Saturday, 27 August 2016

Rose, A Harry Potter Fanfic - Chapter Seven

[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.]

Previous Chapters

Chapter 7


Rose would not have been able to say exactly what it was that she intended to do. While she had been hiding under the Invisibility Cloak inside the cave, the thought of revealing herself and shouting out, “That's not George Weasley! It's an impostor!” had struck her several times. However, better sense had prevailed.

She knew that there would necessarily be a time gap from her making her presence known to the D.A. realising what was happening – time enough for the fake Uncle George to cause grievous harm, if not worse, to at least a few people before being overpowered. What IS this creature anyway, Rose wondered, that can take on the shape and voice of Uncle George? I suppose she is connected to the Routers, but surely she must have some magical powers herself. Is she a Witch who has aligned herself with them? Hmm…that's not very likely and even if she was, I don't remember seeing a Witch or Wizard who could do a perfect morph into another person with a voice to match. Teddy Lupin is a Metamorphagus, but his voice gives him away most times.

Rose emerged from the cave into the fading daylight. The trees cast long shadows across the snow and Rose took advantage of that to step slowly away from the cave's mouth, careful not to leave too-noticeable footsteps in the snow. Some of the people who had been in the meeting seemed to have already left.

Rose could see her parents chatting with the pseudo-George. She quickly ran her mind through the options she had before her. I have an Invisibility Cloak and the element of surprise, she thought, which means I can definitely get one shot at this creature before she knows what hit her. The question is – will it be enough?

Rose watched as Ron and Hermione waved their goodbyes and walked a few meters, hand-in-hand, before Disapparating. Neville and Parvati too went on their way, taking the road back to Hogsmeade on foot. There was now nobody around apart from Rose and her quarry. With the impostor’s broom having been sent off in Scorpius' possession, Rose was pretty certain that she would waste a while searching in the woods for it. A bit of stealth would then give Rose the perfect opportunity to hit the spy from behind. I need a spell that will prevent her from taking the news of this meeting back to the Routers. In fact I should be able to prevent her from going back at all! If I can neutralise this spy that would make their life a little difficult and right now, I'm all for anything that makes the Routers’ life a little difficult.

She continued to keep a close on eye her as both of them stepped deeper into the woods, the fake Uncle George obviously getting flustered as tree after tree revealed no hidden broom. Rose kept her distance, careful to stay out of earshot and only just within eyesight. Ahead of her she could discern the figure of her Uncle George turn and begin to walk back towards her. She began to move slowly to her right, waiting for the imposter to advance back in her direction. By dint of manoeuvring in a large semi-circle as the impostor walked in a straight line, Rose soon found herself standing directly behind her target.

Rose swallowed nervously. It would have to be a Memory charm. As powerful a charm as she could muster. She had never actually cast 'Obliviate' before though she had studied about it in Professor Flitwick's class. Rose knew that if she could pull off a powerful enough spell, she could effectively wipe out the entire memory of the victim. That should do the trick, she thought, it will leave this creature not only unable to take any information back to the Routers, she will probably be unable to even remember that they exist.

A moment of self-doubt crossed her mind as she wondered whether it was not rather cruel to wipe out the memory of a person in that manner, but she brushed it aside. One has to be pragmatic in these things, she thought. I can’t afford to be nice. Besides, it might be all for the better.

Her hand trembling, she held out her wand. She felt the front of the Invisibility Cloak part under her hand. She was aiming right at her target – the back of Uncle George's head.

“OBLIVIATE!” Rose yelled, swishing the wand in a downward motion. The spell caught its victim squarely in the back of the head and Rose smiled with satisfaction as she saw the fake George fall forward into the snow.  Obviously the full force of the spell had caused something similar to a concussion. She raced over to the fallen body, mindless of the Invisibility Cloak having slipped off her.

Rose wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. She’d executed the spell well enough, she was sure of that. Performing a brute force memory charm was a lot easier than trying to do the more surgical memory modifications that they tried to learn in the classroom. You just had to focus all your magical energy into the spell and aim. She supposed Scorpius and probably even Martin could do their memory charms with a lot more precision, but that wasn’t what she had been trying for anyway.

