[This is a work of ‘fanfiction’, essentially a tribute to the world created by JK Rowling. No infringement of copyright is intended, and neither is any commercial exploitation.]
Rose awoke as she usually did – being licked in the face by her room-mate Yuki’s Persian cat. With a scowl of disgust, she whacked the creature on its nose and struggled to her feet. For some reason completely unfathomable to Rose, the cat had taken a great liking to her and seemed to cling to her whenever she was in sight.
She staggered towards the shower from where she finally emerged (though not before Melinda, another of the girls with whom she shared the dormitory, had banged on the door and accused her of ‘hogging the ruddy washroom like it belonged to her father’) feeling considerably refreshed. She headed down the stairs towards the Gryffindor common room, which appeared, at first glance, to be deserted. As it turned out, it was not – there was a mirror in the corner just under the staircase that led to the fifth-year boy’s dormitories, and Albus Severus Potter stood facing it, trying out various poses in an enormous top hat.
Not unused to her cousin’s penchant for making ludicrous fashion statements, Rose calmly settled into a chair and summoned her writing materials. ‘James’ silly imposition needs to be done, I guess,’ she told herself and sat down to work. A few minutes later, Albus appeared to realise he was not alone and hopped over to where she was sitting, the hat now jauntily positioned at a slant on the left side of his head.
“’Morning!” he said.
“Good morning, Albus,” Rose replied, without glancing up to look at him.
“What I was doing just now…”
“You were checking how pretty you looked, isn’t it?”
“No, I mean I know that’s what it might have looked like to a casual observer, but I really think this hat becomes me, don’t you?”
This time Rose did look up.
“Al, you look perfectly foul! If you have a single aesthetic bone in your body, you will desist from wearing that lid.”
“Tchah! I think you’re just jealous that I draw attention away from you!”
She rolled her eyes.
“Al, I don’t think we’re competing for the same fan-base.”
“Aren’t you bi?”
“Of course not!” she said in exasperation, putting her quill down. “What on earth gave you that impression?”
“Well, you don’t have a boyfriend, do you?”
“I might have had one by now if you and James had not acted like insanely protective brothers around me. Why can’t you be like Hugo? He’s actually my brother and he lets me be.”
“That’s because Hugo runs a massive and profitable betting syndicate and doesn’t have time to keep tabs on you – which is all the more reason I do. Now look here, Rosie! We don’t like the wrong sort of chap hanging around you, but we’d all really appreciate it if you settled down with a nice fellow. People speculate, y’know. Especially about you and Yuki.”
“James thinks I’m a slut and you think I’m in a lesbian relationship with Yuki? You’re both mental. Besides, aren’t you in love with Yuki yourself?”
“What? Hell, no. She’s not my type at all. She’s almost ugly, if you ask me.”
“I think she’s terribly pretty. Now if you really want to help me, Al, you can do these lines for me. I’ve been given an imposition.”
“Sure,” he said agreeably, “but what about the handwriting?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry much about it. Did you ever write to James when he was in his first year?”
“Eh?” asked Albus, getting to work. “No, never. Guys don’t do that letter-writing sort of thing to each other much, y’know. I occasionally had Mum or Dad insert a line for me.”
“Good,” said Rose, in a dreamy voice, cozying up into the chair, “wake me up when it’s time go for breakfast, would you?”
* * * * * *
Breakfast was something of a holy ritual for Rose, who never felt like the day had quite started until she had at least three slices of ham and bread inside her system. So it was but natural that she felt a lot better once she had feasted on the substantial spread that Hogwarts always managed to provide. It also gave her time to ponder on the previous day’s events. She had spent the last night rather dazed by everything. The first lesson of the day for the Gryffindors was History of Magic, a reliably sleep-inducing session which Rose spent drawing faces in her textbook. Every academic year began with a happy rumour that Professor Binns was to be replaced, but that had not happened yet, at any rate, so the somnambulistic ghost rambled on while the class (with the sole exception of Albus Potter, who was still wearing the top hat) dozed off peacefully.
