Chapter 13 : More Surprises
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A word about my cousin: Dorina Russinov is ice if I’m fire; winter to my summer, and all of those other clichéd comparisons. The penultimate of girly-girls, she owned a shop called Dorina’s Wizardwear. Yet, like all analogies, we are connected. We get along better than I do with anyone else in my family. She frustrates me to no end, yes, but she is also one of the few people whose advice I will actually listen to.
Before falling asleep that night, I promised myself that I would beg her for desperately needed help first thing the next morning. Which is why, early Saturday morning, I dragged my ass out of bed much earlier than I would have liked and blindly rummaged around in my semi-unpacked trunk for a quill and some parchment.
In my messy scrawl, so unintelligible that even McGonagall had difficulty deciphering it- to the point where she’d only grade about half of every essay I wrote (on second thought, that might be because they actually were nothing but scribbled rubbish)- I etched out a plea to Dorina:
Boys are stupid. Especially ones that kiss you, after you’ve hated them for years. Please help!
Cryptic, I know, but while she was around my family, the fewer details she knew, the better.
I walked out of my tent in search of the owlery, which I’d never before had the need to visit. I knew it was somewhere between the lake and the broom shed at the north end, but that left several miles of possiblity.
Though it was still to early for any normal person to be awake yet, a few crazy old men- early risers or late night stragglers, depending- were trudging through camp with random supplies.
I yawned out brief “mornings” to those few that I passed, and was soon lost in the intricate web of narrow pathways and dirt trails that spanned the entire north end of camp. I was aware of the general direction in which I was heading (east), but apart from that, I was completely lost. Which wasn’t a problem for me.
Except for the occasional twinge in my injured leg, I was energized, wandering the woods at sunrise. I don’t know if it was the dragons or the Romanian air, but I was in my element here, happier than I’d been in a good two years. I guess it’d just taken me time and distance to realize how bad Chris was for me.
Eventually, I came to perhaps the weirdest building I had ever seen. Suspended between two ancient, gnarled trees, the owlery was accessible only by a long rope ladder, fastened at one end to the nearest tree.
“You’ve got to be freaking kidding me.” I muttered, gazing up at the structure. “A tree house. How old are these boys?” I walked over to the edge of the ladder and stepped on the lowest rung. Charlie would absolutely kill me if he ever found out about this, which I guess was no less than I deserved. As I put the letter securely in my pocket, I knew it was a horrendously stupid idea; a girl with an injured leg should not, under any circumstances, except maybe in pursuance of Callum Stone, the drummer for Phoenix, climb a twenty foot rope ladder into a large, floating wooden house.
However, I have never been one for following the rules of what one “should” do, so I fixed my eyes in front of me and began to climb, gripping fiercely to the rope as the whole thing swayed underneath me. Luckily, the day was calm, and the gale-force winds of yesterday were long gone, so the only trouble I had was courtesy of my damn leg. I decided that when I got down, I would give it a firm talking-to. It had absolutely no right to impede me like this; it was not polite in the slightest.
By the time I reached the top, my forehead was dotted in sweat and my hands were red, but my letter was still safely in my pocket, so that was progress! The owlery was surprisingly sturdy, but maybe after a climb on a rocking rope ladder, I would have found anything, even my mother’s emotional roller coaster, stable. I made my way over to the nearest owl, a sleek eagle owl who regarded me with cool indifference, and perhaps a bit of annoyance at keeping him up past his bedtime, and tied the letter to his haughtily extended foot. With a low hoot, he took off through the open window. I followed his progress with my eyes until I lost him over the horizon. Feeling slightly relieved at having sent the letter, but no less confused about what to do over Charlie, I popped my knuckles and prepared myself for the descent back down my newest of enemies: the rope ladder.
I got halfway down successfully, until my boot caught on the rung, and before I knew it, I was upside down, hanging by my good leg. If that escapade taught me anything, it was that I should be grateful for the little things, because if it had been my other leg, I would be a.) in so much pain, and b.) flayed alive by Charlie, who, what do you know, was also feeling the need to mail a letter in the ludicrously early hours of the morning.
There I was, flailing on a rope ladder, shirt halfway up my navel, I’m sure completely red-faced, when Charlie comes striding through the forest, like a mountain-man, scruffy, in yesterday’s thermal- wait, why the hell did I remember that? He stopped dead when he saw me, eyes scanning to make sure the leg keeping me off the ground was not the one he’d been tending to so vigilantly.
