August 2: Tome Raiders Who: Fabian and Gideon Prewett and Lily Potter What: Creating Alkahest to melt horcruxes When: bog knows August 2nd Where: Cor Tewdws Warnings: Alchemy? Improper invocations of bog? Otherwise, probably not.
Gideon checked the wards again and looked at the makeshift safehouse. If he was Lily, he wouldn't be very happy here either. It was safe, but that was the nicest thing anyone ever said about the safehouse.
"Once Merc and the lads get us this dragon fire in a box, we're not really where we need to be, or maybe we're not. McGonagall's book says 'Basilisk Venom or something stronger.', and well, that's not dragonfire, at least not what we're getting. If it was strong enough, we could capture it.
He paused. "We need something stronger. Like condensed dragonfire, or something. Any idea how to do that?"
"We don't know what strong means, in this context," Lily pointed out, though more just in the spirit of completeness, because nothing she'd been reading gave her the feeling it was going to be that easy either. Her smile--tight and resigned--acknowledged that. "But I don't think it's going to work either. Not sure I know how to condense flame, it's not like it can be distilled, or we can just turn up the gas. Usually flame is what you use to get at the essence of something, unless--"
She stopped dead, words stopped and hands pausing in their in-the-process-of-thinking gestures. Lily blinked. "Merlin on a stick. Maybe I do have an idea how to do that. Except it's a myth. Have you ever heard of alkahest?"
"Only when quite drunk, I assume." He thought for a moment. "Nope, nothing. But we're myths to most muggles, so let's not give this one a myth just yet."
Lily's train of thought suffered a noticeable pause, and she gave Gideon a sidelong look before getting back underway. "Alkahest is a theoretical solution--or salt, or elixir, or something--that can dissolve anything. Anything at all." She gave a little tilt of her head, as though to mark off the reason for believing it might be useful in destroying horcruxes. "Except potioneers and alchemists have been debating its composition and creation for literally millenia now, and no one's ever managed to make it. Not even Flamel. Which may be partly because no one's ever managed to get dragonfire in a box before now."
"Dragonfire is probably harder to work into a potion if you don't have a cooperative dragon. But given that we have a plan to get some dragonfire into a box, it sounds like just the thing," replied Gideon. "You can be the famous discoverer of the Alkahest, after this is all over and you publish it. I'm sure Mister Lovegood would be happy to host your write up of it. What else do you need, oh future famous potioneer?"
Lily didn't look like a soon-to-be-famous potioneer. She looked a bit dubious. "A single clue as to which of the thousand years-worth of possible recipes is most accurate would be good. Or, y'know, six months in a well-stocked workroom to trial-and-error my way to said clue." It wasn't like she had anything else to do with her time, but... "Even then, I don't know if I could do it by myself."
Gideon shrugged. "So, you need clues, time, a work-room, Old Nick Flamel, and the box-full of dragon-fire. I think I can manage three of those." He pauses, considering. "Want to see a brilliant workshop?"
Lily had already mentally wandered into consideration of the infinite contradictory permutations of alkahest, but that got her full attention. "Yes," she said, the of course going unspoken. The limits of what she could brew up in the laundry in this place were just one more irritant right now. "Harry love," she called, heading over to where the baby was playing on his mat, stacking--and occasionally chewing on--drink coasters. He flailed as Lily picked him up, and she paused to let him grab a couple of them. "Shall we go on an adventure?"
"Bunt," Harry declared.
"Yes," Lily said without pause. "Bunty as well." And she grabbed a colourful, if somewhat well-loved, stuffed toy parrot from the couch before she turned back to Gideon. "All right then."
Gideon stepped over to the three of them, "Hullo Bunty," he said to the parrot, "hold on to your crackers." He slipped his free arm around Lily's waist on the side away from the toddler and cast the disapparate spell, only wondering at the last moment if Harry had ever apparated before or if they were all going to be wearing his lunch in a moment.