Rose drew her father on the last page of the book, goofy grin, still retaining most of his hair and still cutting a trim figure, then her mother, imposing though slight, then her Uncle Harry, friendly face, lightning-shaped scar and unruly hair. Then it was the various Weasley uncles – Percy, Bill, Charlie and George. From that to drawing Cherry was almost a natural transition for Rose as she tried to delineate the fine features of the creature that had almost killed her barely over twelve hours ago. The burden of knowing what she knew was beginning to tell on Rose. She felt like she had to tell someone, to say it out loud to someone, if nothing else. James seemed the most obvious choice. Of all the people she knew, James was probably the one she had looked up to most as a child. Growing up, Rose had always regarded James as a sort of ideal – he was handsome, talented and unlike her, had always lived up to being the son of Harry Potter. James wasn’t the sort of magical genius that Scorpius was – Rose doubted that her cousin put as much thought into magical theory and experimentation as the Malfoy boy did – but he was a powerful wizard and unmatched as a duellist. On the other hand, Rose and James had steadily grown apart over the last year-and-a-half. Rose wouldn’t have called herself prim or conservative, but there was no doubt that James’ tendency to snog – and more – anything that had two legs and a pair of breasts disgusted her. To make matters worse, he had acquired a patronising tone in his dealings with her that she resented.
On the other hand, she and Albus had always been the best of friends. Growing up together, and being almost the same age, Rose and Albus were very close indeed. They shared the same insecurities – Rose was afraid of living up to her mother and Albus of living up to his brother – and the same aspirations. Rose saw herself as an artist who played good chess. Albus’ ambition in life was to become a fashion designer who played Quidditch. Rose was the best chess player in Hogwarts, having beaten Estelle Greengrass in the Cup finals for two consecutive years and Albus was the Gryffindor seeker. ‘We both take after our fathers in that respect’, Rose smiled to herself.
She caught up with him as they left class, grabbing his attention by knocking the hat off his head.
“Need to talk to you, Al,” she said, ignoring his indignant cursing as he dusted the lid.
“What the hell about?” asked her cousin crossly.
“Not here. Some place private. Come down to the grounds.”
“Ooh! Are you going to tell me all about you and Yuki?”
“For heaven’s sake, Al, just because she’s the most-desired girl in school does not mean I am in love with her as well!”
“The most-desired woman in school has always been a Weasley, at least ever since Victoire grew breasts,” he responded, “so regardless of your smouldering passion for Yuki, you must accept that she’s not the prettiest girl here.”
“Stop drivelling. Anyway, are you coming or not?”
“Yes, yes. Of course. Only if you promise not to touch my hat.”
“All said and done, I wouldn’t want to touch that foul thing with a barge pole. Now come on.”
They walked out of the school grounds in silence. There weren’t any lessons till after lunch, which meant she would have time to go over the events of the past day in some detail. Eventually stopping near the greenhouses where there was a secluded alcove in which Rose strongly suspected James often brought his paramours, they sat and Rose went over the events of the last evening, eventually finishing with the story of how she had hexed James, leaving out only the parts where Scorpius and she had spoken.
“Hmm. Well, so what do you plan to do now?” asked Albus.
“What do I plan to do? That’s exactly what I don’t know – which is why I’m telling you all this.”
“Yes, I’m referring the matter to a superior intelligence for guidance.”
“You ass! If you want a superior intelligence, you refer to your brother Hugo, not me!”
“Hugo’s a kid!”
“Hugo’s a kid who runs a multi-county crime syndicate. He’s the man to go to.”
“What on earth is he up to nowadays?”
“Your brother is a Napoleon of crime, Rose. In a school of bumbling amateurs, he’s a Professor Moriarty. I suggest we go meet him immediately.”
“You mean I have to repeat all this again to Hugo?”
“Yes. In his office. He’s set up an office a few days ago in an abandoned classroom.
“I’m not going to do any such thing!”
An hour later, however, that was precisely what she found herself doing, as Albus chewed the edges of his hat absent-mindedly, and her brother listened with a keen ear.
