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Chapter 49 : Carpathian Mountains, Late January 1982
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In late December, she had left England and joined the Foreign Relief Healer Program, giving her help to those in the remotest villages of Transylvania. Most in the Wizarding world chose to stay away from this area due to unfounded stories of an abundance of Dark creatures—she had yet to meet a Rusalka or a vampire on any of her journeys. When will people see how ridiculous their prejudices are, she thought, this land is absolutely beautiful—well, except for this snow .
Frowning, she realized that the snow was not from the trees, but from the sky. It seemed that with each mile, the snow fell with greater intensity, and her apprehension about her riding ability increased. We’re almost there, she thought, patting the side of her horse’s neck. It was dangerous, and in this weather impossible, to Apparate in this area. The howling of the ghostly wind frightened her and her horse, and for a brief moment, she lost control of him. She struggled to regain control of her horse, but to no avail—the horse threw her from the saddle onto the powdery drifts below. Landing with her arms to brace herself, the snow stung her hands and wrists—this pleasant snow had now become a menace. She murderously glared at her horse, which was looking ahead in the road as if nothing happened. With awkward movements, Althea raised herself out of the snow, and lumbered back toward her waiting horse.
“Bugger all,” Althea murmured as she ascended her horse. “You don’t care about this bloody snow, do you, now?” she sneered as she encouraged her horse forward.
How much longer until I reach this cottage, she thought, peering into the darkness. Taking out her wand, she held it out before her and frowned at what she saw. Large piles of snow, rocks, and broken trees blocked the road—an avalanche had occurred.
“Damn it!” she growled, rubbing her cold forehead.
There was no way she could travel around the blocked pass—on either side of her were thick groves of trees and cliffs unsteady for climbing—she had to turn back. Reluctantly, she turned her horse around to return to her village. She thought of flying, but it was too dangerous in this weather—too easy to be thrown off course. She had to return to her village or settle somewhere to wait out the storm. The storm picked up with intensity, and it amazed her that she had not seen a cottage or an inn where she could ask to stay the night. Surely, someone must have a home or an inn on this lonely road, but nothing was there as she looked with tired eyes down the never-ending path. The snow became so treacherous that she could not go on. Her aching body coaxed her to stop, but her tiring mind reminded her that if she stopped it would be death. But would not death be better, she thought, slowly losing grip of the rein. Death would be better, for the adoption of Prudence was fresh in her memory. She truly had nothing to live for and each child she tended to had reminded her of Prudence. She would be in her third month now, probably napping in her cot or nursing on the bottle Mrs. Parker had prepared for her. Althea wondered, would Prudence remember her at all? Would she know something was wrong—that Mrs. Parker was not her mother? She hardly had time with Prudence; of course, Prudence would not remember Althea as her mother. However, deeply she wished it; that she had left some tangible memory of herself in her daughter’s memory. I abandoned her just like my mother, she thought, except I’m still alive.
Suddenly she heard a painful howling noise, which immediately brought her to attention, but it did not sound like the ghostly, sorrowful, howling wind she was accustomed to in this mountainous area. This howl was more human than animal. What was that noise, she thought, as she sat up higher in the saddle, scanning the darkness with her wand. A rush of what seemed like wind came down upon her and knocked her off her horse and unto to the snowy ground. Dazed, she looked up to see what had happened, but all she saw were shadows, then something thick and heavy come toward her. Althea lay still against the snow—her head dizzy and her body unable to move.
Althea woke, but refused to open her eyes. Wherever she was, it was warm, and for a moment, she wondered if she were dead, but heard the crackling of a fire to her left and realized she was alive. Damn it, if only I’d been left to die, she thought, inhaling deeply the strange spicy smells and the smell of tanned animal skins that filled the room. As she opened her eyes, she realized she was probably safe, but sore, and in some sort of hut. Wild animal skins and richly colored fabrics hung from the wooden, mud-covered walls. Althea turned her eyes to her left and noticed a brown-haired woman sitting next to her, holding a bowl of water and a cloth. She was middle-aged, with thin lines around her mouth and eyes. She was dressed in a thickly woven woolen tunic with various symbols embroidered around the collar and wrists.
“Drink,” she spoke, raising the damp cloth to Althea’s lips.
Althea turned her head and refused the cloth. “You should have let me die,” she said in a frail voice that frightened her.
“No,” she whispered, bringing the damp cloth to her lips.
