encountered in Brazil.”

    “Similar?” He didn’t like that. The devil, or death for a Curse-Breaker, was in the details. If you thought you knew a curse, you could grow careless.

    “Yes. Familiar structures, but the differences are quite telling.” She tilted her head and slowly twisted her wand, already analysing the protections.

    “Just be careful,” he told her. “You’ve already done a lot today.” And tired people made mistakes.

    She sniffed. “I haven’t actually cracked any wards yet; all I’ve done is find some.”

    “Hermione…” He frowned at her, even though she wasn’t looking at him.

    “I know, I know. I’m only analysing the wards.” After a moment, she added: “We won’t start to take them down until tomorrow.”

    “Yes.” He patted her shoulder - lightly, so as not to startle her - and walked back to the others.

    Ari was in her jaguar form again, halfway up the tree Ron was leaning against, and Mallory was sitting on a conjured armchair, looking like he had fallen asleep as soon as he had sat down.

    The man opened his eyes, though, once Harry got closer. “I take it we’ve found the lost outpost?” he asked with a smile.

    Harry shrugged. “We found a cave protected by wards similar to those we found in other Atlantean ruins.”

    “That a yes?” Ari had changed back; Harry didn’t look at her.

    He shrugged. “Probably. We won’t know for certain until we crack the protections. Which will take at least a few days,” he added for Mallory.

    “Time to get the tents out,” Ron said.

    “And mark territory,” Ari added.

    “We don’t want to draw attention,” Harry told her.

    She sniffed. “Keeps away competition.”

    “I don’t think there are any jaguars in Jamaica,” Harry pointed out, resisting the urge to rub the bridge of his nose.

    “There are.” He looked at her; she was grinning. “One,” she added.

    Harry rolled his eyes and ignored Ron’s chuckle. “Then there’s no need to mark the territory, is there?”

    She scoffed. “Could be other hunters. Lizards.”

    “Crocodiles shouldn’t be found this far from the river,” Ron said.

    “Never know,” Ari replied. “Principle of things.”

    “Well, no one will suspect it’s us,” Ron said. “Nor would anyone suspect an animagus of doing that.”

    Harry sighed. “Whatever. Check for threats, at least, while we put up the tent.”

    Ari didn’t answer; she merely bent down to quickly kiss - or lick, Harry couldn’t see anything other than the back of her head and her long hair from his vantage point - Ron, then she changed and disappeared into the canopy, her tail swishing behind her.

    “She’s a good guard,” Ron said.

    “So I heard,” Mallory muttered, looking less exhausted now. “She was the one to kill your traitorous skipper, wasn’t she?”

    “It was self-defence,” Ron told him.

    “Of course.”

    Judging by Mallory’s sly smile, the man didn’t think so. Or didn’t care.

    *****​

    “...and it looks like an early version of the Confundus Charm worked into a two-layered protection scheme. You trigger the outer ward, and you’ll get confused and wander off, forgetting about the cave. The inner defences are likely much harder, but it shouldn’t take too long to get us past this ward.”

    Harry Potter, sitting in the living room of their tent, nodded with a smile at Hermione. “Good,” he said, “but eat some food while it’s hot.”

    “A simple household charm will solve that,” she pointed out. But she started eating - quite eagerly, Harry noticed; she must have been too focused on the wards and her discovery to notice how hungry she had been.

    He chuckled - that was just like her. “I’ll take a shot at it tomorrow morning, then,” he said. That would leave her and Ron for the inner protections.

    Hermione put down her fork - with a mouthful of noodles wrapped around its tines - and pushed a bundle of parchment towards him. “Here’s a copy of my notes.” Another stack went towards Ron.

    Ari peered at it, then started to ask Ron what the different arithmantic symbols meant. The witch was quite studious, in her own way, Harry had found, if not that organised. She was still learning how to read and write English, too.

    “How much time do you think it’ll take to break into the cave?” Mallory asked. “Just a rough estimate.”

    “That cannot be estimated with any degree of certainty,” Hermione replied. “We haven’t even seen the inner defences yet.”

    “We might want to put down defences of our own if we stay here for longer than originally anticipated,” Mallory said.

    “We did cast protections,” Harry pointed out, a little sharper than he’d intended - he had done them, after all.

    “And I patrol,” Ari said, briefly looking up before returning to her impromptu lesson.

    “I meant more active defences,” Mallory said. “Traps, for example. Or some curses.”

    Harry frowned. “Those would harm anyone stumbling into them. Even muggles, if you put them down outside the range of our charms.” The spells they had cast kept muggles away and hid the camp and cave area from view.

    Mallory scoffed. “I do not think anyone but houngans visit this area. How many traps and curses did we have to deal with on the way here?”

    “Or zombies under their control,” Ron said. “The mind-controlled ones.”

    Harry nodded. “We’re not about to construct traps and cast curses. But we’ll add more detection spells.”

    Mallory nodded, but he wasn’t happy. Harry could tell.

    Tough, Harry thought. The man wasn’t a Curse-Breaker - but Harry and his friends were.

    *****​

    Jamaica, Cockpit Country, September 4th, 2001

    “And done!” Harry announced, stretching as he stood.

    Ron Weasley nodded, not quite sighing with relief - even without Hermione’s notes, the first layer of protections around the cave wasn’t that hard to crack - but the wards had been very old, and very powerful. And a backlash from a failed attempt to defuse a ward would hurt or kill a Curse-Breaker no matter how lethal the actual protection spells were.

    Hermione, of course, was already moving ahead - patience wasn’t her strongest virtue, no matter how often she cautioned Ron and Harry about not rushing things. “There’s the wardline, right at the cave entrance!” she announced, then knelt down and waved her wand in the familiar pattern of a detection spell.

    “And there she goes, starting on the wards right away,” Ron mumbled.

    “Should she wait?” Ari asked next to him.

    “There’s no real reason to wait,” he said, shrugging, “but there’s also no reason to rush things.”

    “Apart from the fact that we’re in the houngans’ heartland,” Mallory cut in. “The sooner we are done here, the sooner we can leave.”

    It was a good point, but Ron shrugged again. He didn’t like the man much. “Depending on the size of the ruins, it might take us a while to map it all out. We might also have to excavate parts if there were cave-ins.” He rubbed his chin for effect. “Could be weeks.”

    “Weeks?” Mallory’s voice rose. “You can just vanish whatever material is blocking the way!”

    “What?” Ron acted as if the mere suggestion shocked him. “We’re not some money-grubbing treasure hunters - we’re archaeologists! Excavations have to be done carefully, and slowly - even small ceramic shards and their locations are important!”

    Mallory stared at him. “Are you serious?”

    Ron snorted, resisting the temptation to quote Harry’s godfather. “Of course we are,” he said, nodding.

    “Well, we’ll see about that!” Mallory spat, baring his teeth. “I won’t be captured by those monsters because you’re worrying about rubbish!” He turned and stalked towards Harry, who was checking the now accessible area near the cave entrance with his snakes.

    “Don’t like him,” Ari hissed. “Stinks again.”

    “He’s been brewing potions in his tent,” Ron said. “That tends to be smelly.” And greasy, he added to himself, remembering Snape.

    Ari shook her head. “Know potions. Don’t stink like this.”

    Ron didn’t think Ari knew all the potions Mallory knew - her tribe had their own recipes, after all, using their own ingredients. “Should have smelled our old Potions Master,” he said.

    She wrinkled her nose, which made her look very cute - almost innocent - and huffed. “I watch… I’m watching him.”

    Ron nodded. “We’re all watching him. Well, when we’re not cracking the wards.”

    He’d get his turn at the wardline soon enough.

    *****​

    Jamaica, Cockpit Country, September 7th, 2001

    So, this was it. Ron Weasley stared at the cave entrance as Harry not too subtly reminded Hermione, who had just finished cracking the wards, that she was in no shape to take the lead on this.

    He glanced at Ari, who had changed into her jaguar form again. She changed back. “I don’t smell anything - other than him,” she said, nodding towards Mallory, who seemed ready to dash past the two of them despite the rather rocky ground.

    But if Ari didn’t smell anything, then there weren’t any animals in the cave. Whatever the Atlanteans had constructed in there would likely be untouched, then. Perfect!

    “Alright,” Harry spoke up. “Ron and I will take the lead. Hermione and Mr Mallory behind us, Ari covers our backs.”

    “Yes,” Ari said. Her glance at Mallory left no doubt that she would cover their backs mostly against him.

    Something of which Ron approved heartily.

    “Let’s do it!” He cast a detection spell and started to enter the cave.

    And stopped at once.

    “Spells on the ground here,” he said, kneeling.
    “Curses?” Harry asked, keeping his wand aimed ahead. He wasn’t looking for spells, but other threats.

    Ron frowned. “Don’t know yet…” He took a closer look at the spells covering the ground. Transfiguration, he thought, tied to a detection spell linked to the wall to his right. He slowly twisted his wand. Touch-triggered? It didn’t look like a trap. He eyed the location - it was smooth. Smoother than the rest of the walls. And about chest high. Ah!

    “Let’s stand back - I’ll trigger the spell,” he said, standing up.

    “What?” Mallory gasped.

    “Behind cover, of course,” Hermione said. True to her words, a thick wall quickly rose from the ground at the entrance of the cave.

    “Of course,” Ron said. Between their Shield Charms, Bubble-Head Charms and the wall, they should be safe enough even if his suspicion should turn out to be wrong.

    He flicked his wand and triggered the detection spell. As he had expected, the ground, which had looked like natural rock, turned into finely-crafted stone stairs.

    “Oh! As Amenemhat said - the Atlanteans used magic in almost frivolous ways by the standards of their time!” Hermione exclaimed.

    “Yes,” Mallory cut in. “They were the leading civilisation of their age. Far ahead of the rest of the world.”

    “Lazy,” Ari added. “Could do this with a spell.”

    “Technically, this is a spell,” Hermione pointed out.

    Ari snorted. “Know what I mean.”

    “We can’t really judge them by our standards,” Hermione retorted. “They didn’t have wands, and so casting a spell was neither as easy nor as fast as it is for us.”

    Ari shrugged. “Could have left the stairs finished.”

    “Indeed, they could have,” Ron said. “Which means they were concerned with hiding the fact that this was an outpost of theirs.”

    “And they did that even though they should have been controlling Jamaica in their day,” Harry added with a grin. “So, what might they have hidden in there?”

    “Secrets they didn’t trust everyone, not even every Atlantean, with!” Mallory whispered.

    Ron really didn’t like the man’s expression.

    *****​

    Hermione Granger was an experienced Curse-Breaker. She knew one couldn’t rush into freshly discovered ruins. She also knew that, after cracking the defences of the site, she was too tired to tackle the possibly-trapped cave. And she was well aware that both Harry and Ron could handle traps and curses.

    But she really wanted to push ahead. A hidden Atlantean outpost. Possibly hidden from the Atlanteans themselves. Mr Mallory was correct that the cave might hide far more important things than tablets detailing supply orders. Even though seemingly mundane, even banal, information often was crucial for understanding a lost culture, as Hermione knew very well from her studies of archaeology and history.

    But as a Curse-Breaker, she also understood the lure of treasure and secrets.

    Although she had better self-control than Mr Mallory - the man was fidgeting and almost panting. Hermione wouldn’t put it past him to try to push Ron and Harry out of the way and charge down the stairs himself.

    Which would be bad for everyone.

    She suppressed the urge to let the man press ahead while pulling her friends out of the danger zone and said: “Patience, Mr Mallory. There could be all kinds of traps ahead of us.”

    He slowly nodded in response. “Of course. It’s just… this could be the discovery of the century. It’s hard to wait when we’re so close to achieving our dreams.”

    Hermione nodded in turn, even though she didn’t think they had quite the same dreams. “Indeed.”

    Ari, bringing up the rear, snorted, but didn’t comment. The witch hadn’t let Mr Mallory out of her sight, as far as Hermione knew.

    Which, if Hermione was honest, made her feel better. Mr Mallory might be an acquaintance of Dumbledore’s and a man who should know better than to try to betray them, but he was also a driven man - willing to travel into the heartlands of what had to be his personal Boggart for his ‘dream’.

    And such men were often willing to do and risk anything and everything.

    Ron and Harry moved another few yards down the stairs, and she followed them, cutting Mr Mallory off. If he suddenly wanted to disturb them, he’d have to get past her.

    And get away from Ari. The witch’s penchant for violence was a good thing in this situation - if Mr Mallory endangered her friends, Hermione would curse him herself.

    She saw Ron kneeling on the stairs again, studying the area in front of him.

    “Another spell,” Harry said.

    “In the middle of the stairs?” Hermione frowned. That did sound like a trap.

    “It’s a detection spell linked to another spell further down the stairs, as far as I can tell,” Ron said, after a minute.

    “A trigger.” Hermione nodded.

    “Yes,” Ron agreed. “But I can’t tell if the spell triggers a trap - or if it needs to be triggered to avoid a trap. The other spell’s out of the range of the detection spell.”

    So they couldn’t analyse it.

    “Pig time,” Harry said.

    Hermione pressed her lips together but nodded. She didn’t like brute-forcing traps - but it was often the only way to trigger them safely. Or somewhat safely.

    “Let’s go back to the entrance,” she said. That would be safe enough - the Atlanteans would not have wanted to advertise the cave’s existence by having their traps lay waste to the area outside. Or so she hoped.

    A few minutes later, she watched, from behind a conjured stone wall, as a pig walked down the stairs.

    “Here comes the trapped area,” Ron said.

    Nothing happened as the pig crossed it. Hermione bit her lower lip as the pig turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs and she lost sight of it. A few seconds later, she heard a squeal, then nothing.

    “I smell blood!” Ari muttered.

    “So… now we know we need to trigger the spell to pass safely,” Ron said. “Shouldn’t be too hard.”

    “Ssssh!” Ari hissed. “Steps. Heavy steps.”

    Hermione refrained from cursing. Ron and Harry didn’t. There weren’t many things that could walk after resting thousands of years. Mummies were one possibility.

    Movement at the end of the stairs drew her attention, and she winced at the sight. Animated statues. She would have preferred mummies - they were not quite as durable. The statues looked like warriors wearing old armour and were climbing the stairs, past the trigger area. “We could retreat. They’re unlikely to go outside the cave,” she said. And once they went back to their ‘resting place’, Hermione and her friends could disarm the trap.

    “I’d rather not have to worry about them activating behind us,” Harry said. “Let’s destroy them.”

    Hermione opened her mouth to protest - the statues were priceless Atlantean artefacts, after all - but pressed her lips together. He was correct - they couldn’t risk it.

    And she could always cast a Mending Charm on the remains.

    Then, suddenly, the statues, which had been advancing at a rather slow pace, raced towards them, and Hermione had far more important things to worry about than the restoration of Atlantean art.

    Namely, not getting crushed by stone clubs and fists.

    *****​

    Harry Potter’s Blasting Curse hit the first stone statue in the chest as it charged him and his friends. The explosion threw the figure back, and he saw two limbs be blown clear before a cloud of dust obscured the entire stairway. But he heard it crashing into the others behind it, and more crashing noises followed. He grinned - that had been more effective than he had expected.

    “They still coming!” Ari yelled.

    A moment later, Harry heard the footsteps as well - just before a statue charged through the still settling dust cloud. A statue whose missing arm and shorter leg were growing back in seconds. Harry hit it with another Blasting Curse, followed by Ron. This time, the statue was blown entirely apart - but that meant that it didn’t crash into the ones which had been following behind it.

    “Watch out - we can’t risk a cave-in!” Mallory yelled - from safely behind them, of course.

    “Must be a Mending Charm embedded in the statue,” Hermione said as Harry blasted another statue back a few steps. He didn’t miss the fact that they had already come closer during the fight so far.

    “Can you end it?” Ari asked.

    “Not in the middle of a fight,” Hermione snapped. “We’ll have to immobilise them.”

    “Or vanish the parts,” Ron said. He flicked his wand while Harry bowled the next statue over with a Bludgeoning Charm. “Bollocks! It didn’t work!”

    “Warded,” Hermione said. Harry risked a glance and saw that she was far closer than he liked to his spot, and aiming her wand at the blown-off stone hand lying closest to their position. “Tied into the whole spell network,” she added.

    Harry clenched his teeth as the first statue returned - missing part of its arm, and with a large hole in its chest, limping on still growing legs, but coming at him nonetheless. And at his friends. He frowned and conjured stone bars to stop it.

    The statue crashed into them, then started to push - and the stone bars gave way.

    “Merlin’s balls!” Ron cursed. “How strong are they?”

    “Very,” Hermione commented as a few more Blasting Curses sent the statues back down the stairs in pieces.

    Ron snorted. “If they can break down stone like that, then my plan to immobilise them in ice won’t work either.”

    “And we can’t keep blasting them,” Hermione added, “the roof’s cracking already.”

    Harry grit his teeth - the things were coming at them again. They would have to fall back, leave the cave.

    “Levitate them!” Hermione ordered. “They can’t use their strength if they have no leverage!”

    “But there are three of them!” Ron said.

    And one of them would be needed to dismantle the spells on the statues while they floated. “Ari! You need to levitate the third!” Harry yelled. He heard Hermione hiss under her breath - she knew as well as he did that this would leave Mallory unsupervised, but it couldn’t be helped.

    And then the first statute, looking even more battered, but still advancing mercilessly, came at him. If the statue was protected against levitation… Harry swished his wand. “Wingardium Leviosa!”

    His spell lifted the statue up, and he hastily moved it towards them. “Ron!”

    “On it! Wingardium Leviosa!”

    The second statue started to float - and flailed its limbs, trying to find purchase. Ron barely managed to float it forward before the third statute was in range. If they collided…

    Ari yelled something Harry couldn’t understand - he had never heard whatever language she used before - and the third statue lost contact with the ground.

    Now it was up to Hermione to dispel the charms that kept the statues animated and self-repairing. He saw her move forward, coming far too close to the flailing limbs of the statue he was levitating. But he clenched his teeth and didn’t say anything. She knew what she was doing.

    “These are complicated spells,” she said after a minute or two.

    “Take your time. No rush - we can do this all day,” Ron replied.

    Theoretically, they could. But to keep something in the air that tried its best to break out of your spell’s grasp wasn’t that easy. And all it would take was one slip, one mistake, and the statute would gain the leverage to break free - right next to Hermione, who was breaking the spells and would be unable to flee.

    Harry drew a hissing breath. He wouldn’t let that happen.

    Minutes passed. Just how complicated were those spells? Harry heard Ron mutter a curse under his breath, and Ari say something in that language of hers. Probably curses as well.

    Suddenly, the statue he was levitating stopped struggling. A moment later, it vanished.

    “One down,” Hermione announced with a grin. “Two to go.”

    Half an hour later, Ari’s statue was dealt with as well. The witch was trembling and sweating, but she had adamantly refused to be relieved.

    Harry was impressed - even though he had waited, ready to cast a Levitation Charm at a moment’s notice, while Hermione worked on the last statue.

