Chapter 1 : Asteriscus Maritimus
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Você está ficando queimado: you're getting sunburnt
realmente: really, truly, veritably
moedas de ouro: golden coins
Ministério de Magia: Ministry of Magic
Estúpido: idiot, stupid person
Idiota: idiot, stupid person
fado: style of traditional Portuguese music
There you are, diverta-se (enjoy)!
Clogs. Luna Lovegood loves clogs. Do you know who else loves clogs? Almost no one in Britain. But Luna fits into that almost’s minority. And in any case, she isn’t in Britain at the moment.
Portugal is hot. Very hot. Especially at summertime. Especially in the southern-most point of the country. Especially at midday. Luna doesn’t siesta like the rest of the seaside town, but click-clacks around in her newly purchased clogs, enjoying the fiery heat on her English skin.
She solitarily clatters her way to the Lagos marina, takes off her beautifully chunky clogs and dips her feet into the pleasant Mediterranean water. She then takes an empty vial hanging from a necklace around her neck and dips it into the marina. The vial bubbles until it’s full of seawater, then she stoppers it up and puts it back around her neck. There’s her memento from Portugal.
She tilts her head, a fat shirtless man dozing on his boat catching her gaze; his copper skin glares bright in the sunlight. She wonders how long it will take for his skin to turn black. Daddy says if someone stays in the sun long enough in Lagos, their skin’ll turn black – apparently there’s a curse on this place. That’s why he took her here to holiday, of course; Daddy says research is the best thing for a thirteen year-old mind like Luna’s – thirteen is a very significant number, he says, considering its superstitious power.
The local Muggles and tourists are staying indoors this summer, and not just during the midday siesta. At the beginning of summer, locals and visitors, Muggles and wizards alike, had come home from their time outdoors with charred skin where they had been exposed to the sun. No one can explain the cause, but the Muggles are putting out the theory that it is climate change inflicting its ultra-violet side effects – saying it is simply a very, very, very, very, very, very, very hot summer. Scientists have been flown to Lagos from the world over, but they are all flummoxed.
Daddy, however, has narrowed down the origin of the skin-blackening curse to the asteriscus maritimus flower, known to the coastal cliffs of southern Portugal. His fellows mocked him back home, saying the most likely cause is probably a simple Melanoma Hex placed upon the hemisphere over the region (not that the Portuguese Ministry of Magic has managed to find anything more enlightening than the Muggle scientists have).
Daddy is determined to find the yellow sea aster responsible, scouting the beachside cliffs daily, having to use Magical Monty’s Mega-Moisturisation Cream every evening to reduce his cracking skin to a mere peeling sunburn. Luna wasn’t sure at first why he insists on searching at daytime when he can just search at night and avoid the charcoaled skin, but he had told her that the lasting effects of this cursed asteriscus maritimus can be very beneficial – once you remove the skin-cancer, that is. So today, she thought she’d give it a try …
‘Você está ficando queimado,’ a boy’s voice sounds from behind.
Luna turns her head and sees the boy, a few years older than herself and one of the most striking people she’s ever seen. He has the commonplace swarthy hair and skin native to Portugal – but he has yellow eyes, and not a tawny or goldy or browny-hazely colour, but realmente – an effulgent sea aster yellow.
Now, Luna doesn’t speak Portuguese, but she’s good at telling what people mean to say, even if they don’t get the words across (having lived with Daddy for thirteen years, who regularly breaks off mid-sentence and often grunts by way of communication when his mind is on more interesting things). This yellow-eyed boy is staring at her bare back, which is reddening quickly in the sun, and he holds a two litre bottle of sunscreen in one hand. ‘You’re getting sunburnt’ is what she assumes he had said.
‘I know – but Daddy says people turn black when they’re out in the sun here. Lagos is quite unique, you see. I want to turn black,’ Luna smiles at the yellow-eyed boy, forgetting that perhaps he won’t be able to understand.
He tilts his head, then hands out the bottle of sunscreen. ‘Skin-cancer turning black,’ he says in heavily-accented English, and shakes the bottle under her nose.
Luna smiles, staring up into his mesmerising eyes. Usually people seem to become uncomfortable at her intense stares – this boy, however, doesn’t seem to notice in the least, but eyes her now-searing back with a frown on his dark face.
‘I don’t want sunscreen, thank you,’ she says, tapping her hot shoulder and then giving a thumbs-up. The boy’s frown deepens.
‘Your skin turn black,’ he says pressingly, shaking the bottle more animatedly.
Luna smiles. ‘No thank you,’ she says slowly and clearly. She likes this boy.
Without warning, there is a sudden squelching sound and the creamy substance squirts from the bottle – all two litres of it – and splatters Luna head to foot.
