Chapter 18 : Evidence
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Colin pressed the shutter release button again. The handheld machine made a whirring noise, followed by a small photograph dispensing from a horizontal slot. The camera Dumbledore gave him wasn’t like his Muggle one back home, whose film he’d had to develop in a special potion to make the subjects move around by magic. This camera was always one click away from an instant picture. The film never ran out. No potion was required. Everything was already magical because the camera itself was magical.
“Let me see.” Orla took the picture from him, still warm, and watched her own smile grinning back up at her. The Orla in the picture winked.
Colin pivoted to face the peacock sky, rich with blues and greens reflecting the ocean, smiling with one eye pressed to the viewfinder.
He examined his handiwork, admiring the strokes of blue smattered with bronze stars that melted into view as he wafted the small white square against the balmy air. When he looked up at the natural sky again, the color had already deepened, curtains closing into night at long last.
“Ordinary magic,” he murmured.
Orla smiled. “You ready to see it, then?”
Colin lowered his camera, upper teeth embedding themselves into his lower lip. His dark brown eyes were shadowed with worry. “Just don’t get your hopes up. I mean, we still don’t really have anything concrete to go on.”
Orla rolled her eyes, making them momentarily disappear under her too-long fringe. “Let’s get cracking, then – only it’s not on this side. I found it on the other side, just this morning at dawn before I trekked all round the houses and helped myself to their supper leftovers. I’m not sure these people know how to lock their windows.”
“Dawn? Do you even sleep?”
“'Course I sleep. I’m dead, not a vampire.” She started to walk; when he didn’t immediately follow, she barked, “Creevey! I’m getting old, here. Come on.”
“Well, technically you can’t –” Colin timidly began, but she clapped him on the back.
“I timed it precisely. It takes thirty minutes to walk from this bit to that bit. And I know that we don’t have anything concrete, per se, but I’m telling you, it’s just the kind of thing we’ve been looking for. And on top of that, there’s that whole conversation I overheard. Can’t be forgetting that, now.”
“When you were eavesdropping on Professor Moody and Professor Lupin and his family?”
“Not eavesdropping,” Orla chirped. “Overhearing, and quite on accident. I was in that tree before they ever came by with their wands and all that dueling nonsense.”
“Conjecture,” Colin sighed. “Professor Moody has a reputation for being paranoid. I’m not sure if we can really put stock into anything he says.”
“Why d’you keep calling him ‘Professor’, he was never your professor,” Orla raved, straying off topic. “Your real professor was a loony Death Eater, wasn’t he? But anyway, it got me thinking about how everything came to be. All of this.” She observed the flickering streetlamps and a nearby mixture of coniferous and tropical trees with a hammock hanging somewhere in-between. “And how we came to be. It just reinforced everything that we were already thinking.”
Colin stared at her, eyebrows knitting together in worry.
“Oh, Creevey, you look just adorable when you do that.” She patted his head like she would a puppy; he frowned at her and then lifted up his camera without warning, snapping another picture. A photograph shot out of the camera’s slot, drifting to the grimy cobblestones before either of them could grab it. “Let’s go find some answers, shall we?” she tacked on in her usually bossy voice.
Together, they set off down the avenue, their long shadows dashing along ahead of them. Orla spun around three times in dizzying pirouettes. “Hello there!” she called up to one of the elegant manors of Gwendolyn Court.
On an exquisite, rather smaller version of an exotic palace directly to the right of Hepzibah Smith’s villa, a man stood at an upstairs balcony. Judging by the grandness of the architecture – bulbous gold domes topped every peak – Colin guessed that this wasn’t the type of place often swimming with guests, the marble plinth floors never sullied by common soles. It was hushed, the residents who lived there maintaining the visage of intrigue by leaving their doors locked day and night.
The man wore a full black beard, dressed in white servant’s garb with gold embellishments around his collar. Orla bowed to him and he flashed a row of brilliant white teeth, politely bowing back. Colin watched Orla with studious fascination, wishing that he could so easily see the things that she did, her vision not restricted to what lay immediately before her on the ground but what rose and what climbed – treetops and roofs and patterns in the clouds. He never would have noticed the man beating carpets against the alabaster railing, ridding them of dust; he would have been ignorant of anyone else being outside at all. Or so he assumed.