Hugo Weasley was a lad of about twelve summers, but he looked older than that. Perhaps it was his height – he was tall even for a Weasley. Perhaps it was the way he wore his hair – partitioned in the middle and slicked back. Or maybe it was just his singularly unprepossessing appearance. The point was widely debated but never quite resolved. The ‘office’ from which he operated was an unused classroom, spilling over with manuscripts and notebooks in which she assumed her brother maintained the records of his extensive bookie business.
“So, if I get this right, squirt,” said Hugo, “You’ve uncovered a vast right-wing conspiracy to bring down the Wizarding world?”
“What does the right-wing have to do with it? Does the Wizarding World even have a right-wing?”
“Everything is a right-wing conspiracy,” he shot back, “Even the Routers. Now what should we do?”
“My first order of priority would be to check on Uncle George’s well-being,” put in Albus, shaking out of his hat-chewing stupor.
“Well, I can tell you that he’s all right,” said Hugo, “Spoke to him by Floo this morning. He had some bets to place and winnings to collect.”
“That’s a relief. But I still think there was there’s something we’re missing,” Rose said.
Hugo cast a keen glance at Rose.
“What did the shape-shifting woman say before she left you? That her master was in trouble? Let’s try to piece things together. It appears that Scorpius has had a memory wipe. You had sent Scorpius to check on Uncle G. Something happened there that led to Scorpius having a memory charm cast on him but without harming either him or our beloved Uncle. I’m guessing that the Malfoy kid did go to the Weasley shop in Hogsmeade. It’s possible that he found Uncle G there – perhaps held captive by the chap who must be the master of this ‘Cherry’. Somehow Scorpius managed to overpower this fellow – who, if we have to go by the story told by the late Professor Snape, must be non-magical – and had him at his mercy. Now due to the telepathic link that appears to link the Apsara and her master, he was able to communicate his plight to her and that would have brought her to Hogsmeade after putting you out of action. My guess is that she’s essentially not a great fan of violence and killing, so she contented herself with erasing memories and presumably getting her master to safety.”
“You need to be a Wizard to do a memory charm,” pointed out Albus.
“From what we know about these chaps, they would have used a potion. I can think of at least a couple of potions that can do the job, and Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes would have the required ingredients in their storeroom.”
“So we’re fortunate that the instruments these Routers are using are not as bloodthirsty as them?”
“Yes, we are. But only as long as they haven’t been instructed to be.”
“Well, so we have a fair idea of what’s happened so far,” said Albus. “The question is – what next?”
Hugo knitted his brows.
“It depends. Let’s look at what we know. How many of these Apsaras did you say exist, Rose?”
“An enormous number, apparently, but there are eight ‘Prime Apsaras’, so to speak.”
“And we can be reasonably sure that the woman wasn’t lying?”
“I don’t think she was. She hadn’t even quite realised where she was at that point of time.”
“So the question now is – how many have the Routers summoned? And what powers do they have?” said Hugo.
“That means research…”
“Yep, research. We’ll have to comb the Hogwarts library. Look up anything you can find about Eastern magic. Hubstein’s books might be a good starting point. He would have cited source references in the original Sanskrit which might also be available.”
“That’s all very well, Hugo, but I don’t know how to read Sanskrit,” Rose said.
“Not you, silly. We want someone halfway competent. Martin Lovegood should be able to pitch in, can’t he?”
“Martin? Oh yes, yes. He can. He topped Ancient Runes last year,” said Albus vaguely. “Fellow can read Sanskrit faster than some of the students here can read English.”
“Then that’s settled. As soon as we find out more about what we’re facing, I’ll think of some way to get the information out to the guv’nor.”
“Leave that to me. In fact, I think the Routers’ attention is off Dad and Uncle Harry for the moment.”
“How do you figure that?” asked Rose.
“Because, my dear mutton-headed sister, they will now be after you. Trust nobody. You never know when this Cherry could pretend to be Albus or me and snap your neck. The only thing I can think of is never leaving you alone. Albus – do you get me? Talk to a couple of people you trust – Elk and Martin should be up for the job. Rose must have at least a couple of us with her at all times.”