Harry pulled in a deep and indignant breath, which fortunately took long enough--and they'd had enough experience with this--that Lily could boop him on the nose with Bunty the parrot, and ambush the apparition-disoriented tantrum with giggles instead. That, in turn, gave her a chance to look around where they'd popped up.
The group re-appeared with a pop outside of Cor Tewdws. It didn't look any different from any other part of the south of Wales, or England for that matter. The only clue that it was special was that it was so isolated and the forest so untouched. "Place your feet where I put my feet. It's an invisible fence-maze."
"It's a game," Lily told Harry, taking one last look around the forest. It was very peaceful--far more so than the little copse of trees out back of their current house. "Mummy needs to follow Uncle Gideon. Can you help? Hold on tight to Bunty." It was not a game, of course, but the idea kept Harry happy and let Lily concentrate on following precisely.
Gideon took the final turn through the incorporeal barrier and stepped aside. If Lily was anything like Fabian and himself, she'd need a moment to take it all in. One moment she was in a damp Welsh forest, and the next she was on the campus green of a university that was ancient when Hogwarts was founded and abandoned almost as long ago as that.
Harry noticed the change first, unconcerned with anything more important than fitting Bunty's wing in his mouth. "Kass," he said, and when Lily finally managed to look up, she thought faintly that perhaps castle wasn't too far off the money, but not quite adequate for the extent of the sudden ordered buildings around them. Lily turned, wide-eyed. "This is... What is this?" Harry wriggled in her arms, keen to investigate the grass-stain potential, but Lily held onto him, at least until she knew a little bit more about where--when?--they were.
"It's Cor Tewdws," Fabian said. He was lounging in the door of one of the buildings, clearly waiting for the pair of them. "The ancient school that preceded Hogwarts. This is where wizards went to school with Muggles, and the bard Taliesin and St Patrick of Ireland were trained. It's been my obsession since I was a child, and we found it, and you're the first person here who isn't us. Welcome to Cor, Lily. And Harry, too."
"Word is going to get out, eventually, but we intend to control it and make sure it's not destroyed by people rushing in to take souvenirs. It's pretty much as they left it. We found dormitories and flats, communal kitchens, gardens, classrooms, labs, the laundry, the library, and yes, workrooms.
Gideon paused, then plunged ahead. "It's weird. The first elf we met, he spoke modern English with no accent at all. Since then, nothing. He doesn't come back, the others don't speak to us. They keep the place clean and operating, but we don't hear a word. I think we may know what our ancestors a thousand years ago had for breakfast, because they serve it every morning, or have since we got here." Gideon looked over at Fabian. "It's dizzying, and we have barely scratched the surface."
Lily stared wide-eyed--at Fabian, and their surroundings, at Gideon. "This is what you were doing in Wales. Camping." Which is what she was sure they'd called it, though she hadn't been paying as close attention as she might have been, given everything else that had been going on.
"Probably technically glamping, but yeah," Gideon said.
"Yes," Lily added, though not to the grown-ups, "yes all right, here you go." And she set Harry down; he started grabbing gleeful handfuls of grass. "Why is it empty?" Lily asked, looking around at the buildings. "What happened to everyone?"
"The school was closed for reasons of Muggle politics before Hogwarts opened. Personally it's my theory that it was why Hogwarts opened. The closure, that is," Fabian explained. "And it was left like this with the plan that it would re-open before too long. A few years, maybe a couple of decades. But that didn't happen and here we are. The place seems to be self-supporting in terms of food supply but it's not fancy."
Fabian came to join Harry on the grass and sat down with him, ignoring the fact that he was in clothes that might be stained. As he wove a grass charm for Harry, he continued: "My theory about the elves is that the bloke we saw the first day was actually a ghost or bound to life by an oath to defend the place until the bones of his master were laid to rest, which we did. Now his descendants and those of the elves who were there at the time run the place. My bet is they speak old Welsh and old English and maybe a bit of Latin and they don't really understand us either. But that's what a couple of generations of isolation will do."