    But now the path was clear, and they could continue.

    To the next trap.

    *****​

    “Ron, duck!”

    Ron Weasley dropped to the ground as soon as he heard Harry’s warning. A moment later, a Bludgeoning Curse passed over his head and struck the reanimating remains of the latest pig they had conjured, splattering them against the wall with the spikes upon which it had been impaled - a classic spear trap with a necromantic twist.

    Ron shook his head as he stood and vanished the remains with a swish of his wand, then looked at Harry and sighed.

    “Better safe than sorry,” Harry said, with a slight pout.

    “I didn’t say anything,” Ron replied.

    “But you thought it,” Harry shot back.

    “We all thought it,” Hermione cut in. She grinned toothily at Harry.

    “Yes,” Ari added. “Should have burned it. Dead-who-walk need burning. Even if they are dead food.”

    She looked so earnest, Ron swallowed his chuckle - despite Hermione’s expression.

    “That wasn’t what I thought,” Hermione said, pursing her lips.

    “You have a better way to deal with dead things than fire?” Ari asked, perking up.

    “A Vanishing Charm would have worked perfectly on the pig,” Hermione stated, “as Ron demonstrated.”

    “The statues at the entrance were protected against the charm,” Harry replied.

    “They were prepared as defences. Not animated by a trap.”

    “Never underestimate a trap,” Harry quoted Bill.

    “Never hit your partner by accident,” Hermione quoted Petunia.

    “I didn’t,” Harry said. With a grin, he added: “He was too quick.”

    Ron rolled his eyes at the joke, then quickly laughed when he saw that Ari was growling. “He’s joking,” he told her.

    “Not funny,” she replied. Ron had to laugh at Harry’s exaggerated scowl upon hearing that.

    “Can you be serious for once?” Mallory snapped, interrupting Harry’s ‘tough crowd’ line. “This isn’t a game!”

    Ron glanced at the older wizard, a little surprised - Mallory hadn’t said much and had mostly stayed out of the way - and at a safe distance - since they entered the cave. Then he looked at Harry and shook his head. “Too easy.” Harry laughed, as did Hermione.

    “What?” Mallory obviously didn’t like to be left out of a joke any more than he liked being useless while the Curse-Breakers worked.

    “Sirius is Harry’s uncle,” Ari said, shaking her head as if Mallory were an idiot for missing this.

    Ron coughed to mask his amusement, but he didn’t think he managed to fool the other wizard.

    Mallory pressed his lips together. “I may not be a veteran Curse-Breaker,” he said in a clipped voice, “but even I am well aware that one should not fool around when dealing with deadly traps. It tends to result in deaths.” He practically hissed the last word.

    “Yeah, and if you were a veteran Curse-Breaker, you’d know that this is normal,” Ron replied. He put on a friendlier grin than he felt. “We joke a lot when we can do so safely - it helps dealing with the fact that we risk our lives every day.”

    Harry and Hermione nodded gravely as if they didn’t know that Ron had just quoted one of Bill’s pick-up lines - ‘witches love to catch a glimpse of seriousness behind a friendly smile and witty line,’ he had told Ron and Harry more than once before he had met Fleur.

    “I see,” Mallory said. “Thank you.” He slowly nodded, then turned and sat down a little further away than he had been.

    Ari sneered at him behind his back but fortunately didn’t say anything. Ron sighed. “Well, back to the grind. Whose turn is it again?” he asked, despite knowing it was Hermione’s.

    “Mine,” she said, rolling her eyes at him. But she was smiling.

    Half an hour later, she was looking worried. And that worried everyone else.

    “What’s wrong?” Harry asked.

    “This area here is made up of poisoned spikes transfigured into stone plates,” she said, pointing ahead. Ron managed not to take a step back. “Quite clever - the Egyptians didn’t start making such traps until about two centuries later.” She nodded. “But nothing really dangerous. But the trap is triggered by a detection spell on the other side of the enchanted area.”

    Ron whistled. That was worrying indeed.

    “Are you sure that it’s not just a trap to get the ones who think they are safe by staying behind the vanguard?” Harry asked.

    Mallory paled at hearing that; Ron glanced at the man to check.

    Hermione shook her head. “I can’t exclude that, but I don’t think it’s likely. Whoever created this trap would have expected an intruder to notice the trap before the trigger if they managed to get through the other traps we passed. We certainly did.” She pointed at the area with her wand.

    Ari frowned.

    “What do you mean?” Mallory asked. “Why are you suddenly worried?”

    Ron sighed. “Because if our suspicions are correct, then this trap wasn’t built to keep intruders out, but to keep whatever is down here from escaping.”

    Like mummies, monsters or malignant ghosts.

    *****​

    Hermione Granger sighed when she stood and pointed at the corner ahead of her. “There’s a trap with spikes coming down from the ceiling, triggered by the spell on the ground. Probably meant to make whoever survived it dispel the trap behind us, with predictable results.”

    “Are you sure that this trap is aimed at our destination?” Mr Mallory asked.

    “I consider that the most likely explanation,” she replied.

    “But you aren’t sure.”

    “I am reasonably certain,” she corrected him. “This is not my first time in a trapped tomb.” She smiled a little toothily at him - he wasn’t a Curse-Breaker and shouldn’t doubt her.

    “This isn’t supposed to be a tomb!” he shot back.

    “With all those traps? Someone’s bound to have died in here,” Harry cut in.

    “Which, technically, makes it a tomb,” Ron added, “if no one removed the corpse.”

    “Vanishing Charm?” Ari, keeping behind Mr Mallory as usual, cocked her head and looked at them.

    “It’s not clear if the Atlanteans actually knew that charm,” Hermione explained.

    “Was a joke,” Ari told her with a smile.

    “Self-cleaning traps - save on maintenance!” Ron said, chuckling.

    Hermione refrained from reminding them that the later Egyptian tombs usually incorporated such charms so plunderers couldn’t detect a trap’s location thanks to the remains of their predecessors. Harry and Ron knew that. They were just joking around - probably to rile up Mr Mallory.

    Hermione didn’t mind that. Not any more - the man was crowding her. “Please move back to a safe distance,” she told him, “so I can work on dispelling this trap.”

    “Or you can go ahead and trigger it while we wait,” Ron added with a chuckle.

    Hermione didn’t think that Ron was entirely joking. Ari certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Mr Mallory get cursed or worse. The witch had been complaining about the man’s stench every since they had arrived in Jamaica. And people wondered why animagi weren’t that common - Hermione shuddered at the thought of having such a good nose in Potions at Hogwarts.

    Mr Mallory glared at Ron, but did back off.

    “Thank you.” Hermione beamed at him, then turned and started to work on the trap. She was becoming familiar with the spells used by whoever had created them, but that just meant that she had to be even more cautious and careful - after all, it was the trap they thought they knew that killed the Curse-Breaker.

    But this trap wouldn’t kill her.

    *****​

    “So it is a tomb.”

    Hermione Granger pressed her lips together upon hearing Harry’s dry comment. Sometimes, he wasn’t quite as witty as he thought he was, but she loved him anyway.

    She knelt down and cast a cleaning charm on the area in front of them. Dust vanished from the spikes and bones. She took a quick count. “Half a dozen dead,” she said.

    “Unless one of them had two heads.” Ron wasn’t as witty as he thought he was, either.

    Hermione took a closer look at the other remains. Rags that probably hadn’t been more than loincloths even when they had been new, judging by the clothes of dead grave robbers she had found in Egyptian tombs. Simple sandals. Bronze jewellry - a rather simplistic design. Nothing like the reports claimed Atlanteans had worn. No wands - but that was to be expected. Obsidian knives - no bronze knives. And that was strange.

    “I don’t think these were Atlanteans,” she said.

    “What?” Mr Mallory was crowding her again. “This isn’t an Atlantean outpost?”

    “Atlantean tomb,” Ari muttered behind him.

    “It is - the spells, the architecture with its maritime motives - everything fits,” Hermione replied, “but they don’t fit.”

    “Grave robbers? There would have to be a second entrance, though,” Harry said. “And they would have realised they were going up, wouldn’t they?”

    “Yes,” Hermione agreed. “Perhaps prisoners? Left behind when the Atlanteans vanished, and they failed to break out?” She suppressed a shudder. To be locked underground, left to die, with only a trapped tunnel awaiting them, giving them just enough hope to attempt to break out, only to kill them brutally…

    There were rumours about some Curse-Breakers trapped in a tomb, unable to get out, keeping themselves alive for years by multiplying their food and creating water, until their last bit of food went bad and they starved. Unconfirmed rumours. Tales to frighten new Curse-Breakers and gullible visitors.

    She nodded as firmly as she could. “We have to be close now. And the traps ahead of us might have been disarmed already.”

    “With our luck? I think they reset themselves,” Ron said.

    “We’ll certainly assume so,” she said. “Which means you, since it’s your turn.”

    “Alright.” He nodded and went to work.

    Two hours and two traps that hadn’t been reset later, they reached a massive, but demolished, gate - with whatever protections had been on it dispelled - and, through it, a cavern. Not a room. Not a chamber. A cavern large enough to fit an entire village with fields to sustain it. And a dried lake. Dimly lit by lights set in the ceiling.

    Hermione cast a detection spell, then revised her estimate of the Atlanteans’ magical knowledge upwards. “This is the most advanced use of Extension Chams I know of for that epoch,” she said.

    “This isn’t a natural cavern?” Mr Mallory asked.

    “No, it isn’t,” Harry said, flicking his wand. “But the charms look rather primitive. They shouldn’t have been so powerful given their structure.”

    Hermione checked, then nodded. “You’re right. That is strange.”

    “Masters’ secrets,” Ari said.

    Mr Mallory nodded. “Yes. If they could do this with simple spells…”

    “Well, they failed at agriculture,” Ron said. He stood in what Hermione belatedly recognised as a field, holding up a handful of dust. “The soil’s barely more than dust. Looks like they didn’t manage to irrigate it.”

    “They’d have needed more light to grow anything, anyway,” Hermione pointed out.

    “Perhaps those spells faded?” Harry was craning his neck, staring at the ceiling.

    “Probably - there are barns as well. Grain storages,” Ron said. Hermione reminded herself that the Weasleys grew some of their own food; her friend had first-hand experience with this.

    “No irrigation system that I can detect, though,” she added.

    “It wouldn’t have been hard to cast a Water-Making Spell every morning,” Harry said. “If they knew that spell, or a similar one.”

    “With a wand, it wouldn’t have been hard. But without?” Hermione shook her head. “They would have had to resort to rituals.” She stared at the largest building in the village. It did look somewhat similar to Mycenaean temples of the late bronze age. “Let’s check it out.”

    Mr Mallory almost took the lead - Hermine suspected he had taken a potion to counteract the fatigue everyone had to feel after hours of making their way through the tomb. On the other hand, Mr Mallory hadn’t done any work so far.

    The gates of the temple were closed and rusted, but nothing a quick Mending Charm couldn’t handle. They checked for traps first, of course, before opening the gates.

    And they found more skeletons inside - a dozen forming a circle around an altar. With a small skeleton on it.

    “Failed sacrificial ritual?” Harry speculated. “If they tampered with the wards on the door the backlash might have killed them all.”

    “Perhaps.” It was as good an explanation as any.

    “I don’t think it failed,” Mr Mallory said. He pointed at the circle. “Twelve people who died where they stood. One sacrifice on the altar. But where is the corpse of the one who offered the sacrifice?”

    That was a good observation, Hermione noted. She also noted that Mr Mallory knew about sacrificial magic. Or blood magic, as the public usually called it. But then, anyone in the Caribbean probably knew something about it thanks to the region’s history. She nodded.

    “Let’s enter the inner sanctum,” Harry said, pointing at the door in the back.

    That door’s protections were still working, and the bronze gleamed in the dim light. Strong spells, too, Hermione noted - and, unless she was mistaken, cast by the same person who had created the traps outside. “This will take a while,” she said.

    “My turn,” Harry replied.

    He was right. Hermione nodded, briefly squeezed his shoulder with a smile, then stood back to stand watch while he worked.

    Harry took his time - two hours by Hermione’s measure - to crack the wards. She approved, though - as much as she wanted to break into the sanctum, they couldn’t afford to get sloppy now. But finally, the massive bronze doors swung open and revealed the inner sanctum.

    And another corpse. Three corpses, Hermione corrected herself - if crocodiles counted. There was a human one, on an altar, flanked by two massive crocodiles. All three were partially mummified, she noted, though not in the Egyptian style, but the result of some sort of drying charm. A golden mask in a style she didn’t recognise covered the corpse’s head.

    Or so it seemed - something was off. She cast a detection charm, then blinked. “The head is missing.”

    “What?” Mr Mallory took a step forward. “The mask…”

    “...is held in place by a charm,” she informed him.

    She took a step closer.

    “There’s an urn behind the altar,” Ron said. “No spells on it as far as I can tell.”

    “I’ll levitate the lid off,” Harry said. No one protested, and so, after a moment, he cast the charm.

    The moment the lid lost touch with the rest of the vessel, the urn started to glow. Hermione hissed and gripped her wand more tightly. Ari growled and Ron and Harry stepped away, raising their wands.

    From the urn, a skull - bare of skin or flesh - rose, floating. Its eyes were glowing, filling the room with light.

    Then it spoke.

    “Akalesh. Abrar. Merkindor. Hesh. Tutala.”

    And Hermione couldn’t understand a single word.

    *****​
     
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2018
  19. RedX

    RedX Know what you're doing yet?

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    Oh. Demi-lich. Didn't see that coming.
     
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  20. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    It's not D&D :p
     
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  21. Wolfboy

    Wolfboy Not too sore, are you?

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    Just because its not the setting, doesn't make the label wrong. Voldemort was a full Lich with seven separate phylacteries. They just weren't called that, probably due to copyright issues.
     
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  22. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Someone hiding his soul in an item so he cannot be killed is a plot that has been around for a long time. But demi-lich is a pretty much specific l to D&D.
     
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  23. Threadmarks: Chapter 9: The Mystery of the Speaking Skull
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 9: The Mystery of the Speaking Skull

    ‘Sacrificial Magic, commonly called ‘Blood Magic’, is one of the oldest arts known to wizardkind, and, openly or not, was practised in every ancient civilisation. Not without reason - in the time before the Romans invented the wand, sacrificial magic was one of the easiest and safest ways to cast complex spells. Even the most complex and advanced runic staves did not allow their wielders the same mastery of magic as a well-chosen sacrifice. However, once wands were available, sacrificial magic quickly fell into disuse among most wizards and witches.
    Not primarily, despite the claims of notable European wizards in the past, for moral reasons, but because wands were far easier to use - they allowed far quicker casting of spells and were always available, unlike most sacrifices.
    Sacrificial Magic, however, still offered certain advantages wands did not - provided a wizard was willing to stain their soul. And so, in Europe, Africa and Asia, Sacrificial Magic quickly became associated with the Dark Arts - for not entirely unjustified reasons, of course. Even over four hundred years after the Aztec Empire was destroyed by the Conquistadores, their rituals no match for Spanish wands, the horrors of the Blood Temples remain unforgotten, a testimony to both the power and the price of Sacrificial Magic. Less well known is the fact that Gellert Grindelwald made use of Sacrificial Magic in his attempt to conquer Magical Europe, although he personally focused on other aspects of the Dark Arts and mainly left such magic to followers like Herbert Kohlmeier and Anne Steinberg.
    Contrary to popular belief, Sacrificial Magic does not require murder. Mundane animals were sacrificed in rituals for centuries in pre-wand civilisations. Wizards would also bleed themselves to power their spells until the invention of the wand rendered both practices obsolete. But neither of these substitutes, nor wands, can equal the power a human sacrifice can provide to a ritual.’
    - Excerpt from ‘Old but not forgotten: Ancient Arts’ by Francis Rosier, London, 1951


    *****​

    Jamaica, Cockpit Country, September 7th, 2001

    Harry Potter barely resisted the urge to blast the floating skull to pieces when it started to speak. Blood magic, skulls and skeletons strewn around… Something was bound to try to kill them all at any moment. He kept his wand trained on the skull as it slowly settled back into the urn.

    He quickly cast a detection spell - the skull was covered in enchantments. Unknown ones. “Did it try to possess anyone?” he snapped.

    No one had noticed any such attempt. Harry didn’t think he would have missed one, either. He forced his remaining doubts away.

    “Do you think it’s a Horcrux?” Ron asked.

    Harry heard Hermione draw a hissing breath at the word.

    Ari merely looked puzzled. “Horcrux?”

    Mallory looked surprised, but not as nervous as Harry would have expected.

    “A Soul Anchor,” Hermione explained. “It contains a piece of a wizard’s soul and prevents them from passing on. Even if their body is destroyed, they linger on Earth as a shade that can possess animals and people.”

    “Oh.”

    “We’ve dealt with them before,” Harry said. There was no need to go into details.

    “Nasty business,” Ron added. “But it doesn’t look like a Horcrux. I’ve spotted none of the spells usually found on Horcruxes. But there are several spells I don’t recognise at all. If those are the Atlantean versions...” He winced.

    Harry nodded. “We’ll have to examine the thing.” Carefully, of course. “It’s my turn,” he said when Hermione took a step forward.

    After all, Harry had the most experience with Horcruxes.

    *****​

    “Well, it’s not a Horcrux,” Harry Potter said an hour later as he sat down with a sigh. He was certain of that. The thing had shown none of the corrupting effects of a Horcrux. Nor had it shown the typical violent reactions when probed with certain spells. And it didn’t feel like a Horcrux. “But I don’t know what it is.”

    “We haven’t found anything about the skull either,” Ron told him - he and Ari had explored the village while Hermione had kept watch over Harry - and Mallory, of course. Apparently, the man had been too afraid of encountering more traps to explore the village on his own - not that Ron and Ari would have let him, of course. You didn’t let amateurs poke around in a tomb; that usually led to disaster. “But we have a theory about what happened with the fields,” Ron went on.

    “Oh?”

    “Yes,” Ron replied. “Out of control Drying Charm.”

    “What?” Hermione said.

    Harry shared her reaction. That sounded crazy.

    “Yes.” Ron nodded. “I think they somehow managed to link the Drying Charm to the Extension Charms on the cavern, and it grew too powerful. It drained the lake and turned the soil into dust. We found several mummified crocodiles as well.”

    “They had crocodiles in the lake?” Harry shook his head. That sounded stupid to him. Dangerous, too.

    “Apparently a lot,” Ron said. “Perhaps they worshipped them like the Egyptians worshipped cats?”

    “Perhaps. Did you see any temples or statues dedicated to them?” Hermione asked.

    “No,” Ron said, shaking his head.

    “That seems unlikely then. Could it have been a farm?” Muggles had such farms, for leather and meat, Harry knew.

    “Well, what did they feed to the crocodiles? They need meat.” Ron asked.