“I do NOT think that’s a good idea,” said Rose, appalled.
“Don’t care what you think. You can’t sleep in your dorm anymore either. Never know who will be pretending to be a Gryff girl.”
“Where will I sleep then? Hugo, you’re totally over-reacting!”
“No I’m not. Albus agrees with me, doesn’t he? You can sleep here. Sneak out of the common room around ten and make your way. The password is ‘Don Corleone’.”
Albus nodded in a dazed sort of way. Hugo often had that effect on his cousins.
“Well, fine – I’ll even do that, but then you have to agree not to go ballistic about the fact that I’m meeting Scorpius and Estelle today evening. He was absolutely wonderful yesterday – and I think you chaps have him all wrong, and…”
“Say no more, sister,” said Hugo, raising a hand, “we will pretend we don’t know a thing. Yes, Albus, you too.”
Rose felt quite pleased with her brother and wondered if he had actually got past his petty prejudices. This sense of goodwill continued until the next day, when she realised that Hugo would have had Herbology that morning and would already have been aware that she would have to cancel the date.
She wasn’t sure whether she was disappointed or relieved that she would not be meeting Scorpius. A part of her flinched from facing him. She had promised to do so in what was undeniably a ‘gesture’ aimed at ticking off James. But whether she felt up to it was another matter – she could no longer deny to herself that she was attracted to him, but she couldn’t escape the distrust that came with being a Weasley interacting with a Malfoy.
The rest of the day went by in a bit of a daze. Hugo and Albus took turns being by her side, which she found a little irritating. In Herbology, she was told by her Uncle Neville about the planned rendezvous with Parvati Patil and couldn’t help a little internal groan, because that meant dressing up.
Rose wasn’t a particular fan of the dressing-up game, but she knew her way around a make-up kit. A half-hour after she had given a short shrift to Scorpius’ hopes and dreams, she found herself making her way to Neville Longbottom’s living quarters, a comfortable set of rooms on the first floor of the castle, a couple of short staircases away from his beloved greenhouses.
Rose was not the first to arrive – Hugo and Martin were already there. The table was set, and Hannah Longbottom welcomed her with a wide smile. Rose sat on a chair by the window and smiled as biscuits were handed around. A few minutes later, Lily Potter, the beautiful but vacuum-headed younger sibling of Albus and James joined them.
“What ho, Lily,” said Hugo graciously. “How does the land lie in the land of the lying liars?”
“Oh Hugo, don’t be silly. You talk such absolute nonsense!”
Considering his contribution to “humouring the special child” to have been fulfilled, Hugo turned back to Martin to discuss the prospects of the Wimbourne Wasps against the Chudley Cannons in their forthcoming match and to try to induce him to place a bet on the outcome.
Rose stifled a yawn. Formal meals were not her forte. The evening dragged on as more people joined. Miss Patil came after the rest of them, inducing Neville to crack a joke about how models could never resist being fashionably late. Then followed the inevitable round of reminisces about her parents and uncles and the rest of the generation of the last war. Rose’s interest in the proceedings flickered briefly to life when Parvati began talking about how her mother had walked out of a Divination class in her third year – a detail that Hermoine Weasley had rather conveniently forgotten to mention to her daughter. But then the conversation moved back to how wonderful things had been in the old days and Rose drifted off again.
“I say, old girl,” Albus whispered, when they had an opportunity to get away from the crowd for a bit, “I’ve been going through Hubstein’s books – the library has a complete collection - and the sources he cites are also available with us. I didn’t get the time to go through them, but hopefully, once this is over we’ll all go to the library and scope things out together.”
“Sounds fine. You’ll need to get a permission slip from Uncle Neville.”
“Leave that to me. I’ve spoken to Hugo as well. I think we can manage this. Once we know enough about Apsaras to get a clue about how to go about defeating these Routers, we can tell Dad…”
“Just don’t mention that I had anything to do with it.”