Althea shifted, trying not to drink the water from the cloth, but she shuddered from the surging pain she felt throughout her body. Reluctantly, she sucked on the cloth—the cool water felt good against her dry, cracked lips. The woman brought the bowl to Althea’s lips and she greedily drank the water. She let out a cough and wiped her chapped lips with her forearm. Covering her face with her hands, she gingerly moved her fingers over the bandage that covered her head, and a torrent of pain shot through her skull. She winced at the searing pain, and the woman pulled Althea’s hands away from her face.
“Don’t try to move,” the woman said, and reached for a bowl of something that looked like porridge. “Eat this.”
Althea did not take her eyes off the woman as she opened her mouth to take in the grey porridge. Surprisingly, the porridge tasted good as it slid to the back of her throat, and as she greedily ate, she felt her strength returning. As she lifted the spoon to her lips, rapid thoughts flooded Althea’s mind. Where was she? Was she close to the road? Maybe she was in the village of the young boy, but how did she get there if the road was impassable? What exactly happened to her on the road? What was that creature? Who or what caused her to fall off her horse? More importantly, how did this woman find her?
“What happened to me? How did you find me? Who are you? Where am I?”
The woman softly smiled at Althea. “You met with an elemental,” she answered as Althea frowned in confusion.
An elemental—what sort of magical creature was that? She winced as she screwed her eyes up in thought. Had it had been a full moon?
Noticing Althea’s confusion, she explained, “It is a kind of malevolent being that attaches itself to a place and attacks lonely travelers.” The woman handed the empty bowls to a young woman who had entered the hut. “It was Eszter who found you on the road,” she added, motioning with her hand to the young woman.
The young woman shyly smiled and nodded her head. “I heard the elemental’s howl and knew someone had been attacked. I found you, alerted my mother, and brought you here,” she said, walking toward the hut door.
“Thank you,” Althea replied, “but who are—”
“I’d thought you’d know who I am, since you have the mark of the shamaness,” the woman interrupted, pointing to Althea’s small, black tattoo of a raven on her wrist. “I am Miriam.”
Althea quickly tried to cover her wrist. “Shamaness?” she asked, baffled.
Shamaness? She was a witch, but not a shamaness. Shamanesses were women in Muggle fantasy books that spoke of doom and jingled their jewelry about. Althea was not a shamaness. She quickly glanced at her wrist. It was a mark she never wanted, and spent the earlier part of her life fiercely covering it. How can one explain a tattoo on an eleven-year-old? At first, she explained to her friends that she had drawn it on herself; however, the students quickly exposed that lie. To recover, she invented the story that she received the tattoo during a trip to some remote area of the rainforest as her father researched Mayan sacrificial rituals. All the children had them there—she went along with it. Surprisingly, that story was believed and no one bothered her further about it; however, the mark bothered her as she now understood its full meaning—why would her father think it suitable for such a young girl? Did he not care of the consequence? What if she had become scared in class and transformed? Or during a busy time in Diagon Alley? Dumbledore might have been lenient, but the Ministry—the Ministry would have arrested her for performing an illegal Animagus transformation. By giving her the ingredients, Sirius had alleviated her fears by allowing her the choice to transform.
Miriam moved from the bed over to the fire. She picked up the poker and began to stoke the fire. “Yes, a shamaness. I never forget a face, Althea, even though you are much older. Your father brought you to us for protection. I was the one who gave you that mark,” she explained and placed the poker next to the fire.
Althea shook her head. How could this woman remember or know her name? She must have searched through my things to see who I am, she thought, gazing at her reddened fingers recovering from frostbite. This could not have been the village her father wrote about in his travel journal. She was nowhere near that area, or at least she did not think she was near that area. She was not sure where she was. Miriam—the name sounded familiar and it could have been the name written in the journal, but she had not read that journal in years.
Miriam noticed Althea’s puzzlement. “Maybe this will help you remember. Here, look into the fire.”
Althea gazed into the fire as Miriam—from a drawstring purse around her waist—took a handful of blue powder, and threw it into the fire. The warm reds and oranges of the fire slowly transformed to purple, and blue sparks streaked from the center of the purple flame. Althea looked closer into the fire, and she realized that the fire had consumed her—the cool blue light surrounded her and pulled her forward. With an abrupt jolt she stopped, and was back in the same hut, but before her were her father, Marie, a younger version of Miriam, and her five-year-old self. She watched as her father told her that this would protect her and not to be afraid. Then, a young Althea timidly handed out her arm to Miriam, and winced as she tattooed the bird onto her wrist. Miriam began to speak in an ancient language that the older Althea had never heard of and the raven glowed red and then faded to black. Abruptly, Althea felt a rush of wind around her and the vision of her past faded in the flames.
