The trio crossed to the far end of the grounds and the “Do Not Cross” line of trees that marked the beginning of the Forbidden Forest. With little more than a casual glance to make sure no eyes were upon them, they slipped in one by one.
The Gryffindor lead the way along a path that was all but invisible if you didn’t know it was there and had been really looking for it. Ducking under and around the spindly, knobby, knuckled branches that tried to tangle in their hair, it lead deeper and deeper, meters past the edge of where any direct sunlight broke through the canopy until a small rocky burm sat in a small clearing.
“Here we gae,” Céilidh said.
A pair of curtains hung over the cave’s mouth, blocking the little warm glow behind. The Gryffindor drew back the Gold lined crimson half and disappeared inside.
Foozle gave Nicolette a smile. “Home sweet home,” he said, pulling open the bronze trimmed velvet blue curtain for her.
Ducking a little to pass under his arm, she looked around the brightly colored room filled with familiar green and silver furniture and laughed quietly. “I’m actually more surprised at how unsurprised I am that you have a secret hideaway cavern…” she paused to delicately sniff the air, “distillery?”
“Mebbes.” The boy followed her in, that little smirk on his face. He waved a hand around, gesturing to the long, squat table in front of the sofa that was covered in papers and to the mismatched shelves with books. “Among ither things.”
On the far side of the room, Céilidh had drawn back the dark cloth that covered the oak barrels. In front of them was a line of several dark bottles. She hooked one with her finger and lifted it to give its Gentleman label a cursory look before uncorking it. “E’en A wis surprised howfur weel he ‘n Danny seem tae be at it. Ah think oor potions master wad be floored.”
Foozle picked up some glasses, holding them up to the flickering light of the sconces to check them. “Ah think Snape wid uise it as a final nail in oor coffin.” He blew in the glasses.
Nicolette chuckled. “I suspect Professor Snape would use anything as the final nail in your coffin.”
He held the trio of glasses up. “Danny an A awreddies hae a working,” he paused a beat to think of the right word, “agreement wi The Leaky Cauldroon. He’s been sellin oor drink fur a guid year nou. Atween tha an the notesbeuks, we’ve made some priddy decent seed monies.”
The former socialite muffled a giggle behind her fingertips. “It shows in your choice of… decor.” She shook her head and sighed exaggeratedly, teasing her boy with playful affection. “New money.”
“Och? Tha?” Orlando smiled. “We staw tha,” he said to punctuate the obvious.
“Appropriated,” Céilidh corrected, “staw is sic an awfy wird.”
Foozle looked at his sister. “Ah reck she juist made a pun…”
“You can’t prove it.” She raised a brow at him.
Céilidh laughed and filled the three glasses with the amber liquid of the Gentleman’s bottle.
“Sairy,” the boy apologized, handing the glasses out among the three of them, “we dinnae hae ony wine oan haund.” He looked around a little. “Thare wis some grape juice in here afore tha’s prolly fermented oan its own, gif ye’d raither…”
“I prefer not to chew my drinks.
“Aye,” chuckled the boy. “An Ah’d prefer no tae send ye tae wifie Pomfrey oan yuir birthday. An speakin o yuir birthday…” He took a drink from his glass and set it down on the table beside the large yellow parchment. He reached into the pocket of his coat and drew out a little wooden box. He held it forward on an open palm and smiled. “Canty birthday, hen.”
She deposited herself in the boy’s lap as they all sat and pressed a slightly glossy kiss in the corner of his smile. “Trying to keep me spoiled, hmn?” She set her drink beside his and held her hands open beneath the box.
“Juist open it…” he told her, dropping the gift into her cupped hands.
With great care, Nicolette opened the hinged lid of the simple, beautiful little box. Inside, amid folds of blue and bronze tissue paper was a small pendant. The piece was intricate in its design, that familiar raccoon she had come to adore curled up on a bed made of the full moon. Both features sending ripples across her memory. The moon would always remind her of her boyfriend; from that first Halloween night to many stolen moments in the Astronomy tower.
She slid her fingers under the delicate silver chain and lifted the piece of jewelry out of its box. “Orlando… It’s beautiful.” She caught the hanging pendant in her other hand and ran her thumb over the surface of the detail.