“I don’t see why you’re so reluctant to…”
“You wouldn’t understand, Al,” replied Rose, shaking her head.
They drifted off in separate directions again, Rose to confer with Hugo and Martin and Albus to convince Lily that it wasn’t a good idea to ask Parvati whether she wasn’t married because she didn’t have children or the other way round.
It was closing on seven when Parvati got down to the ‘business end’ of the evening, as Hugo put it.
“Well, it’s been so long since I’ve seen any of you that I really wouldn’t have known what to get you, but luckily your parents have been diligent letter-writers and I hope you’ll like these. James – your father keeps saying you’ve been badgering him for a Scorch 2010?”
James looked at her dumbstruck as she smilingly handed him a piece of parchment.
“It’s a receipt – the broom should be delivered by tomorrow.”
“I…I…Dad’s gonna give you an earful for spoiling us, you know!” he said finally.
“I think I can handle your Dad,” she replied.
Rose watched with half-hearted interest as Lily got a make-up kit and Hugo an abacus. Martin also got a Scorch 2010 to match James’. Albus got a subscription to Faustian Fashion, the leading Wizarding Fashion magazine. When it was Rose’s turn, she found herself laden with what looked like an enormous colouring-book.
“I’m sorry about the size,” said Parvati apologetically, “but that book is immune to any shrinking spells I can throw at it.”
“Well…err…I’m sure that won’t be a problem,” said Rose, almost keeling over. Albus stepped in and propped her up at the shoulder.
“It’s been in the family for generations but honestly none of us was ever any good at painting. It’s a pretty ancient Indian text; the pictures in it are drawn by some of our truly legendary artists. Dad used to tell me the names when I was growing up. Unfortunately I can’t even read the Sanskrit. You’ll love the style and maybe try to make copies too?”
Rose tottered over to table with Albus’ assistance, and laid the tome open. It was an old book, no doubt – the pages were yellowed around the edges, but the parchment was sturdy and thick. Each page had text on one side, in a script similar to the one in the book Snape had shown her mother and on the other, what was probably an illustration to the story. They were prints – lithographs, Rose thought. There was no doubt about the quality of the artwork – the style was distinct from anything she had seen before, having more lines than she was used to seeing in typical Wizarding miniatures.
“It’s wonderful,” she said truthfully.
The stroke of ten found Rose, along with Albus, Martin and Hugo, in the restricted section in the library, where they had headed directly from the party. She and Hugo were hunting for books that might bear even the remotest allusion to Oriental summoning magic, while Martin and Albus were combing through Hubstein’s collected works.
It wasn’t going well.
“Any luck?” asked Martin eventually, putting away the book he had been reading.
“Nothing,” replied Rose. “Just a bunch of obscure references here and there.”
“Nothing here either. There are few mentions about Apsaras and their abilities, but he writes of them as an ancient Indian legend and nothing more,” said Martin. “The only really useful stuff I could find is when he talks about the nature of their magic.”
Rose sat heavily on a chair opposite Martin. Hugo, who had been standing a few meters away also came and joined them.
“He says the Apsaras are creatures of the heavens who draw their power from the elements that are within the earth itself. So the Fire nymph draws her powers from the heat at the core of the earth, the shape-shifter however would draw it from a different source – from the changing nature of human beings themselves. We are a part of the earth as much as fire and water.”
“He mentions the legend about there being eight Apsaras and how seven of them came before the eighth, but that bit is rather obscure.”
“Anything on how to fight against or un-summon these creatures?” asked Hugo.
It was Albus who answered, as Martin stood up and stretched his legs. “Not really. The death of the person who has summoned the creature always works, but there’s no mention either of the spell used to summon the Apsara or un-summon her. As for fighting them – they are affected by magic the same way we are but any impact is limited to that particular life of the Apsara and does not leave a lasting impression, as with Rose’s memory charm.”
“Would an Unforgivable work?”
“There is some speculation here. I guess an Avada Kedavra might work as an un-summoning. Crucio might work too. I’m guessing the Imperius would not – the link of the Apsara to her summoner should be too strong.”