“Good morning, Charles.” I smiled politely down at him, giving him a wave.
“Ramsey, should I even ask?” Charlie folded his arms across his chest and looked pointedly up at me.
“You could,” I started evasively, “but I think I prefer to be cloaked in a mysterious aura of guesswork.”
“That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.” Charlie bust out laughing, throwing his head back as he guffawed, leaning against the tree for support.
“Fine!” I crossed my arms, partly to mimic him, but mostly to make sure my traitorous shirt didn’t rise up any further. “If you must know, I was channeling my inner wombat.”
“Wombat or not,” Charlie gasped out in between bouts of laughter, “You must be a little, er, ready to come down?”
“Not a chance.” I shot back stubbornly. I would pass out from lack of blood circulation before I let Charlie help me out of something so stupid. “I know exactly what I’m doing.”
“Yeah, it looks like you do.” Charlie observed drolly, raising an eyebrow in skepticism. “But were you planning on letting your pockets empty? It looks like they’re about to.”
My hands shot to my pockets to make sure anything didn’t fall out before I realized that they were empty. Charlie, sneaky, chauvinistic Charlie, had planned that. Indeed, according to Charlie’s plan, my shirt slid a few more inches up.
“You pig.” I shot him a venomous glare, hands back securely over my chest.
“Hey,” Charlie sat down in front of me, obviously in no hurry to move and cease his tormenting, “If you had in fact had something in your pocket, it would have been in danger of falling out. It was merely a precautionary measure.”
“Precautionary, my ass.” I retorted, not believing a word of it.
“No, Ramsey,” Charlie said slowly, as if speaking to a small child or really old person, “Your ass is fine. I was talking about your pockets.”
“God, you’re hilarious.” I spat, trying to hoist myself up to a more dignified position, and failing spectacularly.
“Me?” He asked, “No. I’m just looking out for your best interests.”
“That’s truly frightening.” I said. Attempt at reclaiming dignity unsuccessful once more; fall back down. I glared at Charlie, who was doing his best to bite back hysterics.
“Are you positive that you don’t need some help getting down?” He asked, as I tried again, and only succeeded in looking like a monkey having a seizure.
“What, so you can say ‘I told you so?’” I stuck my tongue out at him, epitome of maturity that I am.
“Actually, it was more so I can get up myself,” Charlie got to his feet and dusted his trousers off. “My mum gets slightly insane when she hasn’t heard from me in a while, and I figured it was about time that I assured her that I wasn’t letting my hair get too long.”
“Well, in that case.” I started, secretly very relieved that I now had an excuse to accept his assistance. “You may help me down.”
“Fantastic.” He said and started up the ladder, making much more graceful work of it than I had, nimbly scaling the bottom half of the ladder until our faces were level.
“You need to shave.” I remarked, contemplating his chin to avoid eye-contact.
“And your lips are chapped.” He replied, shutting me up very successfully by tracing them with his thumb.
“Your fault.” I informed him, trying to remember how to breathe, because I knew that I knew how. Somehow.
But before I could remember, his lips were on mine, gentle but persistent, and he lightly bit my bottom lip. The fact that I was upside down really wasn’t helping my case- I was already loopy enough. All too soon, he broke away.
“Excuses, excuses, Ramsey.” He grinned. “Hold on to this rung.” He instructed.
“No peeking.” I ordered. He consented by nodding his head once, and then continued his work.
“I’m going to untangle your foot, and it would look bad if you fell on your head, not that it would cause any damage or anything, it being so hard already.”
“Please just hurry up Charlie!” Joking aside, I was ready to get down. Immediately. Charlie swung around to the side of the ladder, untwisted my foot from the rope, and I instantly fell forward, leading with my feet.
“Shit!” I screamed, half-laughing, and half terrified. Suddenly, I stopped falling. Charlie had me by the waist, gripping so tightly that I was quite convinced that I wasn’t going anywhere, up or down.
“You okay?” He asked quietly, grinning down at me.
“Yep!” I squeaked, nodding vigorously. “I’m splendid. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” He replied, but made no move to let go of me.
“Er, Charlie? I think I would like to go down now.”
“Why?” He asked, doing what I thought was impossible, and tightening his hold. “Don’t you trust me?”
“That’s an unfair question.” I chose my words carefully. “You are currently between me and a fifteen foot drop.”