At first Colin thought that he’d dropped it by accident, but then he realized that the servant was still smiling at the two teenagers far below even as the carpet fell. He retreated backwards into the palace, shutting the splendid crystal doors behind him.
Instead of plummeting straight to the ground, the small rug whirled around in a pretend wind, nose-diving in loops several times before landing in midair in front of them, its ruby fibers rolling fluidly.
Orla’s face lit up; she turned to look at Colin, whose mouth fell open. “Is that – is that –”
“It is!” She bounced gleefully. “Oh, it is, it’s a flying carpet, and he’s letting us borrow it! Isn’t that brilliant luck? We could’ve met over by the lobster cages in the fishing yard, but we didn’t! We met here instead, just like you suggested, and now we’re going to have such fun with it.”
“But why’s he letting us borrow it?” Colin replied incredulously. “If I had a magic carpet, I wouldn’t just give it out willy-nilly to strangers passing by.”
“What’s the worst that could happen? It’s not like we could steal it. We can’t even go very far…” Her eyes were bright with excitement. “Colin! We can take this to the place, the place we’re going so that I can show the evidence to you!”
Colin craned his neck to look up at the empty balcony, wary but also hopeful. The servant had not returned, and the carpet still floated invitingly before them. “D’you think he would mind?”
“Mind? Of course not! He practically dropped it on our heads, didn’t he? Oh, come on, let’s try it.”
Easily swayed, Colin swung the camera strap back around his neck and scrambled up onto the carpet behind a jittery Orla. It felt like sitting on something smoother than water, lighter than air. He glanced around uneasily at the pavement, which was separated from their crossed legs by a mere three feet. “How do we make it –” he started to ask, but was interrupted when the carpet unexpectedly jolted, forcing them both to clamp their hands on either side of the rug in a death grip.
“I’m going to be sick,” he declared, his face an unsightly shade of green.
“No, you won’t.” Orla was grinning widely, leaning forward to catch the wind in her face as the flying carpet accelerated in speed, shooting up into the sky like a firework. It was all Colin could do to stay on board, especially with Orla’s weight leaning into him.
“We’re going to fall off, we’re going to fall off, we’re going to fall off,” he chanted in a mantra. “Please, oh please don’t let me fall onto Mr. Slytherin’s house. My body will never see the light of day again.”
“Come off it, Creevey, we’ll be fine! We can’t very well die twice. And besides, this is just as reliable as a broomstick, you know. My great-uncle had one of these – it was a five-seater. Came with two little velvet pillows and a cup holder you could attach to the side. The only trouble was birds. Not very smart creatures, birds. They’ll run right into you even if they’ve got miles and miles of clear sky to choose from.”
Colin gulped. “Did you ever ride on your uncle’s carpet yourself? Was it safe?”
“How should I know? He died when I was two.”
Colin really, really hoped that she wouldn’t elaborate on her sentence.
“When he fell off of his flying carpet, incidentally. Tried going upside-down too many times after indulging in some interesting potions, as I heard it. Might’ve been a lie, though. ‘Twas Auntie Loris who told me, and Auntie Loris always did have this extraordinary grudge against old Humphrey. Something about him trying to reanimate her dead toad after he fed it an Exploding Bonbon.”
Colin had stopped following the conversation after the words ‘fell off’. Coming from a Muggle background, Colin was barely used to brooms. He loved them, of course, and thought them wondrous fun, but he usually had a teensy degree of trouble getting them to stay steady underneath him…he often got over-excited and it threw his balance, sending him toppling into schoolmates or Hagrid’s pumpkin patch during flying lessons. He’d always looked forward to turning seventeen and obtaining his Apparition license, as he supposed it must be much easier. Would he still be able to take a test for it, even though he would never truly turn seventeen years old? He could always just travel by Floo, but he didn’t like having green-stained hands for the rest of the day.
“Colin? You still there, mate?”
He realized that he’d been squeezing his eyes tightly shut. Their velocity was so swift, their altitude so high, that his eyes were watering even without opening them. He felt a hand shake his shoulder. “Trust me,” she confided eagerly, “you are going to want to take a few pictures of this.”