“So an AK should do the trick?” asked Hugo.
“According to Hubstein, the effect is likely to be temporary. The earthly presence of the heavenly creature would be disrupted for a short period but eventually she would return,” replied Albus.
“So you are saying there is no fighting them?” queried Rose.
“Well, may be a really really powerful wizard might stand a chance. Maybe the late professor Dumbledore or Mouldy Voldy, as Peeves likes to call him,” said Albus.
“What about your father or Professor Neville?” asked Rose.
“Well, let’s be honest here, Dad and uncle Neville are champion duellers but the Apsaras draw on a raw, brute power that would be difficult to counter. I guess that the only sure-fire way to counter an Apsara might be with another Apsara.”
“And how exactly are we going to get one to fight on our side?” asked Rose, derisively, “you think if we ask nicely, one might drop by and take up cudgels for us?”
“Well, no, that’s not what I was saying,” said Albus with a sigh. “They can be summoned, obviously, because we know it’s been done. The damn books are silent on HOW it can be done, though. Hubstein is purposefully silent on that point. Guess the old fox wanted to keep a trick up his sleeve. “
“I say, Rose,” said Martin suddenly, “this book was given to you by Ms. Patil, wasn’t it?”
Rose turned to see Martin poring over the book that she had received as a gift.
“Yes, it is, why?”
“Did I hear her say she couldn’t read Sanskrit?”
“Yes, that’s what she said.”
“But she was at the D.A. meeting, right?”
“Yes, she was – in fact seeing her was what set off my curiosity and made me follow her and Professor Longbottom.”
“Well, people don’t lie when they call models dumb,” said Martin, with a little chuckle. He turned the book around by ninety degrees so that it faced Rose and Albus. It was a story at the middle of the book, the curving script on the right-hand side quite overshadowed by the illustration on the facing page. It depicted what looked like a terrace garden in a part of what must have been a palace, surrounded by a meadow. A man dressed in what Rose could only describe as a colourful toga stood looking out of the terrace. There, apparently floating down from the skies, was drawn a woman of dazzling beauty, with jet-black hair floating behind her, while a setting sun behind the palace cast a dusky hue on her golden skin. She was dressed in next to nothing, essentially a white robe which might as well not have been there – the only adornment was a few flowers in her hair. The artist in Rose ached at the sheer beauty of it.
“It’s a beautiful painting,” she said finally, “but why did you make that remark about Ms. Patil?”
Martin placed a finger over the title on the page facing the illustration.
“No one? You really should take Ancient Runes, you know. Scorpius doesn’t – which means it’s a level playing field for the rest of us. The title reads ‘Of Urvashi and the summoning of Apsaras.’ It’s a story of a King who summoned an Apsara and fell in love with her, says’ the summary. And here…” Martin turned the page, to show another painting, this time of a grove of fruit-bearing trees, where deer, rabbits and peacocks frolicked. The woman from the previous page was here too, this time dressed in red and green, the garments doing a marginally better job of preserving her modesty than the white robes. She sat in the centre of the grove, caressing a dove that sat in her lap. “…here we have the key to summoning her. See this – I’m translating here – ‘She appeared in the grove he had made, a place of wonder and beauty and gentleness where the Apsara Urvashi, beloved of the Gods, the most perfect being in Heaven and Earth, could rest and revel in the oneness with nature.’”
“I still don’t see how it helps us,” shrugged Albus, “unless you’re suggesting we plant a ruddy orchard and let loose some animals in it and hope for the best.”
“Well, let me read through. There’s seven more stories here dedicated to Apsaras. Give me a little time, guys – I’m sure I’ll have something concrete to tell by then.”
“To think a member of the D.A. had this book and didn’t have the brain to show it to Mom!” exclaimed Hugo.
“It’s official – wonders will never cease,” said Albus with a mock groan, as he sat back in his chair, “and neither will the infinite stupidity of the human race.”
Rose yawned as Martin pored excitedly over the yellowing pages. It was likely to be a long night.