    “That’s a good question.” Hermione bit her lower lip. “They might have enlarged and doubled guinea pigs to feed the crocodiles - and themselves, of course; they are a common food in some American countries.” Harry hoped Hedwig never heard about that; his owl would demand to share such food. Hermione shook her head. “But I think finding out what happened in this temple is more important. No one seems to have disturbed the dead here. Which means that either they couldn’t be reached or moved, no one cared about burying them or they were the last villagers alive and no one was left to bury them.”

    If the Atlanteans hadn’t cared about burying their dead, that would have been quite unusual for their time. It would, however, explain the lack of tombs in their outposts - but Harry couldn’t imagine a society where the dead were left to rot where they fell. They hadn’t found any graves, though - which could mean that the Atlanteans had vanished or otherwise disposed of their dead, or that the cavern hadn’t been settled long enough for a graveyard to be created.

    “It might have been a failed attempt to break the charm with a ritual,” Ron said. “They grew desperate after they couldn’t break out?”

    It was as good as a theory as any Harry had come up with. He nodded. “Maybe.” Then he grinned.

    A floating skull talking in an unknown language - probably Atlantean. A dozen dead in a ritual. A beheaded corpse. And a cavern full of mysteries.

    “This is becoming more interesting than I expected.”

    *****​

    “We still have no idea why those people were imprisoned here,” Ron Weasley said. “It doesn’t look like a prison.”

    “It could have been one, though,” Hermione said. “Some countries used to exile criminals to distant islands. Australia was settled in part by criminals banished there. This might be an Atlantean version of such a punishment.”

    “Banished to Australia? I’d prefer Azkaban,” Ron said, shuddering. The things he had heard about that continent’s wizards…

    “I was talking about muggles, not wizards,” Hermione explained.

    “Muggle Australia isn’t that much safer, as far as I know,” Ron retorted. “Half of the continent wants to kill you, and that’s just the plants.”

    “Really, Ron, that’s an exaggeration. My parents spent their vacation there and had a lovely time.” Hermione huffed.

    “Australia?” Ari cocked her head in that cute manner of hers.

    “A distant continent with the most hostile wizards you can imagine,” Ron explained. “They kill any foreign wizard they catch in their lands.” Ari nodded. After a moment, Ron realised she was waiting for more. “Well, they’re very good at killing visitors,” he added. “Which has given them a reputation.”

    “Worse than houngans?”

    “Yes.” Dumbledore had, after all, never visited Australia.

    Ari shuddered.

    “I don’t think Australia is relevant to Atlantis,” Mallory interrupted them. “Did you find any libraries or archives?”

    Ron shook his head - as if he wouldn’t have already told them if he and Ari had found any texts. “None. The other buildings are simple huts. The only special building in the village is this temple.”

    “Which isn’t unusual for the epoch during which this cavern was created,” Hermione said. “Although the house of the community leader might also be unique. Unless they were a priest and resided in the temple, of course.”

    Mallory almost scoffed, or so Ron thought. “Then we can focus our exploration on the temple.”

    Ron didn’t like agreeing with the man, but he had a point. “There might be secret rooms or cellars.”

    “What about skull?” Ari asked.

    “I think we should first check the temple for curses and traps, and for hidden rooms,” Harry said, “before we start examining the skull. Let’s avoid any nasty surprises.”

    They didn’t find anything, though. Neither detection charms nor Ari’s nose revealed any secrets. Ron sighed as they gathered again in the sanctum. “Nothing. No basement, no hidden rooms, not even living quarters for the priest or priestess.” He shook his head. “The temple might as well be a tomb for all the amenities it…” He blinked. “Perhaps it was meant as a tomb.”

    Hermione nodded. “This might have been a burial ceremony. It doesn’t explain why the dead were left outside, though. But this might very well be a mausoleum and not a temple. Or both, perhaps - many important people were buried in churches and cathedrals, after all.”

    “Who cares about muggle burial practices?” Mallory shook his head. “The only thing of note here is this corpse - and the skull.”

    “And the crocodiles,” Ari added. “Might be spirit guardians.”

    “Spirit guardians?” Ron asked.

    “To guard soul in afterlife. They guard the soul in the afterlife,” she corrected herself.

    “Is that what your tribe believes?” Hermione asked.

    “No. Heard from other tribes. Long ago.”

    “Ah.” Hermione nodded. “You had contact with other tribes in the past? Peaceful contact?”

    “No. Had a war with them. We won.”

    “Oh.”

    Noticing Mallory’s growing frown, Ron was almost sure that Hermione was deliberately trying to rile the man up.

    “Can we focus on the skull?” Mallory almost spat the words out.

    Harry cleared his throat. “I already did that, didn’t I?”

    “And you found out what it isn’t,” Mallory retorted. “I want to know what it is.”

    “An eccentric wireless receiver?” Ron smiled brightly at the scowl that caused.

    “I don’t think that the Atlanteans had wireless broadcasts,” Hermione said. “But it might be a recording. It might be the first audio record of the Atlantean language - so far, we only have their written script and we don’t know how they spoke.”

    “That won’t help us in translating it,” Harry said. “I didn’t understand anything.”

    “We could check with local languages, compare them…” Hermione bit her lower lip and trailed off.

    “‘Abrar’ means ‘blood’ in sacred language,” Ari said.

    Everyone, even - or particularly, Ron thought - Mallory stared at the witch.

    “You understand what the skull said?” Hermione breathed the words. And Ari also remembered it, Ron noted.

    “Only one word,” Ari said. “Shaman taught us not much.”

    “But you know more words, don’t you?” Hermione leaned forward, staring at the other witch.

    “Yes.” Ari nodded - she looked a bit taken aback, in Ron’s opinion.

    “How many?” Mallory asked.

    Ari looked at him, hesitating a moment before answering. “I know one song.”

    “How many verses?” Hermione wanted to know.

    “Five.”

    “That might not be enough.” Hermione shook her head. “But it is certainly a start. If this is a recording.”

    “What else could it be?” Mallory asked. “It’s not a Horcrux, as Mr Potter found out.”

    “It could be more interactive than a record. Like an enchanted mirror,” Hermione replied.

    Ron laughed. When everyone stared at him, he chuckled. “I was just thinking that the skull might have been criticising our style.”

    Everyone but Mallory laughed at that.

    *****​

    Hermione Granger studied the skull. It hadn’t spoken since it had fallen silent for the first time, and she didn’t know what had made it speak to begin with - there were over a dozen spells on the skull, forming a lattice of impressive complexity, and they were linked both to the mask and the urn. Which, in turn, had spells on them, of course. “All three are linked together,” she announced.

    “How?” Mr Mallory asked.

    “I haven’t yet identified the spells linking them,” she replied, pursing her lips. She didn’t like admitting that she didn’t know something. Especially to Mr Mallory - she saw how his lips twisted into a slight sneer for a moment before he nodded.

    “If the skull is tied to both a death-mask and an urn…” He trailed off.

    “Yes?” Hermione raised her eyebrows. She thought she knew what he was hinting at.

    “There seems to be a theme here,” he said.

    She almost rolled her eyes at his not-so-subtle hints. “Assumptions tend to get Curse-Breakers killed,” she replied. “We don’t yet know what the purpose of all three items is.” Or was.

    “You’ve been studying it for some time.”

    “And I will study it for even longer,” she said. “We don’t know enough about Atlantean spells to easily or quickly identify the enchantments used here.” That would change, of course - one spell at a time.

    “Then I propose we take the artefacts and leave this place. It’s not safe. Especially since you dismantled the spells hiding the cave.”

    “We’ll be moving out of the cave as soon as we’ve finished the survey,” she told him.

    “Your friends already searched the cavern.”

    “A second look often turns up details that were missed the first time,” she replied. “Which is why I’m studying the skull now, and not Harry.” And because she certainly wouldn’t leave an amateur alone with the artefacts - she wouldn’t put it past Mr Mallory to attempt to leave with them; the man was clearly torn between his fear of houngans and his apparent greed for treasure.

    “They better hurry,” he said.

    She was tempted to tell him that to rush was to court death - she disliked his pushy behaviour - but refrained from doing so. He had a point, after all - the wards they had left around the cave entrance were not quite as powerful as the wards they had had to take down. They were certainly more advanced, but that wasn’t enough to match the sheer power the old wards had accumulated over thousands of years. “They are aware of our situation,” she told him.

    He huffed and went back to staring at the artefacts.

    *****​

    “Do we have everything? I don’t want to have to turn around because you forgot something!” Harry said an hour later.

    Hermione Granger chuckled before answering: “We’ve got the samples, crocodile bones from the drained lake, the headless corpse, the two mummified crocodiles, the statues and, of course, the artefacts.” All safely sealed in a shrunken chest in a special bag Harry had insisted he would be carrying. “Let’s go!”

    They made their way up the stairs but stopped short of the cave’s exit. Their various alarm charms hadn’t been triggered, but that didn’t have to mean anything. She saw Harry, who was in the lead, hesitate. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” he said after a moment spent staring ahead at the exit.

    “It could be an ambush!” Mr Mallory exclaimed, quite predictably.

    “Or it’s a trap!” Ron commented.

    Hermione glared at both of her friends - this wasn’t the time or place to quote movies.

    “I can scout,” Ari offered. “As jaguar.”

    “Jaguars aren’t native to the island,” Hermione pointed out. “If there’s a houngan waiting outside, they would suspect something if they see you.”

    Ari smiled at her. “Ron can disillusion me.”

    Hermione had to admit that that was a good idea - as a jaguar, a Human-presence-revealing Spell wouldn’t detect Ari’s presence.

    The others agreed as well, and Ari transformed and was disillusioned by Ron before she went ahead to scout the area, carrying her wand in her mouth.

    Ten minutes spent in silence, listening tensely for any sounds of a battle, later, Hermione heard a soft growling noise.

    Ron perked up. “Ari? Where are… Ah!” Ron nodded - apparently Ari had prodded him. A moment later, Ari became human and visible again. She hadn’t bothered to conjure clothes yet, Hermione noticed.

    “Problem,” she said at once. “Smell dead people outside. Many dead people.”

    *****​

    Harry Potter muttered a curse under his breath. “Are they moving?” he asked.

    “They were not there before. Must have moved,” Ari replied.

    “Or they were moved,” Hermione added. She didn’t have to say who would be moving corpses in Jamaica.

    “Either way, we need to deal with this,” Ron said. “And we need to know if the corpses moved on their own or if someone’s moving them.”

    “Zombies don’t move on their own,” Mallory muttered. He looked quite pale. “There are houngans out there. I knew we should have left already!”

    “The artefacts might have attracted the zombies,” Ron pointed out. “There was one Egyptian tomb with a curse on it that attracted every mummy in the area to attack any intruders.”

    Harry nodded - Auntie and Sirius had told him about that trap they had encountered in the Necropolis of Osiris when they were searching for Voldemort’s Horcruxes. Auntie had almost died when she had fallen off their flying carpet.

    Mallory blinked with his mouth open, then shook his head. “Even so, the houngans will have noticed if their zombies wandered off! They are out there!”

    “Probably, yes,” Harry said. “But we need to be certain.” He pressed his lips together. He couldn’t ask this…

    “I will go and see,” Ari said, changing once more into a jaguar. A Disillusionment Charm from Ron later, she was gone again.

    “We shouldn’t have come here,” Mallory said. “First the captain, now this… We should have known better!”

    “We’ve been in worse scrapes,” Harry told him. Not many, but he counted Voldemort’s last attack, with his two Horcruxes given bodies, as worse than this. “If there are no houngans we can merely apparate as soon as we’re out of the cave and be safe.”

    “Can’t you break the charms blocking apparition on the cave?” Mallory asked.

    “That would take too long,” Hermione explained, “and anyone outside could start casting Anti-Apparition Jinxes of their own. Even one wizard can generally cast them faster than we can take them down.”

    “Unless they’re busy dodging curses,” Harry said as he kept his eyes on the cave entrance. Just in case.

    “Can you call Dumbledore for help?” Mallory sounded hopeful. “He scared the entire island once - he can easily get us out here!”

    “He’s in Britain,” Harry said. “That’s quite a distance.” They could contact Dumbledore, but Harry would prefer not to call on the Headmaster. They were Curse-Breakers, after all, and no longer students. They could handle this. Dumbledore would take hours to reach them, anyway. If the houngans were out there, whatever happened would be over before the Headmaster could arrive.

    “But you could threaten them with his displeasure!”

    That would cause trouble for Dumbledore, Harry was certain - the ICW wouldn’t like the problems that could cause. And it felt like hiding behind the Headmaster. “As a last resort, maybe.”

    “This isn’t a game!” Mallory hissed. “We are facing the worst dark wizards in the Americas!”

    “You don’t know that,” Ron said. “This might just be another spell the Atlanteans messed up.”

    “No. Wizards out there,” Ari, suddenly appearing next to them, interrupted them. “Smelled two, but might be more.”

    Harry hadn’t noticed her approaching until she had changed back and broken the Disillusionment Charm. He had to find a way to deal with that - she wasn’t the only one able to change into an animal, after all.

    But that could wait until they were safely out of the cave and away from Jamaica.

    “Send out a distraction and fly away on our brooms?” Ron shrugged. “It’s simple and usually works.”

    “They will be prepared for it, though,” Hermione said, “since we escaped them on brooms before. They might have bats covering the air and wizards on brooms.”

    “Oh… bats can hear invisible people.” Ari, visible again, nodded. “Makes sense.”

    And if they kept low to the ground, they would run into the zombies. Harry frowned. “Are the dead moving now?”

    Ari shook her head. “No. Just standing among trees.”

    “That means we have some time. I need to write a letter,” Harry said.

    “To Dumbledore?” Mallory asked. “Calling him for help?”

    “Not exactly.” Harry grinned. “We’ll mail a package.”

    “You want to send the artefacts away? Do you think the houngans will abandon the cave and chase after them? They won’t!” Mallory said, shaking his head wildly. “The longer we wait, the more that will arrive!”

    Harry shook his head. “Nothing stops the best owl on earth!”

    Hermione frowned. “If you’re planning to mail us out in a trunk, someone has to shrink and tie it to Hedwig, and would, therefore, remain trapped… Oh!” She looked at Ari. “They didn’t detect you. You can slip through their lines.”

    Ari nodded. “Clumsy fools.”

    “And I guess we’ll have an entire parliament of conjured owls, disillusioned, breaking out of the cave, to cover Hedwig?” Ron added.

    “Swarm tactics,” Harry agreed with a nod.

    “I’ll get to conjuring then,” Ron said, “while we wait for Hedwig.”

    “And I’ll prepare the trunk,” Hermione added. “I’d rather not get thrown around inside it during the flight, and that needs some spellwork.”

    “We’ll watch the cave entrance and keep an eye on the houngans,” Harry told them, nodding at Ari.

    And Mallory could stay back and fret to his heart’s content, as long as he didn’t get in the way, Harry thought.

    Two hours later, Hedwig arrived in the cave, as Harry had known she would - she always knew when he needed her.

    A minute later, all but Ari were in the shrunken trunk that Hedwig, disillusioned and surrounded by hundreds of other owls, carried off.

    “Where did you mail us?” Mallory asked after a few minutes - long enough to be sure that they had gotten away safely.

    “To Ari, of course,” Ron said. “Easiest way to find her again.”

    Mallory didn’t seem to like that.

    Harry shook his head. Had the other wizard really expected them to abandon Ari in Jamaica?

    *****​

    Ron Weasley was the first up the ladder when Ari opened the trunk after knocking three times on it so Ron and his friends - and Mallory - knew it was her and not a trap. “Did everything go well?” he asked, climbing out.

    “Yes.” She smiled at him, baring her teeth. “Clumsy dead couldn’t stop me.”

    “Of course not.” He hadn’t been worried. Not seriously. But it was still a relief to hold her, feel her in his arms.

    “Where are we?” Mallory asked as if anyone with a little sense couldn’t see that they were still in the rainforest.

    “South of cave,” Ari answered with a bright smile. “Near a pond.”

    Mallory was visibly clenching his teeth - Ron would have to ask Ari in private if she had planned to annoy the man.

    “Looks like Cockpit Country,” Hermione said, pointing at a small frog. “That’s native to the area.”

    The wizard gasped. “What? We have to leave at once!”

    Harry, who had been feeding, petting and praising Hedwig, turned. “Please calm down, Mr Mallory.”

    “It’s safe. No one near us,” Ari said, scowling. “Would not open… I would not have opened trunk otherwise.”

    “But we would be safer somewhere else,” Mallory shot back.

    “Of course,” Hermione said. “We could apparate back to Montego Bay. But I think we should at least see if the artefacts attract zombies, or if the houngans merely found the cave, before we endanger the Statue of Secrecy and give the houngans a reason to have us sanctioned by the ICW.”

    Mallory quickly started to glance around as if he expected a zombie horde to break through the underbrush at any moment.

    “No dead near,” Ari said, rolling her eyes. “I’d smell them,” she added, releasing Ron and touching her nose with her finger.

    “There aren’t any dead near us,” Ron corrected her.

    Ari nodded and repeated the sentence.

    “Can we focus on the zombies instead of on language lessons?” Mallory snapped.

    “We are. We can simply wait here for a few hours. If no zombies appear, we’re safe to leave,” Harry said. “You’re free to leave already, of course,” he added.

    Mallory obviously didn’t want to stay - but apparently, he didn’t want to leave them with the artefacts even more.

    “We can create a few defences,” Ron said. “Just in case.”

    “And I will scout,” Ari told them. A moment later, a disillusioned jaguar leapt into the jungle.

    “And what will we do when it turns out that the artefacts attract zombies?” Mallory asked suddenly.

    “We’ll study them while moving around, preferably on the sea or in the air,” Hermione replied. “That should keep us safe enough.”

    After seeing how Captain Neva had died, Ron really hoped the artefacts wouldn’t attract zombies.

    A few hours and a lot of fretting by Mallory later, they hadn’t seen nor smelled a zombie horde. “I think we can assume that the artefacts aren’t attracting the undead,” Harry said.

    Which, of course, meant something - or someone - else was responsible. It was possible that the houngans had stumbled upon the cave after the group had dismantled the wards, but Ron didn’t think so. On the other hand, the only suspect he could think of was Mallory, and while Ron didn’t like the other wizard, he was quite certain that Mallory would rather die than work with houngans.

    “Let’s return to Key West, then,” Mallory said. “We’ve spent too much time in Jamaica already.”

    “Not quite,” Harry said, shaking his head.

    “What?”

    “We’re not going to return to Key West,” Harry went on.

    “We’re going to investigate an artefact with unknown spells and purpose,” Hermione said. “Your home isn’t the best location to conduct such research.”

    “Where do you propose to research the artefacts, then?” Mallory snapped.

    “Britain, of course.” Hermione’s smile was far too toothy and sweet to be honest. “While I hope that we don’t have to ask him for help, I would prefer it if we were able to call on Dumbledore to help us in a pinch.”

    Ron nodded. “And I don’t think any robbers would be as daft as to attack us there.” And if they did, the protections on Grimmauld Place would make short work of them.