She knelt by the fallen body and with a little effort managed to push it over on its back. Inside the thick winter coat, she could feel that she was no longer dealing with Uncle George’s rotund body. The person she had turned over was a much lighter weight, and Rose guessed that the morph had worn off with the loss of consciousness. So let’s see what you really look like, she said as she brushed the flecks of snow off her victim’s face with her handkerchief.

Rose couldn’t hold back a little gasp as she looked upon the visage looking up at her from the snow. The woman wasn’t just beautiful – she was breath-taking. Rose, though not privy to Scorpius’ assessment of her own physical attractions had nonetheless always considered herself fairly pretty. On seeing the youthful, fair-complexioned, sharp-featured woman before her, she wondered whether she might not need to change the scale of reference a bit. The colour seemed to be returning to the cheeks and Rose thought she detected a flicker a movement in her eyes. Sure enough, a few seconds later Rose was treated to the sight of seeing the woman struggle to a squatting position, holding her head in her hands with a pained expression – the surest signs of a successful memory charm.

Rose got back on her feet. She held her wand behind her back, hand firmly grasped around it, waiting for any sign of danger. For some reason though, Rose didn’t feel threatened. Maybe it was how the woman looked – she wasn’t just beautiful, Rose told herself, but it was a very friendly kind of beauty. She looked kind and playful – she looked like someone who might be a friend, and nothing like a spy for a deranged organisation of Muggles and Squibs out to destroy the wizarding world. For a moment, the thought that she might be the victim of an Imperius curse flashed through Rose’s mind.

“Wo bin ich?” asked the woman, looking hopefully at Rose.

“I…err?” Rose hesitated.

“Ou suis-je?” she said again.

Rose shook her head. Hadn’t she just heard this woman speak English in the cave when she was pretending to be Uncle George? Had she forgotten how to speak as well? On the other hand what she had said didn’t sound like gibberish – it sounded like a foreign language.

“Where am I?”

This time the question was pretty straightforward.

“You’re in Scotland,” said Rose truthfully.

She put a hand to her forehead again.

“Why am I in Scotland? Did Hernwig send me here?”

“I don’t know,” said Rose. “Who is Hernwig?”

“My master.” The reply came accompanied by a slight groan. “No – wait, that doesn’t feel right either.”

“Who are you?” asked Rose. Should she remember who she is? How bad can the effect of a complete Obliviate be?

She cast a look at Rose that was almost playful.

“My name? Oh, you’d never be able to pronounce it right, you pretty little morsel – but I have had many names over the years. Short names, long names, loving names and derogatory names –" she clutched her head again – “what’s happened to me?”

“What are you called now?”

“Can’t seem to remember…I do remember Hernwig though – he used to call me Cherry.”

“Well, Cherry then…who’s this Hernwig?”

“More to the point – who are you?”

“I’m Lily Evans,” replied Rose, lying through her teeth. “I was taking a walk when I saw you lying on the ground, face down.”

“Well, Lily, Hernwig was my master – I sense that he’s no longer with us. I have a new master, I can sense his mind but I cannot remember much about him or anything that’s happened to me in this life.”

“This life?” asked Rose, realisation beginning to dawn upon her. Hernwig Hubstein – wasn’t that the dead German’s name? “You’re Hubstein’s Apsara – the Fire Nymph!”

Rose kicked herself mentally the moment she blurted that out. Cherry gave her a puzzled look.

“I suppose you’re partly right – I am an Apsara and Hernwig Hubstein was my master, but I’m not his any more – I returned to the Other Realm when he died and was called again a few days ago by another man. I’m not a Fire Nymph either – that’s…well that’s another of us. Though how you’ve heard about us I can’t tell. Generally people outside India and East Asia don’t know much about us.”

“I…read about you in one of Hubstein’s books,” said Rose, “Just putting two and two together.”

“Well I don’t know what he wrote in those things. Never got around to reading them. Can you give me a hand?”

“You said the Fire Nymph was ‘another of us’? Are there more like you?” Rose asked as she helped Cherry to her feet.

“Oh yes. Speaking of Fire Nymphs, I could use one right now. Is there a place where I can get a warm fire? I’m freezing here.”

Rose thought for a moment and then decided against trying to cast a Fire spell. She wasn’t sure she could cast one powerful enough to last very long in the snow.

“You can make your way to the village of Hogsmeade,” Rose said ingratiatingly, “where you can find a friendly inn or two. I’ll walk with you – tell me more about you – and the Apsaras. How many of you are there?”