Gideon nodded. "That's just one of many mysteries around this place. This is why I'm willing to consider that we could do something impossible. We already did. What do you want to see first?"
All of it.. But they were hardly here for idle sightseeing, and Lily hauled herself back to the point. "The alchemy lab, I suppose, is what's most pertinent. Though... you mentioned a library? Is it stocked? It can hardly be up to date. Though..." She trailed off. Though a library that remained as it had been a thousand-odd years ago might have its own hidden gems. If she could even read them.
"They're not that far. Tewdws is welsh for Flavius Theodosius Augustus, so this has apparently always been a mixed latin/native university." Gideon tried not to grin. Theodosius was a notorious suppressor of native cultures, and his university was a historic supporter of them. He'd've hated the place. "The books are all in Latin, at least the ones I've seen, and the buildings have latin and ogham names on them. Luckily for us, we had to learn Latin for the law.
"We'll have to see about stocking anything you don't have. I get the feeling we could ask for it, if only we could talk to the proprietors of the shop."
Fabian, meanwhile, was still playing with the grass with Harry. He looked up from his charmwork to ask Gideon: "Do you need me along for the tour or do you have it? I can keep an eye on young Master Potter and Bunty," he added for Lily's benefit.
"That would be marvellous, if you could." Lily had no qualms at all about leaving Harry in the care of such an experienced uncle, and she had a feeling there would be plenty to distract her in this place. But a frown still creased her brow. "I know barely enough Latin to find the sorts of books that might be useful, but even if I could read or translate them there will be... well, potions haven't remained constant in a thousand years any more than any other sort of magic. Not to mention changes to ingredients."
Gideon lead the way towards the library. They really didn't know much yet about how this place worked, but the building with all the books had an obvious role. He wasn't 100% sure, but one of the rooms seemed to be dedicated to converting scrolls to codex format, which means there were probably still Roman documents in the stacks. "Well, the modern books don't know how to brew al'Qahest either, so maybe we'll be lucky." He grinned. "We just have to find the right librarian. Or card catalog, which I imagine they don't have."
The building was well lit, and even had skylights. The foyer had huge marble statues of Roman and Celtic magical creatures, painted in a riot of color. "The elves have to be repainting those," Gideon said as they entered. "There's books in every direction, and of every type. We might want to look for a good table to set up Lily's Library Project on."
"Bloody hell," Lily muttered, as the library loomed around them; she felt that little thrum of... she'd never been sure what, but it had fluttered at her every time she walked into the Hogwarts library as well. Panic, or despair, or just resignation that she was going to be spending longer than she should trying to wring sense out of books when it would take her a fraction of the time if she could just try it out and perhaps get some helpful pointers.
Of course, when it came to potions, the person who'd always given the most helpful pointers, who'd known just how to take what the book said and make it make sense to Lily, was--
--not available for this project, don't bother thinking about it. It was fine. She'd got through NEWTs without Severus Snape, she could get through this too.
"All right," she said, more firmly, trying to wrangle what she knew into a useful thing to start looking for. Potioncraft of the first millenium. Wisdom that avoided Diocletian's heavy hand. Or, of course... "Dagda and his cauldron might be a place to start." Lily considered. "Or anything related to the sidhs."
"You know who I wish we could get here to help? Cuthbert Binns. He'd have this library under his ectoplasmic thumb in no time. We used to speculate that he just kept teaching to empty classrooms in the summer, and that if you managed to attend, you'd learn the secret history of either the past or the future." Gideon sighed. "As it is, how we find books about Dadga is -- wait, a moment, did something move?"