    “Ah.” Mallory slowly nodded. “Excellent reasoning, I have to admit.” He didn’t look like he wanted to, though. “And how will we travel to Britain?”

    “First class,” Harry answered with a wide grin.

    Ron wanted to wince. That line was almost as bad as actually flying in an aeroplane, in his opinion. But Ari perked up, and so he smiled. She at least would enjoy the trip.

    Mallory certainly wouldn’t, judging by his expression as Hermione explained their plan.

    *****​

    Jamaica, Kingston, Norman Manley International Airport, September 9th, 2001

    “Mr and Mrs Smith and party?”

    “That’s us!” Ron Weasley said, raising his hand as he stood up from where he had been sitting in the airport lounge.

    “Yes,” Ari added, beaming.

    Harry and Hermione joined them, followed by Mallory.

    The airline attendant smiled at them. “Your plane is ready for boarding now. Please follow me.”

    The plane to which she led them was larger than Ron was expecting. Ari, though, had a different opinion. “This one’s much bigger.” She pointed at a taxiing Airbus.

    “That’s because this is a private jet,” Ron explained. “Just for us.”

    “Oh!”

    “Yes,” Hermione said. “A Gulfstream. Sirius was very generous.”

    Harry shrugged. “It barely cost more than the cheapest private jet.”

    And it was money well spent, in Ron’s opinion - smuggling Ari through customs once had been tricky, and using more fake Identities and disguises would likely cause trouble with a regular flight. Further, if they used their real passports, the houngans would notice. Harry Potter was very famous, after all.

    They boarded the plane and took their seats. A few minutes later, they were already on the way to the runway. Ron steeled himself - the take-off was one of the most dangerous parts of any flight. He would have to be quick with apparating if anything happened.

    “What’s the Mile-High Club?” Ari asked suddenly.

    “What?” Ron looked at her.

    She was holding up a brochure. “Was in bag for us.”

    Which had been ordered by Sirius.

    Ron sighed. Explaining that would take a while.

    *****​

    London, No 12 Grimmauld Place, September 12th, 2001

    ICW Investigation launched after failed attack on muggle building. Statute of Secrecy endangered?

    Hermione Granger dropped the Daily Prophet on the breakfast table with a scowl.

    “What wrong?” Ari asked, looking up from her meal - she really loved black pudding. “What is wrong?”

    Hermione hesitated a moment. Trying to explain muggle politics to Ari would be very hard. On the other hand, she wanted to talk about this, and Harry and Ron were in Knockturn Alley with Mallory - the wizard had wanted to check out a few shops there, and Hermione’s friends hadn’t wanted to let him go there by himself. For his and their safety.

    She sighed. “Several hundred people died when three hijacked planes crashed, and all the ICW cares about is whether or not the charms that protected the World Trade Center might have endangered the Statue of Secrecy.” She shook her head. “According to the article, they are standard Muggle-Repelling Charms coupled with a Confundus Charm - standard protections! There’s no need to investigate!” None of the muggles suspected anything, anyway - most assumed that the terrorists flying the planes had made a mistake at the last second, which led to them crashing into the sea. And the rest speculated about ‘sudden gales’ that blew the planes off-course. Twice. Well, maybe the ICW might have a point, she admitted to herself.

    “World Trade Centre?”

    “A muggle building. A skyscraper.” She held up The Times and pointed at the picture of the building.

    “Oh. Why protect muggle building?”

    “The charms didn’t protect the muggle building so much as they protected the office of a wizarding firm there,” Hermione explained.

    “Ah.”

    “Apparently, the wizard renting it really liked the view.”

    “Ah.” Ari had gone back to eating her breakfast.

    “It also means we cannot see Dumbledore tomorrow since he will be busy in Geneva, and possibly in New York.” And probably for the rest of the week as well - it wasn’t as if their request were urgent, and Dumbledore had a lot of duties.

    Ari looked up again. “More language lessons?”

    “Yes.” For both of them.

    “I like teaching. Good training for children.”

    Hermione pressed her lips together. That Ari had a gift for learning languages had been evident by the speed with which she had picked up English. “So do I,” she replied - they were learning together, after all.

    “You train for children, too? With Harry?” Ari asked, grinning.

    Hermione sighed. She wished she could tell when Ari misunderstood her and when she was ribbing her. She finished her tea and stood. “Let’s go!”

    Judging by Ari’s smirk, the other witch had been teasing Hermione. Again.

    “Oh,” Hermione said as they reached the door, “Ginny and Luna will visit later today.”

    Ari’s smirk disappeared.

    *****​

    “...please change again! Slower, if you can.”

    “And try to keep smiling so we can observe your teeth change. Teeth are the hardest parts of a body, you know? We want to know if they change more slowly than the rest of you.”

    Hermione Granger smiled as she watched Ginny and Luna direct Ari through yet another experiment. She shouldn’t be enjoying this, she really shouldn’t. But she did anyway. The other witch simply looked too funny, with all sorts of gadgets stuck on her body, and her expression… Hermione hadn’t often seen a scared scowl.

    Then the witch changed into a jaguar covered with gadgets, and Luna and Ginny waved their wands, then checked the cameras.

    “Ah… still too fast for the normal camera,” Luna said. “And I think the picture is glaring at me.”

    “We might need a muggle one,” Ginny suggested. “Dad told me about high-speed ones.”

    “What about the ghost camera?” Luna asked.

    “That didn’t work at all.”

    “I’ll have a word with the seller when we’re in the Americas again - he assured me that it could capture ghosts!” Luna complained with a pout.

    “I’ve never heard of any enchantment that could do that,” Hermione remarked.

    “Oh, it’s not a spell - it’s technology!” Luna explained. “Muggles found a way to take pictures of ghosts! They show their auras!”

    That explained why the camera did not work at all inside Grimmauld Place. Hermione cleared her throat. “I don’t think that that works,” she said.

    “Do you think he lied to me? But he swore he had taken pictures of many ghosts! And he knew a lot about them!” Luna shook her head. “Why would he lie to me?”

    To sell her an expensive but useless camera, of course. Hermione shrugged, though. “He might have believed it worked - remember, muggles cannot see ghosts, so how could he have checked?”

    “He could have asked a wizard,” Luna retorted.

    “He probably didn’t know a wizard,” Hermione said.

    “Oh.” Luna nodded. “But he knows us.”

    “He didn’t know we were witches,” Ginny said.

    “We need to tell him, then, so he can fix his camera!” Luna nodded emphatically. “This could be a crucial tool for every Magizoologist!”

    “I think that wouldn’t be a good idea,” Hermione said quickly. “Especially with the current scandal in New York.” And every muggle police officer hunting terrorists.

    “Right.” Ginny nodded. “Dad told me about the whole ruckus - he has to check all the muggle buildings with spells on them to see if this could happen here as well. Only the buildings that aren’t supposed to be protected, of course.”

    “Of course,” Hermione replied, not bothering to hide her scowl. Sometimes she really hated the Statute of Secrecy. On the other hand, without it, terrorists would probably be using Fiendfyre. Or casting a series of doubling charms on poison gas.

    She sighed and forced the dark thoughts away. “So, what did you find so far?” she asked, ignoring Ari’s scowl.

    “Oh, it’s very interesting. It’s definitely not related to the animagus transformation. Completely different,” Luna said.

    “And it’s not lycanthropy either,” Ginny added. “No trace of a curse at all.”

    “It could be a variant of the Skinwalker transformation,” Luna continued, “but we cannot prove or disprove that theory without a control group. Or control Skinwalker.” She pouted again. “That they are illegal in most parts of the New World makes acquiring a baseline a little tricky, though. If only people were a little more tolerant of exotic magical creatures!” She sighed.

    Hermione didn’t bother to point out that Skinwalkers were illegal in most of North America because they usually acted like werewolves, but deliberately so, and not bound to the phases of the moon. Serial killers, in other words. Luna and Ginny had spent a little too much time listening to Hagrid, she thought. And listening to Charlie.

    “Best you go and track down Skinwalker then,” Ari said, tugging on one of the devices stuck to her.

    “Good idea. We could return the ghost-catching camera to get it fixed at the same time,” Luna said, nodding.

    “I don’t think it’s supposed to catch ghosts,” Hermione said. “Just to take pictures of…”

    She blinked. Catch ghosts. What if…

    “I’ll be back!” she exclaimed, rushing out of the room.

    She had to check the spells on the skull again.

    *****​

    London, Knockturn Alley, September 12th, 2001

    “I must thank you again for taking the time to escort me through your fair city,” Mallory said as they left ‘Bernie’s Odds and Ends’, also known as ‘Bernie’s Odd Ends’ in some circles. Like the Aurors investigating murders. “Especially since you might have other things you would want to do.”

    Harry Potter smiled. “Don’t worry about that. Your security takes precedence.” And ours, he added to himself.

    “Yes,” Ron chimed in. “Also, we wouldn’t want to lose another associate. Three in a row would be rather bad for our reputation. Embarrassing as well.”

    “Your concern for my safety is overwhelming,” Mallory replied, glaring at Ron.

    Harry’s friend shrugged with a smile as if he hadn’t noticed the sarcasm. “I try. I’m sorry you haven’t yet found what you’re looking for.”

    “I’m not looking for anything in particular; I’m merely browsing - you can find the most interesting things in the oddest places,” Mallory said.

    “The most illegal things as well,” Harry remarked, “in some places.” Like Knockturn Alley.

    “A lot of things are legal in one country and illegal in another. Like flying carpets,” Mallory replied.

    “Dark or cursed items aren’t that ambiguous,” Harry said.

    “A number of spells have been labelled dark for purely political reasons.”

    “And also for good reasons.” Sirius had told Harry how the Blacks used to manipulate the Ministry whenever a new regulation regarding magical items came up.

    “With you with me, I don’t think I have to worry about accidentally buying a cursed item.” Mallory smiled.

    Harry was about to answer when he noticed someone paying a little too much attention to them - someone he was certain he had seen before they entered the last shop. “I think we’re being followed,” he whispered.

    Ron didn’t react, other than by drawing his wand and idly twirling it between his fingers as if he were bored. Mallory, on the other hand, jerked as if he had been hit with half a dozen Stinging Hexes.

    “What? Where?” He whirled and looked around.

    Harry silently cursed as the suspicious man vanished into the next side alley. “Please try to control yourself next time; your tail fled as soon as he saw you react.”

    Mallory glared at him, then grimaced. “Please excuse me for not being a good actor. After the attack on my home and the houngans’ attempts to murder us, I am a little on edge.”

    Which was an almost British understatement, in Harry’s opinion. But he nodded. “I think we should head back to Grimmauld Place.”

    “Yes,” Mallory agreed.

    An Apparition later, they were back in the backyard of Grimmauld Place. And Harry was bombarded with yells and warnings.

    “Watch out! Danger!”

    “Big danger!”

    “Great danger!”

    “Get rid of it!”

    Harry had his wand out, ready to curse the threat, when he caught the next warning from the little grass snake frantically trying to climb up his trousers.

    “Big cat! Dangerous! Help us!”

    He forced himself to look away and at Ron. “I think Ari has the snakes here a little spooked. Please tell her not to eat them, will you?” It didn’t look like any of the snakes had been eaten; as far as Harry could tell, every resident of the garden was present. And frantic.

    Ron understood at once. “Come on, Mr Mallory - let’s get inside while Harry deals with the snakes before they bite us.”

    “What?”

    Harry waited until the other two had entered the house before he pulled the little grass snake out of his shirt and rubbed her head until she calmed down. “It’s alright; she won’t eat any of you. Trust me.”

    “Really? But she’s so big - much bigger than the other cat.”

    “She could eat you!” the young adder near his foot added.

    “She probably has eaten his mate!”

    “Or the other cat!”

    “Or the dog.”

    “Or all of them!”

    “Then she won’t be hungry for months!”

    “Cats are different.”

    It took him over fifteen minutes before his friends stopped worrying about Ari.

    *****​

    “Harry! I found out what the skull is!” Hermione told Harry Potter as soon as he entered their room.

    “Oh?”

    “It’s a ghost!”

    “What?” Harry had never heard of a corporeal ghost. Outside some muggle movies.

    “Well, the skull serves as an anchor for a ghost, to be precise,” she explained. “The spells show some parallels to a soul anchor, and there’s a scheme that would attune to a ghost according to Ginny and Luna. It’s really fascinating.”

    “So someone captured and bound a ghost?” Harry asked.

    “Essentially, yes.” Hermione nodded. “Probably the ghost of the dead man.”

    “That sounds like blood magic,” Harry commented.

    Hermione stopped smiling. “Yes, it does,” she said. “We’ll have to talk to Dumbledore about it.” It was highly illegal, after all.

    “He’ll be busy with the incident in New York,” Harry pointed out.

    “That leaves us more time to learn the language of the ghost,” Hermione replied.

    “Atlantean.”

    “That is likely,” she said, grinning, “though by no means certain.” Then she sighed. “But even though I found out how to make the skull talk, it can’t actually teach us. It can’t point at pictures and name them, for example.”

    “I see.”

    “I think we need to consult a linguist. An expert in as many languages as possible, preferably old ones, so we can find out if the words were used in other languages - as loanwords, for example.”

    “How many such experts do you know?”

    “Unfortunately, there aren’t very many. Barty Crouch would have been our best choice - he knew over two hundred languages - but…” She winced.

    “...he vanished, presumably killed by Voldemort, during the Triwizard Tournament years ago,” Harry finished for her. He remembered the man. And not fondly.

    “Yes. But there are others. Even some muggles.”

    “Muggles.” Harry pressed his lips together. “We can’t exactly show them a magic skull. And even if we did, they couldn’t hear the ghost anyway.”

    “I know. But excluding muggles, our best hope would be Omar Sayadi, at least according to Percy.”

    “So we go and visit him,” Harry said.

    “He lives in Tunis.”

    Harry closed his eyes and sighed. “And the Bey of Tunis declared us personae non gratae. Great.”

    *****​
     
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2018
  24. Threadmarks: Chapter 10: Barbary Coast Misadventures
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 10: Barbary Coast Misadventures

    ‘The Barbary Coast Wizarding Enclaves - Magical Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli - are infamous among most European and Mediterranean countries for their piracy and slaving raids. The raids, targeting mostly France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, but striking as far as Iceland, started in the 16th century and continued for hundreds of years. As with other pirates, the implementation of the Statute of Secrecy in 1692 did not cause the wizards involved in piracy to stop their attacks, but merely made them focus on wizarding enclaves instead - chief among them the Veela settlements in southern France.
    The unfortunate victims of these raiders found themselves sold on the slave markets of the Magical Ottoman Empire or ransomed back to their families, depending on the wealth of the victims and the whims of the pirates. Despite the fierce resistance of the European wizards and witches and retaliatory attacks launched against the Barbary Coast enclaves - one such raid freed dozens of Veela and set Magical Algiers aflame - this vile practice continued for over two hundred and fifty years since the pirates were nominally subjects of the Sultan of the Magical Ottoman Empire and enjoyed his protection.
    It wasn’t until the power of the Magical Ottoman Empire started to wane that the tide began to turn against the pirates, and it took the infamous Intervention, led by Albus Dumbledore in the 1950s, to finally end the organised and officially sanctioned slave raids. However, smaller raids continue to this day, despite the official condemnation of the Pasha of Algiers and the Beys of Tunis and Tripoli.
    But the Barbary Coast Wizarding Enclaves are more than just dens of pirates and slavers. They have a rich history dating back to the times of the Romans and Carthaginians - even back to Atlantis, according to some tales - and close ties to the famous jinn. Many wizards and witches in the Barbary Coast Enclaves have a jinni among their ancestors, and the affinity for fire which some of them have inherited is probably the source of the tales of ‘half-Veela’ or ‘male Veela’ that circulate among the more gullible parts of the magical population.’
    - Excerpt from ‘The Rise and Fall of the Magical Ottoman Empire’ by Lyndon Snyder, London, 1981


    *****​

    London, No 12 Grimmauld Place, September 12th, 2001

    “Tunis?” Ron Weasley asked, wincing.

    “Yes, Tunis,” Hermione repeated. “Our best hope for deciphering the ghost’s language lives in the very enclave from which we were banished.” She was glaring at him, as he had expected.

    “Technically, we weren’t banished,” he said. “Not officially.”

    “I don’t think your jinni princess cared about the Bey’s opinion or legalities when she threatened us with death should we ever meet again,” Harry said.

    “Jinni princess?” Ari narrowed her eyes. “What jinni princess?”

    “The jinni princess Ron seduced,” Hermione explained.

    “I didn’t seduce her - she seduced me!” Ron protested.

    “I see.” Ari was growling so fiercely that, for a moment, Ron thought she had changed.

    “When I told her that I had no intention of staying in her palace, she tried to kidnap me,” Ron went on. That hadn’t been his finest hour.

    “And we had to save him,” Harry added. “And then we had to evade her clan - they chased us through half the Barbary Coast.”

    “Wrecking the Bey’s personal garden in the process,” Hermione said. “And half the bazaar. And two ships.”

    “The dhows weren’t our fault!” Ron protested again. “They were sunk by the jinn.”

    “Trying to hit you and Harry,” Hermione retorted.

    “Still not our fault,” Harry said. He cleared his throat. “Anyway, assuming we can’t find another linguist with the background we need, how do we contact Omar Sayadi without starting trouble?”

    “I can easily travel to Tunis,” Mallory offered. “I am not a wanted wizard.”

    Ron scoffed. “You’re one of our known associates. Tahira won’t care that it’s strictly business, trust me.” She might, but Ron didn’t trust Mallory to handle this by himself.

    “Tahira?” Ari glared. “That her name?”

    “Yes. And we don’t want to meet, much less fight, her,” Hermione stated.

    Ari didn’t look like she cared or agreed.

    “Besides, you might not be wanted by several corrupt authorities or a scorned jinni princess and her clan,” Harry told Mallory, “but we know someone’s after you. Probably our competitors.”

    “I’m not completely helpless,” Mallory snapped.

    “All they have to do is to spread the word about you in Tunis, and you’ll have to deal with a horde of jinn descending on you,” Ron pointed out.

    Mallory pressed his lips together but didn’t argue. “We can ask for a meeting outside Tunis. Perhaps invite him to London?” he asked after a moment.

    Hermione sighed. “I’ve looked into the man. He is wanted by France in connection with several counts of kidnapping.”

    “What?” Harry jerked, then stared at her. “He’s a slaver?”

    “He has been acting as a go-between for ransom demands,” Hermione said. “Apparently, the French want to question him.”

    “And that makes it unlikely that he’ll travel to Europe.” Harry sighed. “Just our luck.”

    Hermione cleared her throat. “There’s also Ron’s sister-in-law. He might not trust us at all, since the Veela community is behind the French warrant, or so Percy told me.”

    “Great,” Harry said.

    “That’s Bill’s fault, not mine,” Ron pointed out. “He married Fleur. Just saying,” he added as the others stared at him.