“Ahm gled ye like it,” he said and kissed her cheek. He took it from her fingers and let it hang by the full length of its braided silver chain. She pulled her long, black hair aside for him to latch it around her neck. “Céilidh wis the ane wha gat the chain fer me.”
Nicolette smiled across the room as he put the necklace in place. “Thank you, Céilidh.” The cool metal warmed against her skin as it settled into place. “The whole thing really is perfect.”
Céilidh, already feeling much the third wheel waved a hand. “Tis na muckle. Ma kens a Muggle jeweler…”
“The ingenuity of muggles never fails to amaze me.” The Ravenclaw ran her fingers over the chain. “No magic at all and yet they still manage to make such beautiful things.”
Foozle let her slip off his lap onto the seat beside him. He leaned forward and picked his glass up off the table. “Ah hae been tellin ye tha fur a guid while nou.”
“Oh hush.” With her own glass in her fingers, she picked up the parchment that was now the sole occupant of the table. Looking over it, she realized it mapped out the area surrounding their exact location. “I wouldn’t think any of you the types to get lost easily, especially in a place you have made your own.”
“Och,” Foozle’s grin grew to a Cheshire Cat proportion, “Tha? Tha’s juist a wee project o Céilidh an mine. Gif Ah’ve leart onything ower the years at Hogwarts it’s tha it’s guid to ken whaur ye are, whaur yuir gaen, an wha’s in between.” He leaned forward and tugged the map forward. “Sae we’ve been wirking oan this map. Mad haundy tha is.”
“We based it oan a similar map frae some former students. Made a few modifications sae tis nae rooted tae yin location.” Céilidh explained as she settled herself into one of the purloined easy chairs. “Th’ ainlie thing we’re hung up oan is th’ back-tracking.”
Nicolette cradled her glass in her fingers. She looked up from the map to the girl in the chair. “Back-tracking?” Her dark brow rose a little.
At her side Orlando fished something out of his bag, a folded piece of yellow, worn parchment. “Ah solemnly sweir tha Ah’m up tae nae guid.” No sooner had he spoken that the parchment bled with black ink which crawled around the paper to form the lines of the castle and grounds of Hogwarts, right down to little copies of its denizens.
“Where did you get this?” Her tone was somewhere between intrigued and concerned when she asked.
“Twas bequeathed tae me ‘n Danny at the end o oor foremaist yuir,” he told her. “Ah jalouse haunding it doon haes bin a Hogwarts tradition fur a lang while.”
The boy grinned and looked at his sister. “But it anely wirks fur Hogwarts. Céilidh an A wantit something we coud tak oan the road…”
“I’m still not sure what you mean by ‘back-tracking’. It would seem you have nearly everything figured out.” Nicolette, who had long since given up worrying about most things Orlando found himself in, marveled at the pair of maps. “This looks like you took a few notes from the maps you made before.”
“Aye, ’twas ferr th’ resource.” The corner of the redhead’s mouth shot up. “Whit we wantae be able tae dae insae ainlie see whaur folk ur, bit whaur thay wur. That’s getting intae time-magic, something neither o’ us takes lightly.”
“Aye,” nodded Orlando, “But wi the richt tools and cark, ye kin dae richt amazing things.” He jabbed a finger in the direction of the blankets that covered the oak barrels. “Lik age yuir drink in a fraction o the time. Ye juist need tae be canny an smairt aboot it.”
“But,” the Hufflepuff shifted and took a drink from his glass, “this ane we cannae wirk oot yet. It’s a puzzle tha’s just….” He sighed. Or perhaps it was a groan. “Juist oot o reach.”
Both of Nicolette’s dark eyebrows arched towards her hairline. “How terribly nosey of you.” Her thumb ran over the bump under her sweater that set just below her new necklace. “Is this your subtle way of asking if I will risk my academic career so you can use my time turner?”
“Weel, ye cuid juist misplace it fur a weekend ‘n’ be pleasantly surprised whin it turns up Sunday eve.”