“You—you gave me this,” Althea said quietly, rubbing the raven tattoo.
Miriam walked toward Althea’s bedside. “Yes, I knew this would protect you,” she replied, touching the tattoo with her index finger. “Normally, I do not perform that ritual upon strangers—of course, we don’t have many strangers,” she said, patting Althea’s arm. “However, your father explained to me your case and I agreed. I, like your father, understood the dangers that were coming,” she explained, straightening out one of the many blankets draped over Althea. “Thankfully, we mostly avoided what had come…our protection had saved us. We are all that is left—this tiny village,” she said sadly, motioning with her head to the doorway. “The village you had seen as a child is no more. When you saw us, we numbered one hundred, now—now we number fifteen,” she explained, and propped pillows underneath Althea’s head so she could sit up.
“What happened?” Althea asked, shifting to become comfortable.
Miriam frowned as she lit three sticks of incense and placed them at a table next to Althea’s head. “You could say it was a sort of disease, but in time I will tell you. Now rest, Althea,” she said softly, fanning the grey smoke from the incense with her hand.
“No, that boy,” she said, fully sitting up, “I have to tend to him.”
Miriam quickly rested her hands on Althea’s shoulders. “No, no, you are staying here,” she said. “You are too weak.”
Althea frowned. “No, I must go, please,” she said, unnerved by Miriam’s gaze. “He is very ill.”
Miriam tightened her grip on Althea’s shoulders and bent closer to her. “You are in no condition to leave this village.”
“Will live,” she said and loosened her grip. “Now, sleep.”
Frowning, Althea relented as Miriam guided her toward the mattress. How can I sleep knowing there is an ill boy out there, she thought—woozy—inhaling the strong incense….
“What happened?” a groggy Althea asked aloud as she quickly sat up from the bed.
Frantically, she searched around the room in an attempt to remember what had happened. She was attacked, she had fallen off her horse, someone had saved her, and now she was in some village…but what village? Slowly, she lifted the blankets from her and swung her legs over the side of the bed. Taking the top blanket, she wrapped it around herself as she walked toward the hut door. Opening the door, she peered outside to see a tiny snow-covered village. In all, there seemed to be about ten huts, very much like the one she was in, with smoke drifting from the vents in the ceilings. To her left, Althea noticed a group of young girls laughing and playing in the snow. Wrapping the blanket tightly around her, she stood in the doorway and watched the young girls as they wrestled and threw snowballs at each other.
As she watched them, she smiled to herself, remembering the snowball fights she had partaken in at Hogwarts. She laughed, which startled her for a moment, as she remembered one snowball fight in particular. Lily and Althea had decided to take a walk on a particularly gorgeous winter afternoon. As the two were walking, Althea was struck with a large snowball in the back of her head. Immediately turning around, she spotted the two culprits—Sirius and James—on different branches of a beech tree. James acted innocently as Sirius laughed loudly until Althea threw a snowball at him. In an attempt to dodge the snowball, Sirius lost his balance and fell from the tree, landing in a heap in the snow. Frightened, Althea rushed to his side to find him lying on his back, laughing at her. Pulling her to the ground, he continued to laugh as he kissed her, but stopped when Althea, giggling, crushed a large snowball into the back of his hair. Only now do I wish it would have been a large rock that I hit you with, she thought as the young girls continued to giggle and to laugh. Maybe when I return to England, I’ll be greeted with the news of your death in Azkaban…. I can only hope.
“I thought my mother told you to rest,” said a voice from Althea’s right.
Althea turned her head, and remembered that it was the young woman in the hut earlier that day. “Oh, hello—”
“Eszter,” the young woman finished. “I wouldn’t expect you to remember my name as we only met briefly two days ago.”
“Two days ago? No, that was earlier today,” Althea corrected, shaking her head. “I have not been asleep for two days.”
Eszter smiled. “Yes,” she said and, despite Althea’s protests, continued, “you have been asleep for two days. I would expect you to sleep an entire week after an elemental attack. You are very strong.”
Althea smirked and continued watching the young girls. “Strong, eh? I just can’t die,” she replied, pulling the blanket tighter around her.
“What, you want to die?” she asked with concern, moving closer to Althea.
“There are a lot of things I want, but I can’t have,” she said as a woman walked by carrying a toddler. Shaking her head, Althea asked, “Who are you—I mean, what are you? Where is this place?”
Eszter frowned thoughtfully. “I don’t believe I’m the one to tell you,” she replied and looked out at the children. “In spring, it is my turn,” she said softly, smiling to herself.