    “Troublesome affairs with the fairer sex are a family problem then, I take it?” Mallory said.

    Ari looked puzzled for a moment, then growled at the wizard. Ron put his hand on her thigh to calm her down. “Let’s focus on the problem at hand,” he said. “We need to contact the man without arousing suspicion - his, or the jinn’s. And any middlemen we could trust would be in danger themselves.”

    “Or busy at the ICW,” Hermione added.

    “Well, I have an idea,” Ron said, smiling. “No one knows what we recovered. So, we disguise ourselves as a group of treasure hunters and contact him incognito.”

    “That’s foolhardy,” Hermione said.

    “If we’re uncovered, we’ll have to fight our way out - again.” Harry looked grim.

    “They will have counter-measures in place to reveal disguises. This is a bad plan.” Mallory shook his head.

    “Good idea!”

    Well, Ari liked his idea at least. But then, Ron suspected that she merely liked the idea of travelling to Tunis so she could fight Tahira.

    *****​

    “Disguising ourselves to sneak into Wizarding Tunis? The sheer number of ways that could go wrong…” Hermione Granger shook her head. “And what disguises could we adopt? We don’t speak the language so we cannot pose as natives. Posing as British visitors wouldn’t help us much - they keep an eye on us because of Dumbledore’s involvement in the Intervention, remember?”

    “I remember,” Ron said. Of course, he wouldn’t easily forget that. “American treasure hunters? We can fake the accent.”

    Mr Mallory snorted at that.

    Ron frowned at the older wizard. “I don’t think that the Tunisians are familiar with all American accents. We’ll just claim you’re a foreigner,” he added with a grin.

    Hermione sighed as Mr Mallory glared at her friend. “There’s another problem: How would we travel to the country? Using fake identities for muggle travel could be problematic, what with the current crisis in the USA.”

    “Board a cruise ship?” Harry suggested.

    “We can travel to Egypt without any problems,” Ron said. “We just need to cross Libya to reach Tunisia.”

    “Muggle borders will be watched closely for the time being, but that won’t hinder us much,” Harry said.

    “Unless someone wants to know why we don’t have proper travel papers,” Hermione pointed out.

    “Confundus Charm.” Ron grinned. “And Obliviation.”

    “Why not hire a smuggler?” Mr Mallory asked.

    Harry frowned. “We don’t have the best track record with them,” he said. “One tried to betray us, the next one died getting us to Jamaica… I would prefer not to lose another one and get a reputation as cursed contraband.”

    Hermione pursed her lips. “Seeing as they still trade in slaves in Tunis, that really isn’t a good turn of phrase,” she pointed out. “Especially since, according to my research, he has contacts among slavers.”

    “Sorry,” Harry said, smiling a little awkwardly.

    “We could pose as agents for the family of a kidnapping victim,” Ron suggested. “Checking if he can help.”

    “That would require a kidnapping to have occurred,” Hermione pointed out. “Also, as I understand it, it’s usually the kidnappers who tell him to contact a family.”

    “We can claim someone disappeared a while ago, and we were hired to find her,” Harry cut in.

    “Why not simply sneak in? I sneak in, you have your owl carry you to me,” Ari said.

    Harry shook his head. “We still would need a disguise to avoid being recognised by Tahira’s clan.”

    Ari pouted, which caused Ron to pat her back. “We could wait until the Rover’s ready, and fly over the border,” he said.

    “That will be a few more weeks,” Harry replied.

    “Not if we just settle for it being able to fly invisibly,” Ron said.

    “We might as well borrow your family’s car for that,” Hermione retorted.

    “Good idea!” Ron beamed at her.

    She needed to work on her sarcasm, Hermione noted. She sighed. “I am not convinced that this plan will work at all.”

    “We’re still working on it,” Harry said.

    “I meant in principle,” she explained.

    “Well, do you have an alternative?” Harry cocked his head as he looked at her.

    Hermione pressed her lips together. She didn’t have one. They needed to talk to - and likely hire - Omar Sayadi. And for that, they needed to either sneak into Tunis or send a trusted envoy who wasn’t known as their associate.

    And after the recent events, Hermione couldn’t think of anyone who fit both criteria. Which left sneaking into Tunis.

    She closed her eyes and sighed. “I’m not wearing a harem outfit,” she declared.

    “What is a harem outfit?” Ari asked.

    “Ah…” Ron coughed.

    Hermione rolled her eyes. “A harem is what Ottoman wizards call the quarters of their women in their home. They can have multiple wives and concubines,” she pre-emptively answered Ari’s next question. “As you can imagine, there are a lot of rumours and myths surrounding the harems.”

    “Ah.” Ari nodded. She turned to Ron. “You’re no Ottoman wizard,” she said with slightly narrowed eyes.

    “Of course not!” Ron was quick to reply.

    “Good.” Ari’s smile was rather toothy.

    Hermione grinned. She was about to go into further details when Hedwig swooped in and landed in front of Harry, holding her leg out.

    “I didn’t know you were gone,” Harry said, frowning, as he checked the letter for curses and poison before taking it. Then he winced. “It’s from Auntie and Sirius.”

    Hermione winced as well. She didn’t think that Petunia was happy with them.

    *****​

    ...goes against everything I taught you about not rushing into danger. It’s a miracle that...

    Harry Potter winced as he read Auntie’s letter. Perhaps he should have informed her of their planned trip to Jamaica beforehand. But she was overreacting slightly - they were fine, after all. They had defeated the worst the houngans had managed to throw at them. And they had found an Atlantean outpost. Or prison. At least Sirius was supportive. Mostly, anyway.

    “...you weren’t killed because you couldn’t wait until the current crisis in New York has been handled and Dumbledore could deal with the houngans.” Hermione, who was reading over his shoulder, shook her head - he could smell her shampoo. “She’s not happy.”

    Harry huffed. “She’s done worse in the past.” Kraft was trying to find Atlantis before them - they couldn’t waste too much time.

    He read further and winced again. “She thinks we should have gone with a muggle cruise ship to get to Jamaica. Smuggle ourselves on board and leave in disguise using Polyjuice Potion.”

    “Hindsight and all,” Ron commented.

    Harry didn’t have to glance to his side to know that Hermione was biting her lower lip and berating herself for not thinking of that. He reached out and put his hand on hers, squeezing gently. “Nobody’s perfect.”

    “I know,” she whispered. “But if we had gone with that plan, then Captain Neva would still be alive.”

    “She knew dangers,” Ari said. Then the witch frowned. “No, she thought she knew dangers.” Ari nodded at her own words. “Her decision. Her fault.”

    Ron nodded in support of his girlfriend. Harry was tempted to agree - it made sense; the witch had been a professional smuggler, after all - but he still felt guilty.

    “Yes,” Mallory agreed. “But your aunt is correct. We should use that method to infiltrate Tunis.”

    Harry almost rolled his eyes. “That was what she suggested to enter Jamaica undetected. Tunis is another problem.” That method might work as well - but with the current crisis in the muggle world, it might not. And he wasn’t about to ask Auntie for help; they could do this themselves. She would only worry about them, anyway. Or take over their expedition.

    “We could use a muggle delivery service,” Hermione suggested. “We hide in a trunk and ship it concealed with other cargo. I think we can prepare a trunk that looks perfectly fine to any muggle border guard.”

    Harry nodded. It wasn’t exactly the most dashing image, getting shipped as cargo, but it was clever. “That still leaves our disguises.”

    “American mercenaries,” Ron said. “Looking for a kidnapped witch.”

    “Why witch?” Ari asked.

    “They are more likely to be kept as slaves instead of being ransomed,” Hermione explained. “As a relic of the time before the Statute of Secrecy separated wizards and muggles, the Barbary Coast Wizarding Enclaves are still very much patriarchal societies.”

    “Ah.” Ari nodded.

    Harry cleared his throat before a lengthy discussion of slavery could start. “That should get us to Mr Sayadi without problems. And once we’re in his house, we can tell him the truth.”

    He smiled. “Now all we need is an address in muggle Tunis.”

    “And a prepared trunk,” Hermione added.

    “Big trunk,” Ari said. “Need space.” She tapped her nose with her index finger.

    Mallory nodded. “Indeed. If we will be inside the trunk for several days, then we need enough space and privacy to be comfortable. Separate rooms are a requirement.”

    Harry looked at Hermione. She nodded. “We can extend a trunk and set up wizard tents inside it. It won’t be elegant, but it’ll work.” She frowned. “I’ll need a few days to enchant the trunk so it’ll pass the customs inspections. We shouldn’t use an actual trunk, anyway - that might catch the attention of a wizard or witch. Something more muggle and modern-looking. Like a shipping crate. That way we can use a regular shipment to muggle Tunis and insert our crate instead of the real one, filling it with the real cargo.”

    “Good idea.” Harry beamed at her.

    This would be a breeze.

    *****​

    London, No 12 Grimmauld Place, September 12th, 2001

    Harry Potter found Hermione kneeling in the extended basement in front of a wooden cargo crate, her wand moving. “How goes the work?” he asked.

    “I’ve got the basic outline down. The devil, as the saying goes, is in the details. I want at least one emergency exit just in case they don’t unpack the crate quickly,” she explained as she stood and stretched. “And, of course, some charms to protect the crate in case there’s an accident. Did you find a company shipping cargo to Tunis?”

    He nodded. It hadn’t taken long. “We’ll need to check it out later, of course. To make sure that they’re not doing anything illegal.” That would be very ironic, but also very dangerous.

    She nodded. “Smugglers would likely have paid the authorities off, but you never know when such arrangements will be discovered or end.” She conjured a couch and sat, waving at the statues they had taken with them from Jamaica. “It’s such a shame the Atlanteans enchanted them. No muggle museum will ever believe how old they are.”

    “Wizards will know, though,” Harry said.

    She didn’t look any more cheerful. “But there aren’t any real museums in Wizarding Britain. Only private collections. The Ministry vaults aren’t public either.” Looking around the room in the basement, she shook her head. “This might be the greatest collection of antiques in Britain, outside of muggle museums.”

    “We could build a museum,” Harry suggested. “Someday,” he quickly added. He wasn’t ready to settle down yet. Not before they had made a name for themselves.

    Hermione nodded with a bright, if slightly wistful, smile.

    “Of course,” Harry went on, “we could use one or two of the statues as bargaining chips. They are Atlantean art, after all.”

    She glared at him. “As a last resort, only. These statues should be kept together.” Which clearly implied that selling or trading away all of them was out of the question.

    He nodded. “Of course.”

    But he’d trade away all of them and more in a heartbeat if it meant finding Atlantis.

    *****​

    Tunisia, Wizarding Tunis, September 22nd, 2001

    “What do you see?”

    “I haven’t taken a look yet.” Ron Weasley rolled his eyes before he stuck his head through the enchanted opening in the wall and peered around in the near-darkness. Only the starlight shining through the windows in the ceiling provided any illumination. He pulled back and cast a charm, then stuck his head out again. No one hiding in the shadows.

    “Coast is clear as far as I can see,” he reported a moment later.

    “We in port still?”

    “It’s a figure of speech,” he explained to Ari. “Do you smell anyone?”

    She transformed and stuck her head through the wall, then pulled it back and changed again. “No. Only old smells.”

    “Can finally we leave this crate?” Mallory sounded eager enough to put his head through the unenchanted part of the wall. After spending a week inside an enchanted crate with the man, Ron shared the feeling. He almost missed his dorm mates from Hogwarts - at least Seamus, Dean and Neville were much better company, even if you had to protect your food, cast a Deafening Jinx on yourself to sleep and deal with exotic plants Hagrid would probably call ‘cute’.

    “Yes,” Harry said. “Let’s go!”

    Ron was first through the concealed opening, stepping out of the side of the crate and looking around. Harry and Hermione came next, taking up positions across and next to him. Mallory stepped out, a little clumsily.

    Ari was the last one to leave the crate, still adjusting her disguise after her brief transformation. She didn’t look happy with her leathers despite - or because of, Ron wasn’t entirely sure - the fact that they were authentic native shaman tribal fashion from North America according to Luna and Ginny. They certainly looked good on her, in his opinion.

    Better than his and Harry’s collection of mismatched pieces that Ginny insisted was typical clothing for American mercenaries. Hermione, of course, had insisted on picking French duellist robes for her disguise, which apparently were also in vogue in Wizarding Québec. Or had been, until that disastrous war with the Free Republic of Maine.

    But between hair dye, new beards and new clothes, they didn’t look at all like the famous Curse-Breakers they were and shouldn’t catch the attention of Tahira’s family or friends.

    “Let’s apparate next to the ‘Folie Francais’,” Harry said. “I’ll take Mr Mallory. Ron, please take Ari.”

    “Remember, we are different people now, Jim,” Hermione said with a toothy smile.

    “Yes, Jeanne,” Harry replied.

    “Bob,” Ari said, beaming at Ron. She found the whole thing amusing.

    “Awena.” Ron returned her smile.

    Mallory sighed. “Mr Smith.” He wore a full beard now, was bald and was wearing robes. Hermione looked at him. “Attorney for Mr Wallaby,” he added, and Hermione nodded, apparently satisfied that she hadn’t wasted a week’s worth of lessons on their fake identities.

    “Let’s go,” she repeated herself. A moment later, she disappeared. Harry quickly grabbed Mallory, whose protest was cut off as they vanished as well.

    Ron smirked, then grabbed Ari’s hand and focused on the side-alley next to the tavern.

    The alley smelled as he remembered it - of stale wine, sweet tea and sweeter smoke from hookahs. Ari wrinkled her nose. “Stinks!” she complained.

    “It smells better inside the tavern,” Hermione said.

    Ari looked at Ron. He nodded. “At least for us with not quite so fine noses,” he said, touching his own.

    That made her laugh, but she still looked apprehensive as they entered the tavern. Then she coughed. Ron winced - he didn’t remember the air inside being so full of smoke. Then again, he had only visited once - they had chosen this tavern because they hadn’t stayed here before. “Sorry,” he said, which earned him a scowl. Most of the patrons were staring at them - perhaps they had overdone the disguises?

    Harry, meanwhile, made a beeline for the innkeeper. “Howdy!” he said, too loudly and in a fake American accent that still caused Mallory to wince, “We need three rooms!” He rapped the countertop with a purse full of coins.

    The innkeeper, though, smiled widely. “Of course, Monsieur. Although we’re close to full, and a relative of mine might arrive any day, so I have to charge you a premium.”

    Harry maintained, once they were in one of the rooms afterwards, that he had thrown the haggling on purpose to maintain their cover.

    Ron doubted it.

    *****​

    Tunisia, Wizarding Tunis, September 23rd, 2001

    Wizarding Tunis hadn’t changed much since their last visit, Ron Weasley noticed as he, his friends and Mallory walked through the alleys towards Omar Sayadi’s house. Of course, it had been less than a year.

    “Oh, look,” Harry whispered despite their privacy charms, “they replaced the fountain. And restored the bazaar.”

    On the other hand, their last visit had left parts of the enclave somewhat damaged. Ron winced.

    “I am beginning to suspect that you vastly understated the impact you had on the town,” Mallory said in a tone that reminded Ron of Snape.

    He frowned at the older wizard. “It was mostly the bazaar and not our fault.”

    “And the port,” Hermione said, “with the two dhows.”

    “And the Green Wand,” Harry added.

    “It wasn’t my fault,” Ron said. “Tahira was the one who did most of the damage.” Which was true. He certainly couldn’t have let her hit him.

    “Yes,” Ari said, glaring around the alley. “Her fault.”

    Ron coughed. “Let’s focus on our upcoming meeting,” he said quickly, before things could turn into a row. “Everyone knows our cover story?”

    “Miss Granger drilled us for a week, so I do not think anyone of average intelligence will have forgotten it,” Mallory replied. He ignored the scowl from Hermione.

    “Yes, we know it,” Harry said, squeezing Hermione’s hand as they passed the bazaar and entered the quarter of the town where the houses turned into free-standing walled manors and the number of flying carpets in the sky shrank significantly.

    A few minutes later, they reached Sayadi’s house, which was surrounded by a tall, enchanted wall. Strong protections - Ron hadn’t expected anything else from a man dealing with slavers and pirates.

    But they weren’t here to break into the manor, but to talk to the owner. Mallory stepped up and touched the crystal set in the wall next to the gate with his wand. The crystal lit up and a chime sounded, followed by a voice. “Marhaba?”

    “Hello,” Mallory said. “I’m Mr Smith. I represent the family of a young witch we suspect of having been kidnapped by slavers, and we would like to talk to Mr Sayadi and request his help in the matter.”

    “Ah,” the voice replied in English. “The Master is currently busy, but he is always willing to make time for people needing help. Which family do you represent?”

    “The Ainsworth-Aitkens,” Mallory replied. Wyona Ainsworth-Aitkens had disappeared six months ago on a trip through southern France, but no ransom demand had been made according to Hermione, who had found an article covering the disappearance in the Tribune Magique.

    “Ah. Please wait a moment; I will inquire with the Master.”

    “So much for the vaunted hospitality of the Berbers,” Mallory muttered. “Letting us wait under the bloody sun.”

    “Well, the man has his share of enemies,” Harry said. “Akin to a blood feud with some Veela families, I believe.”

    A minute passed, then the crystal lit up again and the gate began to open. “Please enter.”

    Ron exchanged a glance with Harry. This was going more smoothly than he had expected. It seemed their luck was turning.

    They walked through the lush garden behind the gate - which was larger than the walls outside - and the entrance to the manor - classic Arabian style, not Berber, Ron noticed - swung open as soon as they set foot on the stairs leading up to the door. A young man stood there, in local robes, bowing. “Please enter. My master is awaiting you in the inner garden.”

    That sounded promising. They passed through an entrance hall into the interior garden and were met by what had to be Omar Sayadi - and Gilderoy Lockhart. Both had their wands drawn. And Ron could see two more wizards standing in the alcoves to the side.

    “Salamu alaykum,” Sayadi said. “Please do not try to draw your wands; I do not plan to start a fight. I am merely a cautious wizard - and curious about this remarkable coincidence.”

    “Coincidence?” Harry cocked his head.

    “Indeed.” Sayadi’s polite smile grew more sardonic. “I was just talking to the famous Mr Lockhart about Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens. He has been hired by her family to find and return her, you see.”

    Ron winced. It seemed their luck hadn’t improved at all.

    *****​

    Hermione Granger drew a hissing breath through her clenched teeth. Lockhart, here. And, apparently, on behalf of the family of the witch they were using as a cover story. It seemed that she had been a little too clever by selecting a believable kidnapping victim and now Mr Sayadi probably thought they were thieves or worse.

    She glanced at Harry and winced. She knew that expression. This wouldn’t end well unless she stepped in. Smiling, she took a step forward. “Why, Mr Lockhart, we didn’t know you were in Tunis. You didn’t ask Petunia for help, did you?”

    She saw Lockhart blink, then look at her and the others, tensing up. “Harry?” he asked, in a tone that made it a real question.