He opened one eye first and then the other, gasping just as the carpet nimbly dropped, making the rush of wind hook around his insides and swoop up his throat in the strangest sensation he’d ever felt. Orla shrieked in delight as they continued to plunge, spinning around in dizzying circles like a swirling leaf, the carpet’s frayed edges and their hair and clothing flying all around them to beat the air. He could hear the sound of it, the carpet’s resistance against gravity as it sailed along the starry black ocean.
“Look!” he exclaimed breathlessly, pointing far below. The Potter house was aglow with Japanese lanterns, buoyed to their roof and veranda with Sickles as weights tied to the ends of strings. His eyes strayed across the Potters’ garden to a wishing well, blinking rapidly against the chilly gales. His fingers, as well as the tips of his ears and nose, had gone pink from the chapping friction of speed. “There’s a wishing well, look –”
But just as he brought it to Orla’s attention, the miniature shingled roof and stone ring grew blurry until it left only a shadow behind, imprinted on the spiky grass – before the shadow, too, disappeared. “Did you – did you see that?”
“Look! Look!” Colin followed Orla’s pointing finger, startled into shock as a twin of the wishing well he’d just seen evaporate, materialize stone by stone, shingle by shingle in the middle of a wide, lamp-lit alley. The wooden bucket inside swung from side to side, as though being operated by a thirsty ghost.
The flying carpet seemed to have a mind of its own as it led them all around Cliodna’s Clock in areas high and low. They braced themselves as it dipped just over the Town Hall, almost low enough to duck wholly inside the roofless building; and then, without warning, they careened around a hilltop, barreling just over the tips of the lift cottages at such close proximity that Colin briefly spotted the flash of someone’s wristwatch through a tree house’s window. The sparks of a meteor had rebounded off of the watch’s face, turning it to white gold.
“My hair’s not getting in your face, is it?” Orla checked. Colin (still somewhat nauseous from the sudden switches in acceleration) shook his head ‘yes’, which Orla couldn’t see, so she took his silence as a confirmation that all was well.
They soared over the cliff dwellings next, bellowing their hellos down to a quartet of witches playing instruments in a gazebo. Three of them didn’t hear, but the fourth raised her clarinet in their direction, lips spreading into a laugh around the mouthpiece. There was a lovely park right in the middle, surrounded by trees carved from sandstone that radiated sunset pinks and reds even long after nightfall.
Scattered along the large lawn, which shimmered slightly to betray that it was all only a magical illusion and not real grass at all, were four sets of tables. They were difficult to make out in contrast with the glittering tea-green ground, but the tables were enormous teacups turned upside-down, and the chairs were long stems as thick as trees. They pierced through the rocky soil, unwinding like corkscrews to bend towards delegated tables. The seats themselves were flower heads – massive sunflowers and poppies and snapdragons large enough to seat about five people each.
Click, whir, snap went his camera, their surroundings temporarily illuminated by flashes like Lumos, all from his little metal box. He had to grapple with his camera with one hand, since the other was firmly clenched on the carpet’s edge, quite thankful that he’d gotten a neck strap to hang it from. It would have been disastrous if he’d tried to hold it in his hand the entire time.
“This way, this way,” Orla was murmuring, trying to curtail the carpet off towards the right. They looped beneath a stone archway in the cliffs, zooming past lit torches so quickly that the whole world might have been ablaze, and then rocketed once again over trees. Blackbirds, disturbed from their sleep, squawked in protest, pitching out of the trees to land on palmetto-thatched roofs resting just off the quiet street of Toddington. Some of them flew away across the sky, blending into the dark smoke curling out of the lodge’s chimney.
Together, the smoke and blackbirds unfurled across the engorged moon in the eerie shapes of flapping bats. Colin held his camera up to one eye and captured the fantastical images rolling past, making each one of them permanent.
It was an adventure, the kind Colin had always dreamed about but never felt destined to experience, or at least not on his own. If he hadn’t been with Orla tonight, it probably wouldn’t have happened at all – the servant and the rug, and the way that his photographs were turning out (as far as he could tell) flawlessly perfect. Orla had that sort of luck, where the world kind of spun just for her sometimes.