Foozle could read the hesitation in her face, though his girlfriend hid it well. After all if she were caught without it in her possession expulsion could be the least of her worries. “Oor,” he said with a smile, “mebbes ye wad lik tae gie us a haund?”
The Hufflepuff’s eyes rose to his sister’s a moment. “Efter aw, wha ense kens th’ tyme turner better?”
Looking back to Nicolette he continued, “A cannae imagine ye hivnae pokeit intae tha marvel aroond yuir neck…”
Chewing on the inside of her lower lip, Nicolette fidgeted with the hem of her sweater. “I didn’t want to break it…” She pulled the double looped fine chain out from its hiding place. “There is no way I could make it to every class without it.”
“Acoorse no.” Orlando shook his head. His eyes sparkled with the prideful smile that grew over his expression. “Céilidh an Ah excel a learning wioot breaking.”
The Gryffindor agreed. “Tis true.”
“I recall a certain washboard that would disagree if it were still alive today to tell its tragic story…”
“Ah cannae speak fur the centaurs, he replied with a teasing scowl, “but tha’s a differ thing, differ pairt o the process. Thair is ayweys trial an error in ony project.” He picked up the map. “This is oor third prototype. Prototypes ar meant tae be brak while ye test yuir theories.” He pointed to the golden hourglass pendant. “Ye niver brak yuir source. Gif ye dae, ye cannae keep learnin.”
Careful not to spin the center ring, Nicolette thumbed it thoughtfully. “If you mess it up, I could miss my class and end up the wrong place in time…”
“An tha juist winna dae.” The boy smiled and kissed her cheek. “Ahm raither fand o haen ye in the richt tyme.”
Orlando got up and walked across the room to a dresser and began rummaging through the top drawer.
“It’s alricht, Collette,” Céilidh’s smile was one of sympathetic understanding. “Naither o us wad pat ye in hairm’s wey. Physical oor ither. Gif yuir no comfortable wi daen onythin we dinnae hae tae. Lik Ah sain, we dinnae tak tyme magic lichtly.”
Orlando had returned. He knelt on the ground by the Ravenclaw’s knees. “Hauld it oot fer me?”
Doing something she very rarely did, Nic pulled the delicate chain over her head. The necklace swept her hair over her shoulder as it left its place. The gyroscopic device was surprisingly light in her palm as she held it out to him.
The Hufflepuff revealed what appeared to be a bone handled magnifying glass. Around the large, round centerpiece, the holding metal clasps were separated like a series of rune laden dials. As he leveled it over the ornate, golden gyroscope the gold metal began to glow with an intricate script that seemed carved right into it.
“It’s cawd a spellglass,” he explained. “Thair uised tae inspect maigics in canny detail.” Adjusting the first level of dials, the surface of the hourglass faded away, revealing secrets hidden within.
The boy’s grin was back. “Thair no exactly legal, strictly speakin. Highly regulated by the Ministry.” He gave a twist to another dial and the glowing script changed. “This ane wis ma Gran’s.”
A soft smile pulled at the corner of her lips and she couldn’t help but run her fingers along the side of his hair. “I don’t think there is much you do that is legal.” She always felt a warmth from him whenever he spoke about his Grandmother. A warmth that was always touched with loss.
The Scot scoffed with mock offense. “Ah dae plenty tha’s legal. Why, juist this efternoon A haen lunch in the Great Haw lik ilka ither guid, law abidin student.”
“Efter ye spent the nicht in this verra forbidden cave,” added Céilidh not remotely under her breath.
“And there was that thing we did yesterday afternoon…”
“Weel…” Foozle exaggeratedly averted his eyes.
Céilidh cleared her throat. “Onywey…”
She finished her drink and refilled the three glasses. “Sae, Collette?”
It took her a few moments of thought to decide. “Only on the weekends, I am here at all times…. and if I disappear from class only to see you again as an old lady, both of you are in deep trouble.” She tipped her hand and carefully dropped the time turner into Orlando’s hand. “Merlin save us, they will regret giving me this.”
“Thay micht, Lando’s fingers carefully closed over the time turner. He stretched up from where he knelt in front of Nicollete and kissed her, “But ye winnae.”