    Hermione heard Harry sigh - he didn’t like Lockhart, and he didn’t like being pushed into things either. But this was the best way to avoid a fight, which would ruin the entire point of their visit. “Yes,” Harry said, “given the attitudes of some of the residents here, we decided to use a disguise.”

    “Harry?” Mr Sayadi frowned.

    “Potter. Harry Potter,” Harry said, bowing his head.

    Hermione knew he would be smirking and was tempted to add ‘the Boy-Who-Lived’, but managed to restrain herself. Mr Sayadi looked surprised, and his guards started to look a little uneasy.

    “These are my friends, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, Ari and Mr Smith,” Harry went on.

    “Mr Smith?” Lockhart frowned. “Ari?”

    “Yes,” Mr Mallory said.

    Ari merely nodded.

    “Please excuse our deception; it was not aimed at you. We just wanted to avoid trouble with the jinn,” Ron said.

    “So why did you want to meet me, then?” Mr Sayadi said.

    Hermione saw Lockhart starting to smile and struggled not to wince. She hadn’t considered that Lockhart was a competitor as well and would know something was up if their group had travelled to Tunis despite the risk. But that could be dealt with once they were no longer staring down each others’ wand. Figuratively - if anyone actually raised their wand, a fight would break out at once.

    “We have a few questions only an accomplished linguist such as yourself might be able to answer,” Harry said.

    “Ah. A translation, then.” Mr Sayadi nodded.

    “Yes,” Harry admitted.

    “And since you took such a risk, there aren’t many others who can help you.” Mr Sayadi’s smile widened.

    “There are alternatives,” Harry replied, but it didn’t look like he managed to convince the other wizard.

    It looked like they would have to ask Sirius to cover the bill.

    “I’m certain we can compensate you handsomely for your efforts,” Harry told Mr Sayadi.

    Lockhart cleared his throat. “Not everything has a price in gold,” he said.

    Harry frowned, as did Hermione. What did Lockhart mean? He couldn’t be thinking about...

    Mr Sayadi raised his eyebrows. “While I might contest this, I am a wizard of no small means, and, therefore, I do not need more gold.” His expression made Hermione think that he would like more gold anyway. “However, you seem to have something in mind, old friend.”

    “Indeed.” Lockhart flashed his famous smile. “Harry and his friends are, as they have just proved by fooling even me, skilled at disguising themselves. They are experienced Curse-Breakers, brave and trustworthy. And they already know about the fate of poor Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens. I’m certain they would not mind helping me save the fair maiden.”

    Oh, no. Hermione had to struggle to keep her expression from showing her reaction.

    Ari was less restrained. “What?”

    “Mr Lockhart proposes that we help him save a kidnapped witch in exchange for Mr Sayadi’s services as a linguist,” Ron explained to the witch.

    “Ah.” Ari nodded. She didn’t realise just what this would entail, Hermione knew.

    “Indeed.” Mr Lockhart beamed at them. “A great adventure with a noble goal no true Gryffindor could resist, right?”

    Hermione smiled politely. She was too experienced to fall for such flattery. But she also knew that to refuse their help wouldn’t look good in Lockhart’s next book. Not at all.

    Harry would know that as well, of course. He frowned. “And what is in it for you, Mr Sayadi?”

    Mr Sayadi smiled widely. “Why? Do you think I wouldn’t be willing to do this merely because it is the right thing to do?”

    “Not at all,” Harry lied with a thin smile.

    “But you are correct,” their host went on, “I do have an ulterior motive.” He sighed. “As you are no doubt aware, my reputation has suffered from slander and lies even though all I did was serve as a go-between in negotiations. I’ve been called a slaver and risk getting arrested, should I enter certain countries.”

    “My next book will set things right, though,” Lockhart cut in. “People will know the truth about my friend and his noble deeds.”

    “And if anything goes wrong, you won’t be implicated if we replace whoever you were thinking of sending as help,” Harry said.

    Mr Sayadi inclined his head as his smile grew wider. “Caution is a virtue.”

    “Of course, the Boy-Who-Lived and his brave friends would jump at the chance to help me save a poor girl from a pirate’s harem,” Lockhart said. “And my noble friend, impressed by such heroic inclination, promised them his services as a reward out of the goodness of his heart.” He shook his head, beaming at them. “The story practically writes itself!”

    And Hermione knew what kind of story would write itself should they refuse the deal. She nodded at Harry, as did Ron.

    At least they would be doing a good deed, saving an enslaved witch, she told herself.

    And she couldn’t help but shake her head at the irony of their cover story becoming true in this manner.

    *****​

    Harry Potter wanted to curse Lockhart. That glory hound had seduced Auntie, only to cheat on her, and, to add insult to injury, tried to steal her accomplishments! And now the man was forcing Harry and his friends - and Mallory - to help him with his own task!

    Granted, saving a kidnapped young witch from being imprisoned in a harem sounded like a good thing. And Harry certainly wouldn’t walk away if he could help her. But the way Lockhart had forced things… He really wanted to curse the man.

    But they were guests in Mr Sayadi’s house, and Lockhart was apparently a close friend of the other wizard, so Harry was forced to smile and be polite.

    “I assume you know in which harem Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens is being held?” he asked.

    “Oh, yes.” Lockhart flashed his annoying smile again. “I recently discovered that she’s a prisoner of Murad Bey.”

    “The son and heir of the Bey of Tunis?” Ron blurted out. “Blimey!”

    “You are already familiar with him, I see.” Lockhart’s smile widened. “You can understand how the situation is somewhat delicate, I think.”

    “I think ‘volatile’ is a more accurate description,” Hermione said. “The political and diplomatic consequences...

    “...only matter if we fail, which we won’t!” Lockhart interrupted her.

    “You’re planning a book about this affair,” Hermione pointed out. “That will reveal our involvement even if no one recognises us during the rescue.”

    Lockhart nodded. “That is a good point. If you prefer to avoid such consequences, I will omit your contributions in my book.”

    “No. We can handle it,” Harry said, baring his teeth. Let Lockhart steal their accomplishments? Over his twitching body. Lockhart’s, of course.

    “Are you certain?” Hermione asked.

    Harry shrugged. “It isn’t as if we weren’t already among Tunis’s most wanted, is it?” And there wouldn’t be too much trouble from freeing an enslaved witch. Most of Magical Europe was quite opposed to slavery in general, and to that of the Barbary Coast Wizarding Enclaves in particular. Especially France.

    “Oi!” Ron protested. “We aren’t officially wanted by the authorities!”

    “I have to admit that that does not matter as much in my home country as it would matter in yours,” Mr Sayadi said.

    “Oh, bounty hunters are a fact of life!” Lockhart made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “I’ve lost count of the number of attempts on my life by such people. None of them succeeded, of course - they were facing me, after all.” He sighed. “Some wizards seem incapable of gracefully admitting defeat even though there’s no shame in losing to me.”

    Harry could very well understand the sentiment of people who put a price on Lockhart’s head. “We’ve been dealing with similar trouble,” he said, as nonchalantly as he could. “Pirates, grave robbers, houngans…” He shrugged, ignoring Hermione rolling her eyes. “You get used to it.”

    Lockhart’s smile seemed to falter a little for a moment before it was restored. “I see you have been busy, then. It’s always a joy to see the younger generation following my example.”

    Harry clenched his teeth while Ron whispered explanations into Ari’s ear and Hermione sighed.

    “I presume you have a plan already since you’ve been working on rescuing Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens for a while,” she said.

    “Oh, indeed.” Lockhart beamed at Hermione as if she were still his student. “As you may already know, we are faced with several problems that would be daunting to wizards not as experienced as I am.”

    “Of course,” Harry said with a fake smile.

    “First, the protections on the palace of Murad Bey. They are old and powerful, and his guards patrol the wardline regularly, which makes breaking through the protections a little tricky.”

    Not just a little, Harry thought. It was one thing to break through wards on a tomb with traps and maybe a few conjured guards. It was another thing trying to break into a protected palace with living guards.

    “Second, the protections on the harem within the palace. They are as old, and as powerful, as the protections on the palace, but they will be constructed differently for security reasons,” Lockhart went on.

    “Meant as much as to keep the women within from escaping as to keep men from breaking in,” Hermione added.

    “And third, the enchantments on Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens which prevent her from escaping,” Lockhart said. “It is nigh-impossible to break through the palace wards and the harem wards undetected, which means we cannot count on being able to break the enchantments on Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens without being disturbed by whatever guards Murad Bey can send after us.”

    “Including his father’s guards,” Ron said.

    “Quite.” Lockhart nodded. “Fortunately, my plan will allow us to successfully deal with all those problems “ He paused, looking at them expectantly.

    “And what is your plan?” Harry asked, not quite rolling his eyes.

    “Let me explain,” Lockhart said, beaming. “We will smuggle two of our number into the harem, thus bypassing the outer protections entirely and allowing them to work on freeing Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens from any binding spells and dealing with the harem’s protections, while the rest of us work on breaking through the outer defences and provide a distraction for the guards.”

    Harry clenched his teeth as he realised just what Lockhart must be planning. And, judging by the outraged expression on Hermione’s face, she had the same idea.

    He really wanted to curse Lockhart.

    *****​

    “We’re not going to smuggle Hermione and Ari into Murad Bey’s harem!” Ron Weasley spat, glaring at Lockhart. He felt his wand twitch as if it sensed his need to curse the man.

    “Are you crazy?” Harry sounded as, or even more, enraged.

    “That… that is preposterous!” Hermione sputtered.

    “What?” Ari asked, looking lost.

    Ron leaned over to her to explain what exactly Lockhart was proposing, but the other wizard raised his hand and cut him off. “I understand that my plan might seem a little dangerous at first glance,” he said, without losing his annoying smile.

    “‘A little dangerous’?” Harry scoffed. “You’re planning to sell them as slaves!”

    “That’s a plan straight out of a robes-ripper!” Hermione added. “A bad robes-ripper!”

    “Please do not compare me to those hacks,” Lockhart replied, frowning now, “I am a bestselling author, among many other things.”

    “Such as a glory hound,” Ron heard Harry mutter.

    Hermione took a deep breath. “While I sympathise with the fate of poor Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens, I am not willing to subject myself to the same indignities in order to rescue her,” she said, and Ron could almost hear her teeth grind.

    “What?” Ari asked again.

    Ron whispered: “She means she won’t let the Bey’s son sleep with her to save the witch.”

    “Ah.” Ari nodded, then glared and growled at Lockhart. “I will not sleep with him either! I rather rip him to shreds. Or you!”

    “No one will have to sleep with anyone!” Lockhart said. “Can you imagine how such a thing would look in my book? My readers would never forgive me! I could never forgive me!” He shook his head, his perfectly styled hair not even slightly disarrayed. “My plan takes this danger into account, of course.”

    “How?” Harry snarled, but Ron saw Hermione put her hand on his arm, and Ron’s friend huffed but stayed silent.

    “As you know, I am not merely a famous, bestselling author and an accomplished Curse-Breaker, but also an honorary member of the Dark Force Defence League. This isn’t the first time I have had to deal with a harem, as anyone who has read ‘Mastering Mummies’ would know.”

    Ron most certainly hadn’t read that book. And he doubted any of his friends had read it, either - not after Lockhart had tried to steal Petunia’s fame in an earlier book.

    “I can assure you,” the wizard continued, “that you will be perfectly safe. Murad Bey won’t accost either of you while you are in his harem.”

    “What?” Ari narrowed her eyes at him. Hermione did the same, Ron noticed.

    “He will be too busy to bother,” Lockhart went on.

    “Bother?” Ari growled.

    “I mean, he will be busy hosting me, the famous author, explorer and Curse-Breaker,” Lockhart said. He sounded a little put-off, Ron thought. Only a little, though. Then the man flashed his vaunted smile again. “As accomplished Curse-Breakers, I don’t think you will need more than an evening to deal with whatever spells have been cast on the poor witch and the harem itself, won’t you?”

    Ron could see Hermione being torn between her pride and common sense.

    “I’m no Curse-Breaker,” Ari stated before anyone else could comment.

    “You aren’t?” Lockhart looked surprised for a moment. Then he nodded. “Ah, you’re a bodyguard.”

    “She’s not merely a bodyguard,” Ron said, once more glaring at the man. “She’s got many talents!”

    Ari nodded. “I can show.”

    “No, I think we keep that a secret,” Ron said hastily.

    “Well, Miss Granger is a very talented witch. She should still be able to deal with both the spells on Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens and the wards on the harem,” Lockhart said. “Certainly, if Mr Potter and Mr Weasley are able to provide a sufficient distraction. And, of course, I will be on site to intervene wherever it might be necessary.”

    “It’s still too dangerous!” Ron said.

    “Yes,” Harry added.

    “Why don’t we let the two witches decide that themselves?” Lockhart beamed at them. “After I’ve explained the details of my plan, of course.”

    Remembering how much Hermione hated it when others, even or especially Harry, tried to make decisions for her, and how proud Ari was, Ron couldn’t help wincing.

    *****​

    Tunisia, Wizarding Tunis, Palace of Murad Bey, September 25th, 2001

    “Yeah, we’ve picked up a few... things that we can’t take with us on our next trip. So, we heard you’re a collector and might be interested.”

    Harry, still disguised as an American mercenary, was overdoing the accent, in Hermione Granger’s opinion, but Bey, sitting cross-legged on a silk cushion, didn’t seem to notice. Although the wizard did seem to be rather distracted, if the looks he sent towards her and Ari, standing to the side of Harry and Ron, were any indication. Perhaps she shouldn’t have agreed to Lockhart’s plan, but she hadn’t been able to think of a better alternative.

    “I can see that,” Bey said with a leering smile, patting his thighs as he leaned forward.

    Hermione shuddered, and not only because she was wearing a rather flimsy outfit - the sort of outfit she explicitly hadn’t wanted to wear! - and the Cooling Charms in the reception room of Bey’s palace were rather effective. The man was revolting. Not physically, but his attitude… she shuddered again.

    Ari growled, which, apparently, amused the man. “I see,” he said, nodding. “And the girls?”

    “Picked up on the same occasion,” Ron said, in a slightly better accent. “Waste not, want not.”

    “Indeed.” Bey nodded. “Early Samanid Empire. Quite rare these days.”

    Hermione resisted the urge to rub the collar they were talking about. As disgusting as these things were, they were also historical artefacts. And they had had to alter the enchantments on them for Lockhart’s plan. Granted, the original enchantments were illegal in most civilised countries, and Hermione and Ari needed the protections they had put on them, but still!

    “You’re an expert,” Harry said. His smile was forced, but Bey wouldn’t realise that.

    “I would call myself merely an interested amateur.” The man smiled with obviously fake modesty. “May I inspect them?” He gestured towards Hermione and Ari. Or at their collars.

    “Of course,” Harry said, after a moment.

    Bey stood and stepped up to Hermione and Ari, peering at their necks. “Exquisite.” He looked back at Harry and Ron. “And the enchantments work, I presume?”

    “Check for yourself,” Ron said. “But those two certainly wouldn’t be standing here, all docile, if the spells were gone.”

    Hermione glared at the man as he drew his wand and cast a few spells. As expected, he was no Curse-Breaker - he wouldn’t see through their deception. Fool.

    Bey nodded, apparently satisfied. “You have the control ring as well?”

    Harry held up a gaudy-looking golden band studded with jewels, far too large for a ring - unless sized for a giant. “Of course. Couldn’t have used the things without it.”

    “Perfect.”

    As Bey returned to his seat, Hermione resisted the urge to pull out her wand from where it was hidden with Ari’s in a piece of enchanted jewellery and cast a few cleaning charms on herself.

    As if he had been reading her thoughts, Bey asked: “Their wands?”

    Harry held up the two wands Sayadi had provided. They would even work for them, in a fashion.

    Bey nodded again, and his smile grew. “You are thorough.”

    Harry shrugged. “In our business, it pays to be thorough.”

    “And you need to sell your merchandise before you can leave,” Bey said, showing a hint of teeth as his smile grew.

    “Yes,” Harry replied.

    And the haggling began. Hermione knew that Bey was more interested in the collars - he was a collector of such paraphernalia, according to Lockhart. She also knew that this was a good thing. The man wouldn’t be too eager to bed them, as she recalled such things were euphemistically called in those robes-rippers Lavender used to read all the time, and so they wouldn’t be forced to go with plan B, also known as ‘take the Bey hostage’.

    Still, even knowing that, she couldn’t help feeling insulted that she was considered a living display stand to be sold with a piece of valuable jewellery. It was petty and vain and stupid, but she felt that she and Ari deserved better.

    The bargaining involved lots of praise and - unfair - criticism of both jewellery and witches and took half an hour until a deal was reached. Bey seemed to thoroughly enjoy it, though - after the control ring was handed over, Hermione and Ari were sent away with one of his servants while Harry and Ron were invited to enjoy his hospitality. That meant Lockhart would be serving as the distraction outside the palace and Harry and Ron were ready to intervene.

    Hermione was glad - she didn’t really trust the glory hound. And she most certainly didn’t want to owe him anything.

    The servant led them through a series of luxurious hallways - Hermione spotted several artefacts from the late Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba and the Abbasid Caliphate decorating the walls - until they reached a door. It was massive, made of ebon wood, with runic gold inlays, and guarded by an equally massive troll dressed up in the classic ‘harem guard’ outfit and apparently doused with a gallon of perfume.

    The troll was sniffing the air as they approached, and Ari growled in response at him. “Smells,” Hermione heard her mutter. But the servant chided the guard and opened the door, ushering Hermione and Ari inside without following them.

    The actual harem looked almost disappointingly ordinary after that display. Unlike in Lavender’s books, the women inside, who were gathering in response to their entrance, were fully dressed and not lounging around naked, and Hermione could see that most of them were wielding wands as well. “So much for the male fantasy,” she whispered.

    “Huh?” Ari replied.

    Hermione was about to explain what she meant when a yell cut her off. “You!”

    A tall, voluptuous and very beautiful woman stormed out of a side room, snarling at them. No, at her, Hermione realised with a sinking feeling as she recognised the woman.

    Tahira the jinni Princess.

    What was she doing here, and why hadn’t Sayadi known about it?

    *****​
     
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  25. Wolfboy

    Wolfboy Not too sore, are you?

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    Ah hell, looks like Ari gets her fight
     
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  26. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    That remains to be seen.
     
  27. RedX

    RedX Know what you're doing yet?

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    I guess blowing up half the town over a jilted proposition landed little miss djinni in the bosses's son's harem... quietly enough for it not to be too well known.

    I'm seeing this go from 'subtle infiltration' to 'release djinni, exploit rampage' rather quickly.
     
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  28. TheEyes

    TheEyes I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    I am intensely amused by the idea of Ron Weasley as the Lothario with a jilted lover in every port. Most fics have Harry in that role, despite it not really being in-character for him.
     