“Which way are you trying to go?” Colin asked as Orla hunkered down and piloted the carpet with fierce control, whisking left and right and center so fast that his head began to bob around like Nearly Headless Nick’s. Orla turned her face so that he could see her profile. Her glasses were fogged up, but her features were animated with exhilaration.
“I just want to see…” She drifted off, not quite answering, but it clicked immediately in Colin’s head. They threaded between skeletal tree branches, holding on with all their might, fingers numb, while Orla directed the carpet to rush around and around in a circular skydive. Colin’s vision was a kaleidoscope of lights and stars, some of them behind his eyes rather than in front of them. He almost let go to press his palms to them, to alleviate some of the soreness, but hastily remembered himself just in time to reaffirm his grip.
“I don’t think we’ll be allowed,” Colin spoke up, nearly shouting in order to be heard. “If we can’t swim in it, we won’t be able to fly over it.”
Orla determinedly steered them towards the beach, anyway, her eyes narrowed on the frothing ocean.
“Do you think we’ll get our Apparition licenses here?” Colin questioned, trying to make small talk to get his mind off the possible nightmare of crashing into some invisible wall. After all, it was common knowledge that no one could swim off the coast past eight feet, all around the island’s circumference. They were trapped like rats, unable to do so much as visit the depot.
“Don’t see why not,” she called over her shoulder. “I do know that I’m not going back to school, though.”
“Really?” Colin furrowed his brow. He didn’t see any other options for his future, personally. What else would he do besides busy himself with finishing his education? He didn’t particularly fancy doing nothing all the time like he was already doing. This would give his hands some purpose, at least for a short while. When September rolled around, he had unconsciously expected his name to end up on the roster of enrolled students. “Why?”
“They say that Mr. Lupin’s going to be one of the professors,” Orla replied. “I never had him as a professor, myself – he was a year before my time – but you did. Do you think you could go back to having him as a teacher again?”
Of course he could. Why wouldn’t he be perfectly fine with that? He’d studied under Mr. Lupin before in his second year and learned a great deal; Defense Against the Dark Arts had been his absolute favorite subject that year, just because of the way Mr. Lupin taught it. He never made Colin feel like he was pesky or constantly in the way, even though Colin interrupted him every few minutes to ask questions or apologize profusely for blowing something up.
His classmates sometimes snickered behind his back, imitating his excited tones whenever he was successful with a spell, and they mimed being blasted out of their seats whenever he picked up his wand. Mr. Lupin never laughed along with them. He tried to make Colin feel included, and genuinely wanted him to understand the subject matter.
In the years since Mr. Lupin’s departure, hanging up his hat as professor when rumors about his lycanthropy began to spread, he became less of ‘Professor Lupin’ and more of ‘that werewolf who ran off at the end of the school year before he could get sacked by the board’. Although Colin continued to admire him, he didn’t understand much about the lifestyle of a werewolf. Admittedly, he’d felt somewhat abandoned when Lupin left; none of the teachers after him ever seemed up to scratch in comparison. And none of them cared at all about how well Colin could perform spells or if he understood the information. Umbridge had been downright cruel.
But then, without him planning it, Remus Lupin in the form of the kind professor dissolved and then reappeared in Colin’s mind’s eye, brandishing a hot-tipped wand. There was fire in his gaze, sweat beading on his hairline, and he was standing next to Colin, back-to-back. Both of them were fully absorbed in combat with their foes, and neither could try to save the other if anything went foul, but there was some small comfort in fighting for their lives alongside each other, like equal peers. In those fleeting, terrifying minutes, their relationship subtly shifted from student and teacher to comrades, to loyal men servicing their school. Naivety and innocence were shredded, liquefying their differences. Mr. Lupin was not so very old in that light, and Colin not so very young, and both were battling to the death for a cause they strongly believed in. For Hogwarts.
It’s because of him that I can fight at all, Colin could remember himself thinking at the time, his mind consumed with the sea of faces all around him, ignited with spells and light and the cold stench of death.