Althea furrowed her eyebrows, confused. “It is your turn for what?”
Eszter’s grin widened. “To conceive,” she replied happily. “Every spring or autumn some of us are chosen,” she explained, turning her attention back to Althea. “You could join us—I mean if you’re still with us.”
Althea did her best not to laugh at this outrageous offer. What sort of place is this, she thought, biting her lip. I must still be unconscious in a bloody snow bank.
“I’m not sure where I’ll be,” Althea answered and sighed, taking one last look at the children playing. “I—I should go back inside,” she added, motioning to the inside of the hut.
Not waiting for a reply, Althea walked into the hut and roughly sat on the bed. Exactly what sort of place is this, she thought, looking at the fire in front of her. I wonder if I’m able to leave at all. Maybe I’m some sort of prisoner here.... They should have left me to that elemental, and then I could explain to Lily how sorry I am.
“You’re awake, Althea,” Miriam said as she entered the hut. “Here, I’ve brought you some food,” she added, handing Althea a large covered bowl.
Althea uncovered the bowl and greedily ate the roasted wild game and lentils. Miriam sat in a chair next to Althea’s bedside and observed Althea as she quickly ate the food.
“You enjoy our food?” she asked, amused.
Althea nodded as she finished the last bite of venison.
Miriam stretched her legs before her and laughed quietly. “I thought you’d ask me who we were first before you started eating,” she continued, taking the empty bowl from Althea.
“Who are you, then?” she asked and licked her lips. “What is this about conceiving in the spring or autumn?”
Miriam threw her head back in laughter. “I see you’ve been talking with my Eszter,” she replied, folding her arms. “Oh, we have been called many things,” she continued with a small smile. “Villagers to the north invented names for us, complete with fantastic legends. I have been called a Rusalka, a Vadleany, and by the Church, a Succubus. I quite like that one.” She leaned close to Althea—a mischievous smile played upon her lips. “Legend has it, we entice young shepherds to stray from their flocks and seduce them into sinful carnal activities.”
Miriam laughed quietly to herself. “We call ourselves Thyra.”
“Thyra,” Althea murmured.
Miriam nodded. “Not as dangerous as legend, I can assure you,” she said and adjusted the sleeve of her robe. “But, you see, we have no men in our village. We have survived for these centuries by a ritual we perform every spring and autumn. A group of our young women are sent forth to conceive new members of our village,” she explained and Althea raised an eyebrow. “Don’t worry, the men chosen are very willing participants…very willing participants, indeed.”
Althea sighed at this peculiar custom. “What if the baby born is a boy?” she asked, frowning.
“Easily remedied,” she replied quickly and Althea’s eyes widened. “Oh, we don’t partake in that hateful practice of infanticide when we have a child of the unwanted sex…. No, in your world boys are prized, and many families are happy to take in a new son. Conversely, there have been instances where we have taken in abandoned female children—many of them are what you in your world call Muggle. We have no distinction here,” she explained and sighed mournfully. “That, Althea, has caused us more pain than any village should bear.”
“Taking in Muggle girls?”
Althea frowned—how could this have caused them pain if no one knew the Thyra even existed?
“Oh, but the Cartimandua knew we existed,” she answered, which jolted Althea from her thoughts.
“How did you—”
“We were formed long ago, Althea, by women who wanted to break free from the restraints put on us by the other sex. We wanted to practice our magic freely. It is ancient magic. Not the magic of wands—not the magic you are accustomed to,” she explained, reaching into her pocket. Miriam produced a wand for Althea to see. “The wand, you see, is a male created instrument,” she continued, waving the wand as she talked. “One does not need to channel her magic through a wand.”
Althea shook her head. “But wands are useful,” she said, resting her head against the wall of the hut. “A wand can be a very powerful instrument.”
Miriam laughed. “Oh those silly charms they teach you—incantations for children. Accio this and Alohamora that—your father greatly amused me with them. No, our magic comes from this,” she said and reached into her pocket again. She produced a small vial containing a brilliant green liquid.
“Potions—your magic is potions based?” she replied thoughtfully, looking at the small vial.
Miriam nodded. “The Cartimandua believed it was wrong for us to take in non-magic children. They would rather see a young girl die than to take her in—how barbaric,” she replied and shook her head in disgust. “Foreigners had discovered ways to fool their protections. They came to their village and enticed them with promises of living freely among the rest of the magic world—how could they trust what a man promised?” she continued bitterly—her grip tightening around the vial. “The Cartimandua had betrayed our ancient magic. They willingly disclosed our magic to those that wished to destroy us—to destroy all of magic. After you had left us, the Cartimandua and the foreigners had launched an attack on our lands,” she explained, looking at the floor. “The Cartimandua had led them through our protections.”