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  29. Threadmarks: Chapter 11: The Great Escape
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 11: The Great Escape

    ‘Some scholars consider jinn and Veela related, citing the affinity for fire and air demonstrated by both species as a common link. However, this view ignores the fundamental differences between the two species. First, Veela are an all-female species who procreate with human males - muggles or wizards - with the female offspring always being Veela, and the male offspring taking after the father. Jinn, on the other hand, have both male and female sexes, and, while not impossible, interbreeding with humans is very rare, despite many Arabian wizards claiming to have a jinni ancestor. Second, the aforementioned affinity for fire and air expresses completely differently in each species. Veela can transform into a bird-like form which allows them to fly and hurl fireballs. In human form they lack either power. Jinn aren’t so limited - their powers are not tied to their shape-changing talent. No matter their size, they retain their control over fire as well as their ability to fly. Third, contrary to some unsavoury rumours, Veela have no special weakness to being bound with magic, unlike jinn. And finally, the average lifespan of the Veela is roughly the same as that of witches while there are confirmed reports of jinn living as long as a thousand and one years. It is, therefore, obvious that the two species aren’t related.’
    - Excerpt from ‘Magical Females - Myth and Truth’ by Melanie Bauer, Berlin, 2000


    *****​

    Tunisia, Wizarding Tunis, Palace of Murad Bey, September 25th, 2001

    Hermione Granger tensed, reaching for the ring that contained her wand, as the jinni stalked towards her and Ari, scattering the rest of the women. Should she draw it? Tahira hadn’t grown to the size of a troll. Yet. And she wasn’t trailing fire. But she most certainly wasn’t happy to see Hermione. And the way all other witches fled wasn’t reassuring in the slightest.

    “You. Granger,” she snarled. She was speaking English, Hermione noted.

    “You. Hussy,” Ari growled.

    That seemed to startle the jinni. “What did you say? Who are you, anyway?”

    “Ari,” Ari replied with a snarl, baring her teeth. “Ron’s mate.”

    “What?” Tahira grew half a foot. For a moment, Hermione thought she saw smoke coming out of the jinni’s nostrils.

    And Ari growled louder.

    Hermione winced - she knew it was a bad idea, but she had to do something before their whole plan was ruined. So, clenching her teeth, she stepped between the two, mentally promising herself that she would make Ron pay for this, somehow. “Please! Please! I’m certain that we can talk this out like civilised witches and jinn.”

    To Hermione’s own surprise - she had her finger on her enchanted ring - her appeal seemed to work on Tahira. The jinni drew back half a step and, although she didn’t shrink down again, slowly nodded. “Yes. We need to talk.”

    “Talk?” Ari was still growling.

    “Yes, talk,” Hermione told her, baring her own teeth. Anything was better than a fight against the jinni. No matter who won, their cover would be blown. They weren’t supposed to even have wands.

    “About what?” Ari asked, scowling and not taking her eyes off the jinni.

    “About what exactly you are doing here,” Tahira said. She motioned with her head to the side door behind her. “In my room. Away from prying eyes and ears.”

    Hermione nodded. That would work for her and Ari. At least she hoped it would.

    And if things went wrong, there would be no witnesses.

    *****​

    “...and then that backstabbing pirate tried to rob us.” Harry Potter shook his head as he grabbed another date from the plate floating nearby - a relic from the early Ottoman Empire, as Bey had mentioned. “But we caught him in the act.”

    “What did you do?”

    “Fed him to the sirens in the area,” Ron said, “while we made our getaway.”

    “You’ve seen sirens?” Bey perked up. “Caribbean sirens?”

    “From afar,” Harry said, glancing at Ron. His friend should have known better than to embellish their tales with his own experiences.

    “There is a market for them, you know.” Bey smiled. “We have agreements with the Mediterranean sirens dating back centuries, back when we were still pirates and the help of a school of sirens was invaluable. So, they were taboo, so to speak. Nowadays, it’s mostly tradition. But the Caribbean sirens? We never had any agreements with them, and, as far as I know, the Mediterranean sirens don’t care about them, either.”

    “Well, if we had known that beforehand…” Harry spread his hands. “We’ll keep that in mind next time we sail those seas.”

    “I’m also interested in Aztec and Mayan relics,” Bey added.

    Harry wasn’t surprised. It hadn’t taken him long to realise that Bey’s main interests were old magic and young witches. And the man believed that Harry and Ron could provide him with both. Which had been the point of their cover - they needed to distract Bey from going to the harem until Hermione had freed Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens from the spells keeping her prisoner and they could beat a retreat from the palace.

    And, perhaps, beat up Bey a little as well - Harry had quickly grown tired of the man’s bragging about his collections.

    He just had to be patient. Hermione would need more time.

    *****​

    “I feel we are kindred spirits, Mr Smith,” Bey said, once more flashing that far too wide smile at them. “We both appreciate witches, don’t we?”

    Ron Weasley forced himself to smile in return even though he wanted to scowl. He wasn’t like Bey at all. Ron didn’t kidnap witches and keep them as slaves. And he didn’t have multiple lovers at the same time, either. “Who doesn’t?” he said, taking another tiny sip from his glass. The wine was good - he hadn’t expected anything else given their host’s fondness of luxury - but he couldn’t afford to get drunk, of course.

    “Indeed, indeed!” Bey nodded - he was drinking heavily, Ron noticed. That would come in handy later.

    He resisted the urge to rub the enchanted pin in his collar again. It would vibrate when Hermione and Ari were ready to break out. Of course, it hadn’t been long enough for Hermione to finish breaking the spells on Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens, much less the wards on the harem. Harry and Ron would need to distract Bey for quite some time for that.

    Signing inwardly, he put the glass down on the low table. He should regale the man with another fabricated tale of his alleged exploits, but… “I do wonder, though, how you manage a harem. In my experience, even one witch at a time is a handful.”

    Harry chuckled loudly at hearing that. “Yeah, you could say that!”

    Ron glared at him. He knew Harry would claim he was just playing his role later.

    “Oh, I’ll tell you a secret.” Bey smiled and took another swallow from his wine. “People think the harem’s purpose is to keep other men away from your women. But the truth is, the harem’s real purpose is to keep your women away from you!” He laughed loudly and slapped his thighs at his own joke. “I only ever see them when I want to see them, if you understand what I mean. The rest of the time they are on their own in the harem.”

    Ron forced himself to laugh. “Well, you can’t exactly travel with a harem, can you? I’m afraid that wouldn’t work for us.”

    Bey grinned. “Actually, I own a travelling harem. Late Fatimid Caliphate. Let me show you!” He all but jumped up and marched over to a side door. “Come, come - I would summon it, but my treasures are all protected, of course. Only I can move them.”

    Ron smiled, filing the information away as he and Harry followed their host. He had expected that, but confirmation was always nice.

    *****​

    The room into which Tahira led them was spacious - good Extension Charms, Hermione Granger noted - and luxuriously decorated. Far more so than the parts of the harem she had seen so far - and those had looked quite expensive. And each piece of furniture and decor complimented the others.

    Hermione narrowed her eyes as Tahira cast a privacy charm. Mr Sayadi hadn’t told them about the jinni’s presence in Bey’s harem. He would have if he had known - if he had wanted to betray them, they wouldn’t have gotten this far. Which meant…

    She raised her eyebrows at Tahira as the jinni turned towards her and Ari. “You’ve been bound, haven’t you?” She cocked her head. “Impressive spellwork on the decor, by the way.”

    Tahira’s eyes flashed for a moment with rage, then she scoffed. “And you sneaked into the harem to steal one of the girls.”

    Ari frowned. “She is bound?”

    “Jinn are more vulnerable to being controlled by magic than humans,” Hermione explained.

    “Know that. Researched,” Ari said.

    Which probably meant that the other witch asked Ron about the jinn, Hermione thought - she hadn’t mastered reading English yet, as far as Hermione knew.

    “You are enslaved,” Ari went on with a sneer. “No competition.”

    Tahira grew another half a foot in response, and smoke blew out of her nostrils once more. “Watch your tongue, barbarian.”

    Hermione cleared her throat. “I presume that you want us to inform your family so they can rescue you.” It wouldn’t be hard for Tahira’s clan to force Bey to free her - as Hermione and her friends had found out during their last visit, the jinni clan controlled a lot of Tunis. She didn’t think the Bey of Tunis would support his son’s foolishness.

    “No.” Tahira sneered. “I want you to break the item that keeps me imprisoned.”

    “You mean ‘enslaved’,” Ari said.

    “Please!” Hermione hissed at the other witch. As Ari snorted, Hermione addressed Tahira again. “So you want to avoid having your predicament revealed to your family.”

    “And you want to avoid having your plans revealed to the Bey’s son,” Tahira shot back.

    “That would prevent your rescue as well,” Hermione pointed out.

    “We kill traitors!” Ari cut in.

    Hermione clenched her teeth and took a deep breath. “No one is killing anyone,” she said, more than a little forcefully.

    “My situation will come to light sooner or later. Sooner, I would assume, if I alert the guards, since I have no doubt that your friends are in the vicinity as well,” Tahira said.

    Hermione thought the jinni was bluffing - but could she risk it? Ari would certainly attack Tahira if they couldn’t come to an agreement. And that would alert the guards. On the other hand, she was heartily sick of being pushed around and forced into saving enslaved women. First Lockhart, now Tahira… But this was more important than her pride. “In exchange for freeing you from your bondage, I demand that you abandon your grievance against Ron.”

    “And give up Ron,” Ari added.

    “I don’t think she wants him that way,” Hermione said.

    “Better make sure with jinn,” Ari countered.

    Ari might have a point, Hermione thought as she noticed Tahira’s expression.

    But the jinni princess nodded. “We have a Deal.”

    Hermione could almost hear the capital letter. Ron really owed her for this.

    *****​

    Bey led them through a narrower hallway lined with display cases, but Harry Potter noticed that within them were only lesser antiques. Nothing really valuable or magical, in his estimation. The room they entered afterwards, though… He didn’t have to fake his impressed reaction.

    Bey beamed. “The heart of my collection.” He gestured at the weapons, wands and jewellery on display between what looked like a Fifth Dynasty sarcophagus, a Persian war chariot - probably enchanted to fly if the winged decor was any indication - several chests in various styles and a pair of pillars that might have been from Olympus. Although in the nineteenth century, when classic Greece had been in vogue in Wizarding Britain, enough ‘original Olympian pillars’ had been imported to Britain to construct three Olympian temples, so they were likely fakes. Perhaps they had been acquired when most of the British pieces had been quietly disposed of after the actual ruins of Olympus had been found in 1904.

    Ron actually whistled. “That’s the most expensive collection I’ve ever seen in one room.”

    “Oh, compared to the Sultan’s collection, this is nothing,” Bey replied, oozing fake modesty. “I am merely a passionate private collector.” He waved them towards him. The two guards who had followed them stayed back at the entrance to the room. “Here, the Travelling Harem. One of my best pieces. It was originally constructed and enchanted for a merchant travelling the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Back then, there was no Floo network, you know, so he couldn’t easily return to his home for the night during his travels. Later, it was the property of an officer in Suleiman the Magnificent’s army.”

    That wouldn’t have worked on a ship anyway, Harry knew. But pointing that out would be rude. “Have you used it?” he asked.

    “Only here, out of curiosity,” Bey said. “The times when brave men explored the unknown parts of the world are long gone, after all.”

    Shows what you know, Harry thought. There were still a lot of unknown, hidden enclaves to discover - not that Bey looked like he would be brave enough to explore anything but the depravity of his own mind. Harry nodded, though. “But there are still secrets to discover,” he said.

    “And treasure to acquire,” Ron added. “So, how big is it inside?” he cocked his head, studying the chest.

    “Let me show you!”

    Harry took note how Bey used his wand to open the chest, revealing stairs leading down. Just in case. He waved Ron ahead and quickly cast a detection spell when he was on the stairs and out of sight of either the guards or Bey.

    As expected, the harem was well-protected. If the actual harem had similar or better spells on it, they would have to wait a few hours for Hermione to break them. Harry wasn’t looking forward to that.

    “That doesn’t look like a harem. More like a dungeon!” he heard Ron exclaim below.

    Harry refrained from wincing when he reached the bottom. The Travelling Harem was larger than he had expected, given the period in which it had been created, but the decor…

    “Well, the last owner had peculiar tastes,” Bey explained. “I wanted to restore its original furniture, but…” He shrugged. “It would have devalued the piece.”

    Harry nodded as if he agreed. At least it didn’t look like the devices had been regularly used. He was about to suggest they returned to the palace when the enchanted pin in his collar started to vibrate. The signal! No. It continued to vibrate. Hermione wanted to talk. Something must have happened!

    Ron would have noticed as well. Harry looked at him, then glanced at the devices in the back of the room.

    “Oh, what’s this?” Ron said. “I’ve never seen anything like it! How does that even work?”

    “Oh, I’m not entirely sure myself,” Bey answered. “I’ve never actually tried the things, you understand. Other than the beds. But I think that this part is meant as a seat.”

    While Ron distracted Bey, Harry touched his collar and the pin. “Yes?” he whispered, crouching down as if to study the frame in front of him.

    “Harry? We’ve got a problem,” he heard Hermione’s voice say.

    “Big problem. Huge,” Ari added from nearby.

    “Tahira’s in the harem. And she made me make a deal to get her out as well,” Hermione whispered.

    “Stupid deal.”

    “Be quiet, barbarian.”

    Yes, that was Tahira’s voice. Harry wanted to curse. “So you’ll need to break the spells on her as well.” That would take even longer. Harry didn’t know if they could keep Bey distracted that long.

    “No,” Hermione replied. “She’s bound by a ring and needs it destroyed. Golden, early Umayyad Caliphate, with three fire rubies set into it.”

    A ring which wouldn’t be inside the harem. Which meant Harry and Ron had to find it. Harry glanced at Bey. He wasn’t wearing such a ring.

    Great.

    *****​

    The plan had been simple. Relatively simple. Smuggle Ari and Hermione into the harem, distract Bey while Hermione broke the spells on Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens and cracked the wards preventing them from leaving, then break out with the rest. Rescuing a bound jinni princess hadn’t been on the table when they started this.

    Ron Weasley just knew that he would be blamed for this change in plans. Even if it certainly wasn’t his fault that Tahira had been bound by Bey - or whoever the man had hired for that task; he certainly didn’t seem to be an exceptionally skilled wizard. Exceptionally stupid, perhaps - binding a jinni was a dangerous undertaking under the best circumstances, but to bind the princess of the most influential clan of jinn in all of Tunisia? Was Bey suicidal? Ron didn’t think so. But why would Bey do this? Was he trying to start a war? Or was this a case of infatuation?

    Tahira was impressive and seductive, Ron knew that very well, but hers was not a face that would launch a thousand ships. And Bey didn’t appear to be a man driven to foolish actions for a woman. He seemed greedy and vain, but not lovestruck. The man could be putting on an act, of course - but why would he do that for two American mercenaries of no special reputation?

    No, Ron thought as he fawned over the man’s collection once more, admiring an - admittedly impressively enchanted - circlet made in the thirteenth century BCE on Crete, there had to be something more behind this affair than mere lust. But he didn’t seem to be able to think of what it might be.

    Just as he and Harry didn’t seem to be able to find the ring that bound Tahira. There was plenty of jewellery on display, but no ring that fit the description. And his detection spell, cast under the pretext of wanting to admire the enchantments on the various treasures, didn’t reveal any hidden or transfigured rings either.

    And a glance at Harry showed that, so far, his friend had also failed to spot the ring. Bey must have hidden the ring somewhere else instead of keeping it with his other treasures. Perhaps it was with his gold and other assets that didn’t make for good display pieces? But would those be in a chest or vault in the palace? Ron hadn’t heard of a bank in Tunisia, and if there was one, would Bey trust them with his wealth? Ron didn’t think so.

    Probably a private vault, then. In the cellar. A classic treasure chamber certainly would fit Bey’s taste. But that wasn’t the kind of thing the man would show his guests. Anyone could amass mere heaps of gold, after all, unlike a collection such as the one he was showing off.

    Which meant Harry and Ron needed a distraction to be able to slip away and search the cellars. And Ron had something in mind.

    He cocked his head, staring at an amphora - Roman, probably - standing in a corner, next to a Greek vase. “Is this an Everfilling Amphora?” he asked. “The enchantment on it seems different from the ones I saw.”

    “Ah, no, just an unbreakable and chilling one,” Bey answered. “The wine in it had gone bad when I found it, so there was no Preservation Charm on it either.”

    “Are you certain?” Ron frowned. “The spells seem to obscure another enchantment, from what I can tell.”

    Bey’s eyes widened. “Another enchantment? What can you tell? I never discovered any spells but the two I mentioned.”

    “It might need to be activated to be discernible, as interwoven as it seems to be. Perhaps the wizard creating the amphora made a mistake,” Ron went on, twisting his wand a few times. “I could try to activate it.” He held his wand still, its tip pointed at the amphora, as he looked at Bey. Come on, take the bait!

    Bey licked his lips. “Well… Do you think it will be dangerous?”

    “Well, you never know what kind of spells are on old relics, and you never know if the spells were miscast or went a lil’ wonky. But if it were trapped, you’d have found out already, and probably the hard way. Curses tend to grow stronger and more dangerous with time, after all,” Ron lied. “It might be an early version of a Preservation Charm, although I don’t remember a precursor spell.”

    “An unknown spell?” Bey leaned forward, then withdrew a step.

    “Perhaps,” Ron said. A glance told him that Harry was hanging back, next to the two guards. Perfect. “Should I try to activate it?”

    Bey nodded, slowly. “Yes. Yes, please do.”

    Ron nodded in return, then turned and silently conjured an olive into it before casting a Gemino Curse on it.

    A moment later, the amphora broke apart, releasing a quickly growing wave of olives.

    “Whoa!” Ron exclaimed.

    And while Bey gasped at the olives starting to bury his precious display room under their weight, Ron slipped his free hand into his enchanted pocket and pulled out a few of his brothers’ best inventions.

    A moment later, smoke and explosions filled the room, followed by a dragon’s roar.

    *****​

    Hermione Granger suppressed the sudden bout of guilt she felt when she saw Tahira, grown over eight feet tall, dragging Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens into the jinni’s room, then pushing her towards Hermione with a shove that sent the scared young witch stumbling. That could have been handled more gently. But then, Tahira was the undisputed leader of the witches in the harem. If she dragged another witch into her room, none would argue or stand up to her. Or suspect anything, which they might if they observed a new arrival disappearing into Tahira’s room with Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens.

    Of course, Tahira calling out her name hadn’t done their cover any favours, either.

    “Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens?” She smiled at the witch.

    “Y-yes?” The witch glanced over her shoulder at the jinni before looking at her.

    “My name’s Hermione Granger. This is Ari. We’re here to rescue you on behalf of your family.”

    “What?” Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens gasped.

    As she watched the young witch smile, then flinch, suddenly afraid again, Hermione wanted to hurt Bey. Very much. She nodded. “Yes. We’ve got friends outside the harem working with us.”