She swipes a hand across her eyes, wiping the cream away, and blinks. At least her clogs remained safe from the attack, sitting a foot away where she left them. The yellow-eyed boy looks satisfied.
‘Rub thorough and not swim for fifteen minutes,’ he says earnestly, a smile hiding in the corners of his mouth.
Luna sighs. It’s no good rinsing this off – it’s sunscreen: you have to rub pumice on it to get it off quickly … She’ll have to wait for Daddy to come back from hunting the yellow sea asters, so he can Scourgify her.
‘Or get indoors,’ the boy continues, his humour dissolving to seriousness like ice-cream in a spider.
Luna still likes this boy, even though he upended two litres of sunscreen over her. She likes his eyes, and he means well. She smiles at him.
He shrugs, then tosses the empty sunscreen bottle into a nearby rubbish bin. Just before he turns away, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a bright yellow flower-head about the size of a coin, then pops it into his mouth. Chewing, he waves a farewelling hand to Luna before beginning to walk away.
People don’t eat flowers like that, do they? Luna wonders. Hang on … that was a –
‘Pardon me!’ she calls excitedly, effervescent anticipation tinkling through her body.
The boy turns around, still chewing on his flower. He swallows and tilts his head.
‘Is that asteriscus maritimus you’re eating?’ she asks, taking a step forward, leaving white sunscreeny footprints on the ground behind her.
The boy quirks an eyebrow. He pulls out another yellow flower from his pocket and holds it out.
‘You like taste also?’ he asks incredulously.
Luna accepts the offered flower and sniffs it. She puts it in her mouth and chews. It actually isn’t that bad, just like chrysanthemum tea but more … grassy-flavoured … and a little salty.
‘I think I do like the taste, you know,’ she smiles. She extends her hand. ‘Luna Lovegood,’ she says decidedly. Yes, she likes this boy very much.
The boy pulls a cloth from his pocket and Luna watches as he wipes her offered sunscreeny hand clean. He then puts the cloth back in his pocket and accepts her cleaned hand, shaking it and saying, ‘Jacento Cardozo Cavalcanti, senhorita.’
Luna trembles with excitement as she asks, ‘Did I just eat a yellow sea aster?’
‘Sim,’ Jacento Cardozo Cavalcanti replies. ‘I say them moedas de ouro – golden coins.’
‘Daddy and I call them yellow sea asters, or asteriscus maritimus, but I like moedas de ouro,’ she replies politely.
‘You interest in moedas de ouro?’ Jacento asks suspiciously.
Luna slides her clean hand over her eyes to wipe away the dripping sunscreen before replying. ‘Sim. Daddy and I are researching them. Do you know much about the burning skin issue?’
Jacento’s face darkens. ‘Sim. Ministério de Magia not believe my story, they think I lie for joke. You believe me?’ he asks hopefully as he pulls out another yellow sea aster from his pocket and pops it into his mouth. Chewing, he hands another over to Luna.
She takes it and grins; Daddy will be pleased!
Potato Beach. Or Praia da Batata. Every summer there are music festivals on Potato Beach, and this summer is no different. Luna looks down from the cliff to the many lights igniting the beach in the summer darkness, reflecting off the sea and alighting onto the cliff faces and the crowds of people shouting, laughing, singing and dancing along to the music. Potato Beach is named such – well Luna doesn’t know why it’s called Potato Beach, but when you look at it, a smallish stretch of beach tucked between two cliffs, it sort of looks like the shape of a potato. The people therein, when looked down at from above, look like dancing figurines in an overcrowded music-box that emits three-eight beats of lamenting, twanging guitars, under-toned by the echoing ballad of the sea.
Jacento Cardozo Cavalcanti, or Jac, as he had told Luna he prefers to be called after the tenth time she had called him Jacento Cardozo Cavalcanti (it is easier to say ‘Jac’ than ‘Jacento Cardozo Cavalcanti’ – a ten-syllabled name can get to be a mouthful when you say it too often), leads Daddy and she along one of the two cliffs hugging Potato Beach. He told them that this is one of the places he regularly comes to stock up on his pocketfuls of moedas de ouro. He told them that this is where he believes the culprit of the skin-blackening curse resides.
Luna looks to the other side of the cliff, in darkness, where the castle-like embankment walls jut out from the coast where the river meets the sea, like a guard of honour welcoming the fresh water to the salt.
‘See,’ Jac says in a brooding voice, chewing on a yellow sea aster and pointing to the tapered ending of their cliff, where scrubby verdure bristles in the slight sea breeze.
‘Where is it, now, boy?’ Daddy whispers excitedly, pushing past Jac and his scraggy wolfhound, which had refused to let Jac come on his own. It is very loyal, Jac had told Luna when they set off on their adventure, even for a dog.