“Death Eaters?” she breathed.
“Is that what you called them?” she asked, and swallowed as she looked to the potion her hand. “No word is capable to describe such pure evil.”
“How did you survive?”
Miriam shook the vial—the brilliant green potion shimmered with the agitation. “Ah, that is where the Cartimandua erred. For in forsaking our magic and revealing all to the foreigners, they had forgotten how truly powerful our magic could be,” she answered. “Now, give me your hand.”
Althea put her hand in Miriam’s and Miriam unwrapped the bandage.
“Watch,” she said and uncorked the vial.
Slowly, she let a drop ease out of the vial and fall onto Althea’s wound. The wound began to bubble and hiss. Suddenly, the skin around the wound began to regenerate, quickly covering and healing the wound.
“Brilliant, thanks,” she said, looking at her hand. “Better than dittany.”
Miriam placed the cork in the vial and returned it to her pocket. While doing so, she produced another vial—this one a brighter green, which seemed to glow in the bottle.
“You see, brewed weakly that potion is beneficial in healing wounds,” she said and uncorked the vial, “however, if brewed too strong—”
Miriam grabbed an animal fur and turned it over to the tanned skin. Slowly, she poured a drop of the glowing green potion onto the tanned skin. Quickly, the tanned skin began to bubble and to hiss. A large blister burst, which left gaping hole. Althea gasped as she realized what that potion was. How many times had she seen that potion kill! They created the potion that almost killed Sirius, she thought, wide-eyed.
Althea opened and closed her mouth as she pointed her finger at Miriam. “You—you made that potion? So many people have died from ingesting that potion! I almost lost the—you made that horrible potion?”
Miriam placed the cork back in the vial and returned the vial to her pocket. “We were exploited, Althea. Our potions were never intended to kill. All potions, all magic, if used incorrectly can cause harm, great harm even,” she explained solemnly. “The magic I performed on you is what ultimately saved us and saved the non-magic of our village.”
Althea frowned. “Muggles cannot perform magic.”
Miriam nodded. “True, Althea, but if I take this potion, brew it strongly, and throw it at what you call a Muggle, it would kill him. Just the same, if he took this knife on the table and plunged it in my heart, it would kill me. There is no difference between us, Althea. Magic affects all of us. When we needed to escape, I performed a spell that allowed all of us to transform…that was how we survived. The Cartimandua were less fortunate. The foreigners felt betrayed and slaughtered them all.”
“I am afraid, they are looking for us too, but they have not broken our protections,” she explained, resting her hand on Althea’s forearm. “Only the Cartimandua could break them, and there are no Cartimandua left.”
“You mean Voldemort?” she asked and Miriam nodded. “He’s gone.”
Althea nodded. “October he was defeated,” she said and tightly shut her jaw as those thoughts of little Harry alone in the rubble of Godric’s Hollow seethed under the surface. How long had he cried until he was found?
Miriam furrowed her brow—her large dark eyes seeming to look through Althea. Althea felt drawn into them—her mind drifted from face to face of each person she had loved and lost.
Miriam nodded. “You lost many loved ones in that struggle,” she replied knowingly. “Your mother—”
“And my father,” she said quietly.
Miriam blinked. “He was a noble man,” she said and patted Althea’s forearm. “You’ve had a great pain, I can feel it.”
Althea refused to look at Miriam. “The man that I loved betrayed our friends and sent Voldemort to them. He did it to save my life,” she replied quietly. Shaking her head, she wiped her eyes. “Why did I just tell you that?” she asked, sniffing back tears.
Miriam moved beside Althea. “Because you know I won’t judge you,” she replied softly, taking Althea into her arms. “You’ve been judged too much.”
Althea strongly clutched Miriam’s robes as she sobbed into her shoulder. Miriam held her closely and slowly rocked her. Althea curled her knees to her chest. Why am I alive? Why do I matter?
“She was my best friend,” she sobbed, “I was pregnant. He—he should have let me die. Now—now my baby’s gone, and I—I can’t have anymore. All because of him!” Althea started to heave and clutched Miriam’s robes tighter. “He killed so many people—children! Why—why did I matter?”
“I cannot give you the answers. I don’t know if there are even answers that will satisfy you,” she explained, and pulled away from Althea. “But know this,” she continued staring into Althea’s eyes, “you are welcomed here for as long as you wish. We will not judge you.”
Thank you so much for reading! What is in store for Althea? Grimmauld Place.
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