“So I think your trust here would be implied, and at the very least, justified.” He answered himself.
“Yeah, well,” I quickly found the need to change the subject. “A tree house, Weasley? Seriously, who the hell built this thing?”
“This was Costache’s dream project.” He explained. “He grew up in the city, and always wanted a tree house. So what does he do when he gets an extra grant from the ministry? Builds a massive one, suspended between two trees.”
“He’s crazy.” I marveled. “If I had any doubts before…”
“I know.” He seconded. “Brilliant, but absolutely mental.”
“Okay,” I said, after a short pause. “I think I really am ready to climb down now.”
“Fair enough.” Charlie chuckled, nodding his head. “Go for it.” He released his vice-like grip, and watched in amusement as I scrambled down the remaining length of the ladder as fast as I could, which, apparently, was quite fast.
“Thanks, Weasley.” I called up to him, absolutely delighted to be on solid ground again. “See you at breakfast.”
“Try not to do any more wombat impersonations until I’m around to laugh at you.” He called out to me as I strode down the path.
“Whatever, Charlie.” I shouted over my shoulder.
“Ramsey, camp is the other way.” I heard Charlie’s voice, resonant and full of amusement, behind me. I stopped, pivoted on the spot, and walked in the opposite direction, head held high, past Charlie, who was doing his best not to laugh, and all the way back to camp.
After a breakfast that consisted of Charlie making references to wombats, me threatening to punch him in the face, and everyone looking around at the two of us, wondering what the bloody hell was going on, Charlie, Ciprian, Andrew, and I decided to drop by the hatchery and visit baby Rufus.
“You seriously named him ‘Rufus?’” Andrew asked incredulously, while Charlie and Ciprian snorted with laughter.
“Yes.” I answered, defensively. “Rufus is a perfectly respectable name.”
“Yeah, for an old man!” Charlie offered, and he and Ciprian and Andrew were once again consumed with mirth.
“I hope he grows up and bites all three of you.” I said, smiling angelically.
“Hold on, Ramsey,” Charlie said, looking ahead of us, ‘Isn’t that your dad?”
“What the hell is he doing here?” I asked, spotting him as well. William Ramsey, curse-breaker extraordinaire, was striding toward us on the narrow trail.
“Because I would know.” Charlie replied dryly. I was immediately incredibly grateful that this was happening today, instead of yesterday, after our little escapade in the woods. That would have been horrifically awkward.
“Dad?” I called out, “Did mom tell you to come to drag me away?”
“Good to see you too, Ileana,” He grinned, reaching us. Even at 46, he still cut an impressive figure. Well over six feet tall, he was almost as well muscled as Charlie, though his hair was still very long, tied back with a piece of hemp. The boys regarded him in a slight state of awe. William Ramsey was somewhat of a curse breaking legend throughout central Europe and Latin America.
“Hey, Mr. Ramsey.” Charlie said, clasping hands with my dad briefly.
“Charlie, good to see you again.” My dad replied. “How’s Bill? Still working at Gringotts?”
“Yeah, he’s been pretty busy, doing a lot of work in Africa. He still talks about his mentor, though.” Oh yeah, my dad trained Charlie’s brother. No big deal.
“I’m thinking of maybe putting a team together for a job in Mongolia soon, I’ll let him know, in case he’s interested. That’s one talented kid.” My dad looked around at Ciprian and Andrew, who at least had managed to close their gaping jaws.
“Wow, Ileana, aren’t you going to introduce me to your friends? Maybe your mother was right and you do need some help with manners.” He was teasing again- always one to make a joke.
“Oh, right. Dad, this is Andrew Ross, and Ciprian Agafitei. Guys, this is my dad, William Ramsey.”
“Nice to meet you, sir.” Andrew said, still slightly tongue-tied.
“I’m not my father,” Dad replied, laughing as he shook Andrew’s hand. “No need for ‘sir.’”
“Um, dad,” I started, still unsure as to why my dad would spontaneously show up at my job, even if it was a kick-ass one. “What exactly are you doing here?”
“I came to ask you for your help.” This threw me off. Never had my dad actually asked for advice before. Not from me, anyway.
“Okay,” I said, waiting for more information.
“I’m working on a ruin in Costa Rica, in the rainforest on the Osa Peninsula. I was wondering if you could take a couple of days to help me with some stuff pertaining to dragons. We think this temple used to be guarded by them, but we need an expert opinion.”