Maybe that was what Orla meant. Colin had once perceived Remus as an authority figure, high up on a pedestal. Now that they’d seen each other in the most perilous moments of their soon-to-be-over lives, surviving together for perhaps just a little while longer than they might have if they hadn’t had each other there for emotional and physical back-up, could Colin return to that point? To that mindset of lowly pupil and aloof, all-knowing teacher?
The lines had become irreparably blurred. Now that he was thinking deeply about it, Colin didn’t think that he would prefer to go back to seeing Mr. Lupin as the same person he looked up to when he was a second year. Those few minutes during the Battle of Hogwarts had been cemented as an accomplishment in some bizarre way, and he didn’t want to go back in time. He was here, and it was now, and it had all happened for a reason.
He didn’t want to go back to the way things were!
“What else will we do?” he wondered aloud, stricken dumbstruck from this new revelation. “What do we do now?”
“Are you getting any pictures of this?” Orla wanted to know, not paying him a whit of attention. It was only then that Colin acknowledged the lapping waves below, and whirled around in a flurry of panic to see a thin strip of sand far away from them. “We could just go on and on and on,” she whispered, more to herself than to him. “But it’s got to end somewhere.”
“This is amazing!” Colin cried. “We did it! We actually made it!”
Orla grimaced. Colin prepared himself to ask her what was wrong, but then he felt it: It was an increase in pressure, and the carpet was faltering under it. Something from off to their left – beyond in the open ocean – was trying to suck them sideways into it with the force of a hurricane drawing water to its hungry heart. It was loud, emitting gurgling sounds that reminded Colin, with a ghastly shudder, of people drowning in their own lung fluid.
“Move!” Colin urged, attempting to use his arms as propellers, hoping wildly that he might be able to paddle the air and get them to turn around back to Cliodna’s Clock.
“I want to see what’s out there,” Orla argued, gritting her teeth with all the vigor it required to keep the carpet from flying off into abyss.
“No, we need to go back.”
“Just a little bit further –”
“Are you mad? It’s dangerous. Come on.” Colin tugged on the carpet, and the two of them wrestled for control of the carpet’s direction for a few precious seconds before the magical carpet took matters into its own hands and yanked itself out of the mysterious wind source’s grasp, speeding back to the island. Colin breathed a huge sigh of relief.
“Ah, well,” Orla announced grimly after they were once again soaring over solid ground. “We can always come back and try again.”
“Absolutely not.” Colin shook his head fervently. “You felt that out there – it was like an invisible monster. We’re not allowed to get that far from the village. I don’t want to take my chances and end up inside of all…whatever that thing was.”
Giving up, Orla commandeered the carpet with their original intentions in mind, zooming off to a beach on the opposite end of Cliodna’s Clock. Colin relaxed his tense hands for a moment, although his fingers had long since lost any feeling. Orla let one of her hands dangle loosely below the carpet, catching projected spray on her fingers from the lily fountain.
They slowed down before they hit the beach, skimming along sapphire and yellow tree canopies that almost passed for ordinary green when blended together. When the carpet finally stopped, Colin finally began to feel the stings of wind burns on his cheeks and forehead. They both dismounted with vertigo spinning circles around them.
“I am definitely walking home,” Colin resolved woozily, doubling over with his feet planted far apart until he recovered his balance. The magic carpet took that as its cue to reunite with its owner, and jetted off over the trees to the golden palace.
Orla appeared at Colin’s side, lacking her usual earsplitting enthusiasm. Instead, there was a quiet anticipation, curiosity, and maybe even fear. “It’s here,” she said in a low voice, peeping all around to ensure that no one was out and about. “Just where I put it.” She held out her hand to him.
It was a seashell, apricot-colored with small white horns on the heavy end. “A Helena Conch,” she said. “My father’s a naturalist; he discovered them and named them after my mother. The animals inside them can live to be three hundred years old, he said. I remember that we had two of them in our drawing room.”
Colin studied the shell, his excitement burgeoning. “And you're quite sure that...?”
Orla’s eyes were huge and solemn, instantly penetrating his doubts without him even knowing her answer yet.
“Oh, yes. Very sure. They’re only found in the Adriatic Sea.”
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