Something certainly did, a flit between the shelves that whipped out into open space and revealed itself to be a trio of books, flapping like birds as they whisked nearer, only to flip over in the air and drop themselves daintily into Lily's hastily outstretched arms. She coughed a little in the dust of their arrival, and craned to see the spine of the topmost, for all the good it did her; her guess would be that it was in some sort of Gaelic. But she could at least make out An Dagda, and blinked. "This library may actually be run by Siri. Um." She looked up again, into the big space of the library, uncertain who or what or how to address this. She'd never got the hang of house-elves either. "Do you have anything on alkahest? Or ignus aqua, I suppose? Or it might be--oh dear." For there was something of a fluttering arising in the stacks. Perhaps the library had still been working on her previous requests as well.
Books on sidhs arrived next, and Gideon laughed and caught them. "I hope we can read them," he said, putting them on their designated study table. "And I definitely like the invisible librarian scheme. In retrospect, I'm not surprised. Books want to be read and magic books more than others. These books have a lot of pent up readability."
He found a history to read while Lily looked at her texts on potions of the prior milenium. They each had challenges--Lily's books were written when alchemists used coded language to hide their meanings and even Gideon's history books were written in Half-Wizuncial or Welsh Magiscule. Even then Old Latin was different from modern Latin. At least, Gideon thought, Old Latin was closer to the language of spellcraft, so he knew how to pronounce it. He glanced at his fellow student of ancient books.
Lily had five different books open and overlapping each other, and a sheet of parchment laid out over them with notes scratching over it. "That can't be the same thing," she grumbled, and slumped back in her chair, rubbing at the frown creasing her forehead and leaving a smear of ink. "This is even more of a mess than I thought, which I guess makes sense or everyone would be--" She stopped abruptly and blinked. "How long have we been at this?" She was sure Fabian would have come and found them if Harry had been in need, but still.
"Libraries always seem timeless to me", Gideon responded, looking at his watch. It had been his grandfather's, and only the fact that he was a wizard had kept it working and not lost for the last thirty years. "But it's been a couple of hours. Anything useful?"
Lily dragged a hand through her hair and surveyed the academic landscape with something like helplessness. "Yes," she said, in a tone that seemed more like no. "There are at least three solid pointers on what we're after, but there are also a dozen less-solid ones and I'm not actually sure which are which without either reading a lot more or running some experiments, possibly both, and neither of which we really have time for. And that's just to get started, some of the ingredient notation in these is just downright cryptic, not to mention possibly allegorical." She sighed, and added wistfully, "If only..."
She trailed off, staring into space, and then looked around the library, frowning more thoughtfully, before turning back to Gideon. "If only," she repeated, quite serious now, "I were able to work with Severus Snape on this."
Gideon tried to recall the name, but he wasn't getting anywhere with it. "Was he a professional mentor of yours? We really don't want to open this up to too many people, but maybe we could put him under some sort of binding oath. You're part of the Order, but other people knowing about this is a risk." He looked over the stack of books at the frowning potioneer. "Let's talk to Fabian, see what he thinks."
Lily opened her mouth to press, but then nodded, and stood. She looked over the spread of books, and then up at the library around them, saying, "It would be lovely if these could be left undisturbed, but I understand if you need to tidy up."
As they headed out of the library, she returned to the topic. "Severus isn't a mentor, he's a peer. We were students together, and he's a brilliant potioneer. He has both discipline and creativity, which is quite unusual, but in this case I think it's his interpretive ingredient lore that will really--" She cut herself off sharply, recognising that she was avoiding the significant point. "He is also, quite probably, a Death Eater. Though in the circumstances, I don't know... well. I just don't know."
"We'll definitely need to talk to Fabian, at the very least," Gideon seemed more disinclined than before. Especially after Peter, it seemed unwise to give away their new secret.
They stepped outside, and Lily shielded her eyes against the sudden sunlight, scanning the lawn. Fabian--and Harry--didn't seem to be there. Lily swallowed down the sudden leap of panic. It had been hours. "Might they have gone for something to eat?"
Gideon shrugged, pulled out his wand. "I'm glad Fabian is with Harry. It'll make this spell work better. Gideon waved his wand and incanted "Homenum revelio", and gestured towards a building with an arrow hovering near the door. "I think that's a dormitory. They're probably having a nap."