“Well, I don’t know if I’m necessarily an expert.” I started hesitantly, though I was instantly incredibly excited.
“Nonsense,” My dad blew off my protest. “I already spoke to Mr. Costache, and he said that it was fine with him, as long as you took care of your leg.” Shit.
“Speaking of which,” He looked down at me amusedly, and I prepared myself for some sort of lecture. “Could you explain why you didn’t feel it was necessary to tell your family you’d been poisoned by an Ironbelly?”
“Oh, um, well,” I stalled, having absolutely no idea what to say, “I guess I didn’t really want you to freak out, so,”
“What she means is that the wound was treated quickly, and it wasn’t serious.” Charlie butted in before I could dig myself any deeper into this particular hole. “She was up in a day.” What a lie. What a flat-out lie.
“Then I think it will be best if we don’t tell your mother about this,” Dad nodded his head sagely, obviously envisioning my mother’s high-decibel reaction to the news if she ever found out.
“Thanks.” I muttered to Charlie, who nodded his head once. I looked up at my dad, “So, when do you want me down there?”
“Could you meet me there tonight?” He asked, looking between Charlie and I. Instantly, I took a step away. I did not want my dad to think the only reason I was here was to be some boy’s distraction. Arguably, he was more my distraction than I was his. He could at least look like he was focusing.
“Sure.” I replied, forcing my cheeks not to give away my secret as I caught my dad’s knowing look. “I mean, if you’ve already cleared it with Costache…”
“Everything’s in order, Ili.” No, not the nickname!!! I heard Ciprian force down a snort of laughter. “There’s a team of Costa Ricans, Ticos, as they like to be called, down there already, starting the in-depth excavations.”
“Yeah, dad.” I replied. “I’ll see you down there tonight. Do you want me to walk you to the gate?”
“Sure.” He answered. “Sorry, boys. I’ll promise I’ll return her in one piece.”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Ramsey.” Ciprian called as we turned away to walk down to the gate. “See you in a few minutes, Ili.” I heard his smirk.
“Ciprian, I hope Rufus attacks you.” I shouted my reply over his and Andrew’s raucous laughter at the discovery of my childhood nickname.
“Dad, why did you call me that?” I groaned in embarrassment.
“Because I always call you that.” He replied, shrugging like it was nothing.
“Fine. Fair enough. What exactly are you wanting me to do?” I asked, admittedly insatiably curious.
“I’m writing a book on this old temple.” My dad replied. “We are almost positive that it was erected over a thousand years ago by pagan goblins.”
“Goblins worship?” I asked, taken by surprise. It seemed inconceivable that they would be after anything other than gold.
“A long time ago, they were very devout. Anyhow, they erected this massive temple to worship Urukho, who was their god of destruction. Along with spiritual relics, there was a vault that stored gold, supposedly offered up to Urukho, but in all probability was hoarded most jealously by the corrupt priests.”
“So nothing has changed, then.” I say, joking. My dad cracks an easy smile.
“We think they had a dragon that guarded the vault, but I want to know if this is true, and what kind of dragon, and how long it was down there.”
“Should be easy enough,” I say, nearing the entrance now. “Any guesses as to what kind of dragon? It might have been a hybrid, or an extinct species…”
“Now I have a question for you,” My dad said, as he reached the gate. “Is there something I should know about Charlie?”
“Why on earth does everyone keep asking me that?” I burst out, incredulous.
“Because there’s obviously something there to ask about.” My dad shot back. “I was just asking, because I like to keep up to date about my daughter. Charlie’s a good guy.” He nodded, “Much better than whoever the hell that last guy was.”
“You mean Chris,” I prompted, “You mean my fiancé, the guy I was with for more than two years.”
“Him.” My dad agreed. “He was a weasel. Charlie is much better.”
“Wow,” I said, not really sure what to say to that. “Thanks, dad. I’ll see you tonight.”
“Here’s the address where someone from the team will meet you.” He handed me a slip of paper, on which, in a scrawl barely more legible than mine, my directions for apparition were written.
“Bye.” He waved, spun on the spot, and vanished, leaving me shaking my head disbelievingly at the interest everyone was taking in my alleged love life. How had my dad ascertained that much from the five minutes he’d been talking to us? Was it really that obvious?
Putting the address in my pocket, I walked back to the hatching center, where I knew, with grim resignation, I would have the lucky privilege of answering to “Ili,” for the rest of the afternoon. Splendid.
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