    “Also working on freeing her;” Ari added, sneering at Tahira.

    The jinni scoffed. “We made a Deal.”

    “Yes we did,” Hermione said. She turned to Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens again, smiling. “With your permission, I’ll break the spells keeping you prisoner here.”

    “You can do that?” The other witch gasped again, hands going to the necklace circling her throat. “But they said that tampering with it would kill me!”

    Hermione did her best to radiate confidence. “Oh, I’m a professional Curse-Breaker. I’ve dealt with worse curses, trust me.”

    Judging by the way Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens slowly nodded, she didn’t trust Hermione’s skills.

    Inwardly sighing, Hermione added: “I’m working with Harry Potter. The boy who lived.”

    “Ah.”

    Apparently, Harry’s reputation wasn’t as widely known in the New World as they had thought. Hermione forced herself to keep smiling. “And Gilderoy Lockhart planned all this.”

    “Lockhart?” Watching Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens’s face light up, Hermione felt the sudden urge to hurt her former teacher as well. Very much.

    *****​

    Hermione Granger narrowed her eyes as she slowly moved her wand. The spells on the necklace were not quite as complex as she had expected, but there was definitely a curse on it which would be triggered should the necklace be removed or the Compulsion Charm on it broken.

    “Can you break it?” Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens asked. Hermione saw her throat move as the other witch swallowed nervously.

    “Oh, yes,” she replied, as casually as she could manage. “It’s a fairly simple spell - I’ve dealt with far worse curses.”

    “And this time, it’s not your life that will end should you make a mistake,” Tahira butted in.

    Hermione glared at the jinni as the American witch froze in front of her. “Please keep quiet while I’m working,” she snapped.

    “Simply keep quiet,” Ari added, unhelpfully.

    “Hold your tongue, barbarian, lest you lose it.”

    “I like to see you try, hussy!” Ari growled in response.

    “I wouldn’t!” Hermione snarled. “Now both of you be quiet while I work, or I’ll curse you!”

    This was all Ron’s fault.

    She shook her head, then tried to calm Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens down. “It’s alright. I’ve done this before. On my own necklace.” That was technically correct. But it hadn’t been active at the time - nor on her neck.

    But the other witch didn’t look like she were facing her execution any more, which was what counted. Hermione started working on the necklace. It really wasn’t so difficult compared to Atlantean wards. If only Ron’s current and past girlfriend would manage to remain civil for the duration…

    Twenty minutes later, she sighed. “And done!”

    “You are?”

    Hermione nodded. Before the other witch could react, she moved her wand. “Diffindo!”

    Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens gasped as the necklace slid down her front, crashing to the floor and rubbed her throat and neck. “You did it. I am… I’m free!”

    “Almost,” Hermione corrected her. “I need to deal with the wards on the harem first, before we can leave.” She cast a Mending Charm on the necklace. “Best keep it on you, so you can wear it in case someone comes to check on us before we are ready to flee.”

    “Oh.”

    “Remember our Deal, Granger!”

    “She isn’t dumb. No need to mention it all the time!”

    Hermione rolled her eyes. She was really tempted to let Ari have it out with the jinni if only to shut both of them up. But she had a witch to save. And, alas, a jinni to free.

    She stepped over to the room’s window, which was covered by a decorative mesh of gilded metal. Prettier than iron bars, but as effective thanks to the spells on it.

    “That leads to the garden,” Tahira said. “What I need won’t be there.”

    “I know,” Hermione replied. “But I need to analyse the protections on the harem, and this is the best spot to do so.”

    The jinni huffed but seemed to accept that. Good. Hermione hated it when people who had no clue about Curse-Breaking tried to tell her what to do.

    Ten minutes later, she was just getting a rough grip on the wards’ structures when she suddenly heard explosions from outside and saw smoke billowing into the garden.

    Harry! Ron! She drew a hissing breath through her clenched teeth. They needed help - but she had to crack the wards keeping them prisoner first. This was…

    Her earring vibrated. She touched it, activating the enchantment.

    “We needed a distraction to search the rest of the house. How are you doing?” she heard Harry whisper.

    “Starting on the wards now.”

    “Good.” She heard the spell end again.

    “It’s a distraction,” she told the others - mostly to prevent them from doing anything foolish. “Everything’s OK.”

    But there would be words about changing the plan on the fly. Once everyone was safe, of course.

    *****​

    Explosions rocked the room, pillars fell over, taking parts of the walls they were stuck to with them, and smoke filled whatever space in the place the tidal wave of olives hadn’t yet swallowed - Harry Potter would have words with Ron after this.

    For now, though, he was disillusioning himself and sneaking out of the room while Ron kept Bey distracted.

    “Damn! That’s a lot of curses!” Ron yelled.

    “Vanish those… olives!” Bey yelled as Harry passed him and his guards at the door.

    “No!” Ron yelled, “that could trigger another curse!”

    “But they keep coming!”

    “Conjure a wall to stop them!”

    Harry quickly made his way through the hallway, towards a door leading to Bey’s private quarters - or so the man had told them. He had to press himself against the wall to avoid two more guards rushing towards their employer, but other than that, he reached his goal without trouble.

    A quick detection spell revealed that the door had a few spells on it - nothing fancy, just an advanced locking charm and some privacy charms as well as some basic protections.

    Nothing that would stop an experienced Curse-Breaker for more than a few minutes. Or half a minute, in Harry’s case. After a quick glance to check that there were no witnesses around, he opened the door and entered.

    And winced. Bey’s private quarters were decorated in what Auntie would call ‘Early Bordello Style’ and Hermione ‘the combination of too much gold with too little sense’. There was more gold and silver on display than in Gryffindor and Slytherin’s common rooms combined and lots of artwork chosen for its value, not style. Silk was everywhere not covered with artwork - cushions covered expensive Persian carpets, silk curtains hid mahogany paneling and silk sheets lined the sprawling bed, which was large enough to fit half a dozen people comfortably. And while Harry could appreciate the fact that Bey had kept all his furniture and decor in its original state, it meant nothing really matched. The gaudy shrine to Priapus in the corner was the crowning touch. It was the most expensive eyesore Harry had ever seen, and that included Sirius’s attempts to recreate a seventies’ muggle home.

    Harry shook his head. He was here to find the man’s vault, not criticise his lack of style. Now, where would the man hide the entrance to his vault? The two side doors led to a sprawling bathroom and a surprisingly austere office overlooking the interior garden which was currently being wrecked by fireworks and whatever else Ron’s brothers had managed to think of.

    Harry cast another detection spell and quickly checked the office. He couldn’t see any spells hiding a door. A flick of his wand rolled up the carpet. No trapdoor there either. Back to the bedroom. Or boudoir. There were spells over every piece of artwork, including the carpets.

    And Harry didn’t have too much time - Ron wouldn’t be able to fool Bey for much longer. He had to think. Bey wouldn’t want to go to too much trouble to enter his vault. Wherever the entrance was hidden, it couldn’t be too inconvenient. And he would want it to be impressive, even though he likely wouldn’t show it to anyone. But he’d imagine showing off.

    Trapdoor under the carpets? No. Harry looked at the statue of Priapus. No. Yes. He took a closer look. There were too many spells on the shrine to merely preserve it. He quickly looked the spells over. There were several curses on it, linked to… Ah!

    Harry smiled. He had seen similar arrays before, in Roman tombs in Egypt. Not with that particular god, though. But the principles were the same. And Bey didn’t seem to have changed the spells on the shrine.

    Another explosion slightly shook the walls, and Harry frowned - that hadn’t been a firework. But his pin didn’t vibrate, so Ron didn’t need help. Or was beyond help, Harry thought, then shook his head. He had his task to complete.

    A flick of his wand and a few adjustments later, and the statue moved, stepping to the side and opening a door in the wall, revealing a narrow staircase that wound down to the basement.

    Perfect. Despite hearing another explosion, and some shouting, Harry resisted the urge to hurry down the stairs. Such impulses got Curse-Breakers killed. Instead, he conjured another pig and sent it down the stairs before following it. The pig stumbled several times but wasn’t killed, if the noises it made were any indication, and Harry found it at the bottom, sniffing at another door.

    He vanished it, then took a look at the door and winced. Those were serious spells. And modern ones, not old spells that had grown powerful with age, but were relatively simple in design.

    Bey must have hired a specialised Curse-Breaker to protect the vault.

    There was no choice. Harry touched the pin on his collar and said: “I need at least an hour to get into the vault.”

    “We don’t have an hour,” Ron replied, before yelling: “Stop trying to vanish the olives, you’re triggering more curses! I’m a professional, let me work!”

    Harry had expected that. “Time for plan B then,” he said. Ron wasn’t the only one who had relatives with interesting things.

    *****​

    Ron Weasley didn’t have to fake his distress any more after hearing Harry’s announcement. Plan B! Ron clenched his teeth and dashed, or, rather, waded, towards Bey, the olives parting around his Shield Charm. “Watch out!” he bellowed. “Get out! Get out!”

    “What?” Bey, protected by a Shield Charm of his own and standing behind his guards, stared at Ron. “What did you do now?” he screamed. “Stop this curse! This is all your fault!”

    “I can’t!” Ron yelled as one of the guards moved to block his path. “Get out of the way! It’s going to blow!”

    “What?” Bey screeched louder than Mum after discovering Ron and Ginny’s night training sessions with the family brooms.

    Then Harry’s bomb went off, and the entire palace shook so much that Bey and his guards were thrown to the floor - and promptly buried under olives - as Ron struggled to keep his balance.

    He lost the struggle when the floor suddenly tilted, and he and everyone else started to slide towards a growing hole in the interior wall from which a thick cloud of smoke rose. Harry must have overdone it again with the explosives.

    Ron cast a Sticking Charm on his clothes to keep himself from sliding further, but couldn’t conjure a wall or net in time before Bey and his guards had followed the olives down the hole. “Harry, Bey and two guards fell down into the basement!” he snapped at the pin in his collar.

    “I noticed!” Harry replied.

    Through the smoke, Ron saw red flashes below him. “Do you need help?” he asked as he dispelled the Sticking Charm and started to carefully climb towards the open door and the horizontal floor of the hallway behind it.

    “I’ve got it handled!” Harry said. “No sweat...Oh.”

    That didn’t sound good. “Oh?”

    A deafening roar sounded, and the palace shook once more. Ron really hoped that the spells on the walls were as good as those on the rebuilt Burrow.

    “Harry?” he yelled.

    More explosions followed. More roars.

    “Harry?” Hermione sounded even more concerned.

    “Chimaera! Bey has a Chimaera guarding his vault!” Harry yelled.

    “What? That’s impossible!” Hermione yelled back. “They are too dangerous to be tamed!”

    “It doesn’t look tamed to me at all!” Harry yelled in reply.

    Ron saw Harry dash through the door leading to Bey’s bedroom. “Run!” he yelled.

    A moment later, a giant lion’s head broke the door frame and roared.

    Ron conjured a wall behind Harry, then another one.

    “Run!” Harry repeated. “I tried that already!”

    A scaled tail smashed both walls into rubble. Ron turned and ran after Harry.

    “We’ll split up!” Harry yelled. “The one who doesn’t get chased goes back and gets into the vault!”

    “We’re still stuck in the harem!” Hermione’s voice warned them from the pin. “There are too many spells to crack quickly.”

    “I’ve got a plan!” Harry yelled, turning a corner. “We need to lure it away first, though!”

    “What?”

    “Just hold out! I’m nearly through the outer wards!” Lockhart’s voice cut in.

    Ron had almost forgotten that the author was still lurking outside.

    “We don’t have time to wait for you!” Harry replied, turning the next corner. Ron was right behind him. Unfortunately, so was the Chimaera. A dozen conjured caltrops didn’t slow it down either - but seemed to make it even angrier. Fortunately, breaking through door frames too narrow to pass through did slow the monster down. Long enough for Harry and Ron to keep out of reach.

    But Harry was leading them into the garden, where the monster’s large size wouldn’t be impeded any more! Ron conjured another wall, followed by more caltrops - larger ones - then followed Harry outside, already pulling out his shrunken broom.

    “I’ll lead it through the harem’s door!” Harry announced, mounting his broom. “Get behind it and to the vault!”

    Ron didn’t reply - he was too busy unshrinking his broom and mounting it before the Chimaera reached him. Another wall, conjured by Harry, slowed it down for a second or two - just enough for Ron to gain enough altitude to avoid the monster when it charged him.

    He felt the hot breath of the creature on his face as it barely missed him with its gaping maw before skidding through the garden and crashing into the walls of the harem.

    Ron could hear shrieking inside the harem. “Bad plan!” he yelled.

    “Yes, lead it away, not to us!” Hermione agreed. Loudly.

    “Alright!” Harry flew a little lower and hit the monster with a volley of Piercing Curses that didn’t seem to be doing anything to the beast’s thick hide but making it madder.

    Growling, the Chimaera dug its hooves into the torn lawn, then propelled itself forward into a running leap - towards Ron!

    Gasping, he did the only thing he could - and dived towards the ground, rolling as he passed underneath the massive body. One flailing hoof hit his Shield Charm and slammed him to the side, almost pushing him off his broom and into the wall of the palace. He managed to roll again, hitting the wall with his boots first, then pushed off and rose.

    Once more, the beast leapt, its massive jaws snapping shut so close behind Ron, it caught a few of his broom’s bristles.

    “Keep it busy! I’m going to get the ring!” He heard Harry yell.

    “Keep it away from the harem!” Hermione chimed in.

    “Keep safe!” Ari added.

    “Don’t you dare get killed before I get out of here!”

    He winced at Tahira’s rather ominous words as he pulled around, trying to lead the monster away from the harem and from Harry. A glance over his shoulder showed that he was succeeding - the Chimaera had jumped on the flat roof and was chasing after him, leaving a trail of broken, shattered stone plates.

    He tensed as the monster sped up, gripping his broom shaft tightly. Almost… almost… It jumped, and Ron pulled hard to the left. The monster flew past him, straight towards one of the roof’s domes. But its long, scaled tail wrapped around him, Shield Charm and all, and Ron was pulled along.

    The dome shattered under the impact of the massive creature, throwing up a cloud of dust. Ron’s Shield Charm shattered under the impact as well. Fortunately, he was thrown clear of the beast’s tail and slid several yards over the stone roof before slamming into a broken piece of the dome.

    He rolled on his stomach and jumped up despite the pain that caused his ribs and stuck his wand out. “Accio broom!”

    His broom shot towards him, landing in his hand. A moment later, he was mounted again, grunting at the pain that caused, and shot back up into the air. “Why are you chasing me?” he yelled in frustration as he recast his Shield Charm.

    “It’s supposed to!” he heard Harry through the pin. “Keep it busy!”

    “That was rhetorical!” Ron snapped back. The bloody beast was digging itself out of the rubble and looking even madder than before. How could anyone sane… “Harry! Search Bey for something that can control the beast!”

    “After I get the ring!” Harry replied.

    “I’m almost through the wards!” Lockhart chimed in again. “Hold on!”

    Ron saw guards appear on the ground, take one look at the beast and flee. That was smart of them. But the Chimaera had seen them anyway and turned. Ron clenched his teeth. As much as he was tempted to do so, he couldn’t let the beast run loose. He dived and cast two Piercing Curses at the monster.

    That caught its attention again, and it whirled round, its tail slashing through the air, narrowly missing him once more. Just as he had wanted - but why hadn’t it worked for Harry before? He jinked, leading the beast back to the broken dome, then had to dive and roll and pull left when it suddenly jumped off the roof and at him. But this time, the monster’s tail slapped him down, right into the torn ground.

    His Shield Charm saved his life once more, absorbing most of the impact. He still felt as if someone had driven daggers into his chest as he smashed into the earth. And in the time it took for him to recover his wand and push himself up, the beast had turned around, wrecking another part of the wall next to it with its tail.

    It brought down its front hoof on Ron’s broom, breaking it in half, then growled at Ron.

    He saw the hooves dig into the soil, saw the tail twitch - the Chimaera would pounce in the next moment.

    Then another roar sounded from his left - where the tail had broken the harem walls, Ron realised. The Chimaera jerked its head to the side, and a moment later, a jaguar landed between Ron and the monster, hissing and roaring.

    The monster roared in response but didn’t attack, not yet at least. Ron slowly got up. Why did it want him so badly? He hadn’t done anything to it that Harry hadn’t done, and Harry had been the one to break into the vault. What made the diff…

    Ron hurriedly pulled off his bright blue overcoat and banished it to the side. A moment later, the creature pounced, its tail stabbing into the fabric before it landed on the coat and shredded it with its maw.

    He had almost gotten killed because of his disguise as a mercenary from the New World. “Let’s get away,” he whispered.

    But before he had taken more than a step, the Chimaera raised its huge head again and sniffed the air - then the shreds on the ground. Then it stared at Ron and growled.

    “My scent…” Ron muttered a curse as Ari moved to put herself between him and the monster.

    “Ron!” he heard Hermione yell behind him. “Dear Lord!”

    “What did you do to the Chimaera?” Tahira asked, as if he had done anything to the monster.

    The monster dug its hooves into the ground. Ron licked his lips. If he dodged and cast a Shield Charm…

    The beast opened its maw, hissing. And its tail twitched again. “Now would be a very good time to get whatever Bey used to control it, Harry,” Ron mumbled.

    “He’s got nothing on him!” Harry replied.

    Suddenly, something flew towards the monster from above. The Chimaera whipped its head around and snapped it out of the air, then bit down and swallowed - only to cough and shake its head wildly before collapsing on the ground.

    “Concentrated Lion’s Bane hidden in a piece of meat!”

    Ron looked up and saw Lockhart fading into view as he ended his Disillusionment Charm. The man was smiling brightly, sitting on his broom. “Guaranteed to take out any feline. I learned the recipe in India and always keep a flask on me.” He flashed his far too wide smile. “It’s a good thing you took my advice and held out until I arrived!”

    He landed and dismounted without breaking stride, walking towards the breach in the harem’s walls. “Miss Ainsworth-Aitkens, I presume. I am here to rescue and bring you back to your family.”

    The girl standing behind Hermione looked shocked as she nodded.

    “And you must be Princess Tahira of the Jinn.” Lockhart bowed and beamed at her.

    “Yes, that’s me.” Was Tahira blushing?

    “I’m Lockhart. Gilderoy Lockhart. You might have heard of me,” the man went on. “As soon as I heard of your plight, I knew that I had to save you as well.”

    “Thank you.” Yes, Tahira was blushing.

    And Ron fought the urge to laugh when he realised that Lockhart had no idea about the trouble in which he had just landed himself.

    *****​
     
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  30. TheEyes

    TheEyes I trust you know where the happy button is?

    Joined:
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    ...poor ...Lockhart?

    I am rather hoping to see Lockhart get his just desserts; he's been pulling a karma Houdini far too long in this fic so far.
     
    RedX and Starfox5 like this.
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