Lily fished out her phone--shoving her folded page of notes into the pocket instead--to check the time. "Oh, even better. That would tide Harry over until bedtime. Can't speak for your brother, of course; does he get cranky without his afternoon sleep?" She gave Gideon a grin, and set off for the indicated building with sprightly step. She trusted Fabian, but she was keen to check on Harry, and eager to get his thoughts on including Severus. Lily wasn't blind to the difficulties, but if they could be dealt with, the benefits would be significant.
Gideon followed her. "He's a solicitor. He just sleeps in court."
The building was a dormitory and Fabian was in the chapel, lying on a pew that he'd made into a makeshift bed. Harry lay sprawled across his chest. "He likes story time with Uncle Fabian, but he falls asleep a little faster than ickle Ronnikins. How's it going?"
Gideon seems relieved to see the two of them."Vampires fall asleep faster than ickle Ronnikins. We have succeeded and not succeeded, in that we've gotten books that are of interest, but haven't cracked them like an erumpet stepping on a walnut. Have you heard of a potioneer named Sev Snape? Younger than us, apparently."
"Snape? Name sounds familiar, but I don't remember where from." Fabian frowned as he tried to place it, scrambling into an upright position as best he could without disturbing Harry, with the idea of handing the baby off to his mother. By the time he was properly bum-in-seat, he'd come up with something: "Wasn't that the name of the bloke Eileen Prince was disowned over when we were kids?"
It broke Lily's heart a little, that with absolutely no malice at all, Severus's entire life could be brought back to that one tragic circumstance, and all the tangled complications of it. But she swallowed all of that, and merely said, "Yes. Tobias Snape. Severus is their son. And he is--was--is my friend." She cuddled up her own son--who grizzled but didn't really wake--and moved on to: "You may also have heard his name from Sirius or one of the others. They have been known to speak of him none too kindly. He has been known to deserve it."
Gideon didn't keep up with Marauder feuds. "More to the point, Lily mentioned that he might be able to help and also that he might be a Death Eater."
Fabian gave his twin a very pointed look that suggested there was going to be a conversation later about this question. "No offence, but I don't actually pay that much attention to your peers' school grudges. Tell me what you're thinking and what he's got that makes opening an operation to him worthwhile. I can bind him if we need to, and if he'll take it, but competing oaths can get messy so he may not agree to it."
"I think he may," Lily said, consideringly, "if we present the opportunity in the right way. But I certainly understand the problems, and I don't suggest this lightly. I'm sure that eventually I could figure out something that will dissolve a Horcrux, especially with this trove of information at my disposal, but eventually might be... well, might be longer than is useful. Any additional potioneer working on the matter would be helpful, but there will be issues of trust and secrecy whoever we get involved, and I know Severus. We worked together on potions for years. Even after we stopped studying together, I still found myself thinking of what he'd do when I got stuck. We complement each other. And--" She hesitated on the last thing, the thing of which she was not particularly proud, but which she thought was still important. "And, knowing him, I think I'd be more able to see if he were being at all duplicitous than some other potioneer I don't know from Adam."
Gideon thought, trying to see if he could balance the two competing urges. "On the one hand, this is absolutely a source of advantage for bringing the war to an end, and we don't want it compromised to the enemy. On the other hand, it's not very useful if we can't actually make use of it.
"I think we'd need to go a bit slow, before we brought him in all the way. If he'd like to be the co-rediscoverer, with you, of the Al-qahest, we can use his help, but we'd need him to agree to terms. We can show him lost magical books that are a thousand years old.
"That might even be the way to approach him. Tell him what you're working on, tell him you have access to a secret library of ancient magical books, and ask him what books you should be reading to solve that problem. Then we can show him some books, like bait for a scholar."
"If he's as quick as you say, then he'll probably know both what we're doing and maybe what we've found. Then we can see how much he wants to commit."