But then, this is no ordinary dog. For one thing, is smells exactly like soya sauce. Its fur, its breath – it’s a soya sauce dog. No one knows why, not even Jac. But according to him, it hates sushi and all Japanese food – it even growls whenever it passes the Chinese take-away restaurant on its walks. Perhaps it had a bad experience that made it forever smell of soya sauce; the stink will ever remain a mystery. Another odd thing about the wolfhound is that it has only two legs: its left front leg and its right back leg. It sort of hop-skips in a wormy, caterpillar-like gait; its back arches when the back leg hops forward, then straightens out as the front leg hops forward. Luna is positive this dog would find a way to walk even if it had only one leg. She admires its determination and actually doesn’t mind the smell.
Adolfa, as the dog is called, is growling at the moment, its fur bristling as it glares at the end of the cliff. Jac pats it softly on the head, taking an aster from his pocket with his other hand and putting it in his mouth. He chews slowly as he looks at Daddy flapping his arms.
‘Where? Where? Where is it?’ Daddy cries, his eyes bulging and his Einstein hair crackling with invisible electricity in his excitement. Luna loves it when Daddy gets like this – it’s infectious.
She turns to Jac, and he has an expression on his face that Luna recognises is akin to dislike. Perhaps he’s a little upset with Daddy because he was forced here at wand-point. Not only had Daddy drilled Jac for every ounce of information on this cursed asteriscus maritimus plant – its attributes and whereabouts and whatnot – but Daddy had also pointed his wand at Jac when he refused to come with them to show the way. Daddy does get a bit dramatic sometimes, but it’s all in the name of discovery – and that’s not such a terrible thing …
To make Jac feel better and to assuage her feelings of guilt, Luna had walked with him the whole way here as he navigated the cliffs by lantern-light as easily as if he were a mountain goat – only less hairy and with two legs, not four – and they talked about how Jac has been roaming the cliffs of Lagos since childhood to collect his favourite food (asteriscus maritimus, of course). Ever since he discovered the single cursed moedas de ouro plant on the Potato Beach cliff at the beginning of summer, he’s been walking the streets handing out sunscreen to protect people from the skin-blackening curse, whether they consent to having it or not; Luna had not been the first to be doused. He seemed a little less unhappy by the time they came to Potato Beach, but upon arriving at the cliff where the curse resides, he’d turned louring once more.
He points to the end of the cliff again, chewing grumpily on his flower.
Luna sees it. Among the other scraggy plants along the dry cliff, she recognises clusters of the little bushes of yellow sea aster, their flowers closed for bedtime. But at the end of the cliff there is one bush sprinkled with little lights, hardly noticeable because of the music festival lights in the background. But there it is: an asteriscus maritimus plant that hasn’t closed its flowers for night time; in fact, they are glowing like little suns.
‘Daddy, look!’ Luna points to the bush.
‘Hurrah!’ Daddy bellows, then snatches the lantern from Jac and rushes to the end of the cliff, his hand extended reverently to pluck a little sun.
‘Careful, Daddy!’ Luna shouts, but she’s too excited for the words to come across as cautionary. She takes a step to follow him, drawn by the fiery flowers, but Jac closes a tight hand on her arm, holding her back.
‘Come on!’ Luna grins at him. They’re just about to save the town from skin cancer – and collect a highly rare and powerful plant for research! Why does he look so scared?
‘Aargh!’ Daddy’s tortured scream rents the air, moulding incongruously to the music wafting upwards from the beach.
‘Daddy!’ she shouts, fear clenching bronze talons into her heart.
He is on his knees, his face illuminated by the cluster of little lights before him, the rest of his body in darkness, except his hand. Moaning in pain, he clutches it, a charred and smoking remnant of meat.
‘Estúpido! No touch flower!’ Jac shouts angrily. ‘Não!’ he bellows as Daddy, a furious expression on his face, reaches his other – thus far unharmed – hand to the bush. Another agonised scream pierces the dulcet summer air.
In the blink of an eye, before Luna can even make a move to help, Jac has left her side and in three great strides takes Daddy by the neck and tackles him to the ground.
‘Get off, you braggart, off! Daddy shouts, rolling on the rock in agony, now with two blackened hands.
Luna rushes over, Adolfa at her heels, by the smell of it, and kneels by Daddy lying supine and whimpering on the ground. The craggy earth digs into her knees as she leans over him. The air is hot here, hotter than usual for a Mediterranean summer’s night. It’s because waves of heat are emanating from the shining asteriscus maritimus; Luna can feel her face reddening by the millisecond with sunburn.
‘Back, back, back,’ Jac says hurriedly, abandoning Daddy when he sees Luna, pushing her away from the cursed sea asters.
She falls onto her stomach, rolls over, then hears a distinctly clicking crack. Her vial of Portuguese marina water has fractured, the salt water seeping through the craquelure and down her singlet. Barely noticing, she moves back to Daddy to help Jac drag him away from the glinting asteriscus maritimus.