"I had thought to start by merely asking for his help," Lily commented, with the corner of a smile, "but I'm sure you're quite right, about all of it." She was quite sure Severus would indeed find the problem--and the possibility--as fascinating as she did herself. And though she didn't want to trap him into this like some sort of con, offering a chance to work on something fascinating, something that might potentially make his name... well, it was a long way from kidnapping and blackmail. There was no need to feel squeamish about it. Still, she found herself thinking through it again, double-checking nervously. But the bottom line, which she admitted with a sigh, was, "It can hardly be news to any of that lot what we're trying to do, can it? Not after Peter."
"They know," Fabian agreed: the first time he'd said anything since the conversation had taken this turn.
Gideon snorted. "I'm not sure I'm quite right about any of it, but I appreciate the vote of confidence. He's your friend, and you know him and I don't. I can throw out ideas, but in the end, you'll be the one talking to the Death Eater. It's not the easiest job in the Order. I can try to keep you and the Order and our secrets safe, but you've got to talk to someone who pledged loyalty to the group that has targeted you twice for death. Not many wizards or witches live through one such attack, much less two.
He looked around at the dormitory chapel, with rich hangings on every wall and painted marble statues of saints and angels almost haphazardly placed throughout the chapel. He'd known that magic used to be tied very closely to religion, but it wasn't what he was used to at all. "This place is only known to six of us, all Order folk, and one of us can't speak. It came after … all that. So it's a source of knowledge, and safety, and who knows what else. It might be that if we found the right room, we'd find that the house-elves had been keeping the Thirteen Treasures of Britain shiny for a thousand years." He paused. "The last thing we want is to have the tables turned and whatever advantage this place offers be used against us.
"So we're cautious. But we came to you for your expertise, and if that leads to your friend Severus, we want the Alkahest." Gideon looked to his brother.
"It would be very advantageous for us to have that resource." Fabian thought about it. "I might be able to look into Snape's reliability and suitability for this work. Through my own sources." He gave Gideon, who knew what sources he meant, another meaningful look.
Gideon nodded. He would've asked if Fabian hadn't suggested it.
"I think it's our best shot, but I don't want to risk giving those bastards anything we don't need to. And I--well." Lily smiled, brief and brittle. "I trusted Peter. So I welcome a thorough vetting on this. Let me know what comes up. I'm happy to play my part." Rocking Harry absently, she glanced back toward the library they'd just left. "Do you think the mystical forces of literacy would let me take a book or two home in the meantime, for further consideration? I might as well keep working. Maybe I'll stumble on something that nullifies the question."
Gideon nodded. "Fabian Prewett, as Interim Dean of Cor Tewdws, I hereby appoint you Acting Head Librarian. Please extend checkout privileges to Goodwitch Potter." He turned to Lily. "We might as well tell it we're doing things correctly."
Fabian had brought a valise with him; he opened it up to fetch out an empty ledger. "I had other plans for this but it'll do. This is now the official book for checking things out of the library. Pick one or two, write them down in the ledger and we'll call it a two-week checkout period? We can re-convene then and I can extend the due date or bring them back or something." He offered quill and ledger to Lily.
"You're not nearly suspicious and disapproving enough to be a librarian," Lily told Fabian, even as she settled Harry into his sling on her front. "You need to work on that."
Harry grizzled, but settled down against her collarbone, and Lily managed to address the ledger around her familiar burden. She jotted down the two titles she'd been frustratingly attempting to cross-reference before she and Gideon had left the library. Might as well continue with that. She signed against the entries, taking on the responsibility, and handed the ledger back. But barely had she said, "I suppose I should go and get--" when there came a flutter as of wings--or, more accurately--pages behind them, and Lily turned to see the books winging their independent way to her.
Lily held out her arms carefully to catch the books without waking Harry, and gave a crooked smile. "Gentlemen," she said, turning a glance on the pair of them, "you do take a girl to the most interesting places."