‘Estúpido! Idiota!’ Jac is cursing as he drags Daddy by the scruff of his robes away from the little cursed suns.
They stop about five metres away, then Luna bends over and takes a look through the darkness at Daddy’s charred bits of meat at the end of his arms. She feels nauseous as memories of her dead mother, of similar tortured screams, of the scent of burnt flesh, flash along a road in her mind parallel to her fresh fear.
‘Daddy!’ she murmurs. ‘You’re going to be OK!’ And she takes one of Daddy’s armpits. She opens her mouth to ask Jac where the nearest hospital is, but then something incredible happens.
A splash from her fissured vial of sea water splatters over Daddy as she hefts him up. Suddenly, steam begins to rise from one of his blackened hands. Daddy moans with relief.
‘More, Luna, darling!’ he cries weakly. ‘Put more on!’
Luna looks down to her broken vial, then at the sea water splashed over Daddy, over his ruined hand, now sizzling merrily. She looks at Jac, then back at the hand. Before their eyes, a smudge of pinkish skin appears among the charcoal. The bit that had been hit with salt water is healed.
Without further ado, Luna waves her wand. She is infinitely glad to be a studious and over-zealous Ravenclaw at the moment, else she wouldn’t be able to perform this spell. ‘Accio seawater!’ she cries, and a great bathtub-sized heap of water rushes up from the sea below. She points her wand at Daddy and the water crashes on-target, dousing him and making his blackened hands sizzle and steam and, slowly but surely, heal.
Daddy shakily gets to his feet, dripping, his white hair a sodden mop and his robes clinging to his body. He stares at his hands, turning them around and around in astonishment, then looks up at Luna and grins.
‘Ha-ha!’ he cries triumphantly, then takes her hands in his newly-healed ones and dances with her on the spot, spinning her around and skipping, seeming to forget all about his torturous experience of five seconds ago; Daddy doesn’t linger on the past. ‘Now we know an antidote to the asteriscus maritimus, my love!’ he says gleefully. ‘A little ironic, seeing as though the yellow sea aster actually has a high saline capacity, but that’s the wonderfully contradictory nature of magic, isn’t it, darling? All we have to do now is find a way of getting to the plant without it―’
Daddy and Luna turn to see Jac, his wand pointing to the asteriscus maritimus plant, which is hissing horrendously and emitting acrid smoke like a dying bonfire. None of the flowers are glowing anymore; the plant is completely, utterly dark. Running all over the rocky cliff, coming from said cursed plant itself, are rivulets and pools of seawater. Jac looks very satisfied. Daddy looks as pained as if his hands were back on fire.
‘No more skin cancer,’ Jac says happily, stowing his wand back in his pocket. He then plucks a yellow sea aster from the previously cursed plant, its petals back to normality and closed like its cousins – although it still steams slightly. He pulls out one of his own yellow sea asters from a pocket and examines it compared to the other one, looking from one to the other. He sniffs the previously cursed one, and then pops it into his mouth. Chewing thoughtfully, he winks at Luna, who, for the first time in a while, is shocked. It takes a lot to shock Luna Lovegood – she’s quite acclimatised to surprising things.
Jac doesn’t get burnt, thank goodness. He swallows loudly and, looking replete, says, ‘Good tasting normal like the others now. Adolfa!’ he then says peremptorily, and starts back past the Lovegoods to the mainland with his wolfhound, the scent of soya sauce wafting behind.
The fado music below is ever wafting upwards into the warm sky, past deaf ears upon the cliff. Daddy is gaping soundlessly, staring with tears in his eyes at the now faintly steaming and utterly normal asteriscus maritimus. Oddly, Luna doesn’t feel that disappointed. She’s too relieved that Daddy’s alright. He’ll get over it. There are rumours of a Blubbering Humdinger terrorising le Mont Saint Michel in France – perhaps he’ll move onto that venture. In any case, it won’t take him too long to forget this disappointment.
Before Luna takes him by the arm and gently steers him down the cliff, following the silhouette of Jac and two-legged Adolfa, she plucks a handful of yellow sea asters and puts them in her pocket. She’s come to find them quite delicious.
As she and Daddy begin to make their way back, all of a sudden – crack, crack, crack, crack! Half a dozen Ministry officials (judging by their uniformed attire) materialise at the beginning of the mainland. One of them takes Jac by the arm and Disapparates with him with another loud crack, then the remaining officials move to approach Daddy and Luna.
‘Oh dear,’ says Luna. ‘Under-aged magia.’ She sighs. This will take a bit of explaining. Her stomach rumbles; in all the excitement, they had forgotten to have tea. Luckily she’s stocked up on some tasty yellow snacks for the interrogation.