Cherry still had a hand on her forehead but she allowed herself to be led towards the path.

“A thousand and a few. But eight of us are the primary harem of the Gods.”

“A harem of the Gods?”

“Yes – what DID Hernwig put in that book of his? In the Other Realm where we live, that’s what we are.” She paused and began to speak in a singsong voice. “Eight are the consorts of the Gods, their pleasure and their pride, twenty-six are their companions, to while away the idle hours, eighty-four are their dancers, the finery of their courts, two hundred and seventy-four are their handmaidens, the keepers of their trust and eight hundred and ninety-two are their servants, who fulfil their every need. It sounds a lot better in the original Sanskrit,” she finished with a laugh, and then put her hand to her forehead again.

“And you are one of the eight?’

“Yes, they call me Chitralekha in that place.”

“Can all of you be summoned?”

“I believe so, but it’s very difficult magic. We’re never told how it’s done, but the call comes and we must obey it – and the caller.”

“You have no free will?”

“We have to obey orders. Orders…I had orders. I’m here on orders…Our minds link to that of our masters when we are called. My master is – I see him now; I can feel him…he…”

Cherry turned suddenly to face Rose.

Be calm, Rose, the girl told herself, as she tightened her grip on her wand.

“You! You’re a wizard – you tampered with my memory!” Cherry’s voice was accusatory.

“I did no such thing,” exclaimed Rose.

“Yes! I can’t remember anything from this life – it must be a memory spell. Hernwig told me about them. You couldn’t touch my past memories. My master can reach me still – he’s asked me to – there was a meeting – I had to – I can’t remember!”

Rose almost felt sorry for Cherry as she turned an anguished face towards the ground and almost crumpled to her knees.

“You don’t know what this means – I have failed. I will be punished now – oh, the bad masters can punish us for this. And the broomstick – you must have taken that too. It was valuable, my master will torture me!”

“Look, I didn’t mean…” began Rose, stepping forwards, in a sympathetic tone. She didn’t get to complete the sentence, as Cherry lunged at her and brought her down to the ground in a single movement. Rose felt the other woman’s weight on her and tried to point her wand, but her wrist was being held in a vice-like grip.

“Want to know more about us? Curious girl, aren’t you?” Cherry was speaking, her mouth uncomfortably close to Rose’s ear, “Well, let me tell you a little more, Miss Evans. We don’t like being played for fools. Oh, you poor, pretty girl…you messed with the wrong creature.” Rose caught her breath as she felt the weight on her chest increase. She could vaguely feel the wand was still in her hand, but the Apsara’s grip was unrelenting despite Rose’s struggles.

“Let me go,” Rose whispered.

“Let you go? Where?” Rose winced as the Apsara’s eyes locked into hers, piercing through her. “I like you, my little flower. I think I’ll just stay here until I’ve had my way with you.”

“What are you talking about?” Rose gasped. “I didn’t mean any harm.”

“Didn’t you? A full-power memory charm isn’t harmful at all, is it?” came the sarcastic reply.

“I thought you were out to destroy us!” Rose managed to scream. She felt the weight on her chest become a little lighter. The Apsara rose to a straddling position, still keeping Rose’s wrist in her hand.

“There are forces in the world that you had best learn not to fight with,” she said, in a softer tone, “for you might come to harm no matter how you deal with them. You’re a beautiful girl, Lily. I suppose that isn’t your real name?” Rose felt a hand slip into her cloak’s pocket and the little monogrammed case in which she kept her drawing pencils emerged in her adversary’s hands. “Rose, is it? I’m very strong, Rose. Much stronger than any man, let alone a woman. I could break your neck like breaking the stem of the flower whose name you bear. I could break the trunk of a tree with as much ease. My sisters can do other things – with fire, with water, with the air. Keep away. I don’t know who my master is, or what he wants, but if he has me on his side, I don’t fancy the chances of whoever he’s against. He’s calling me. It’s urgent.”

Rose felt her wrist being twisted. The pain was unbearable. Her wand fell from her grip. The pressure on her wrist relaxed, and she saw her wand being flung into the distance. A hand, surprisingly gently, ran through her brown hair even as another pressed around her neck. Rose coughed, struggled, gasped for air as the warm breath of the Apsara once again fanned her face.

“You’re too beautiful to kill. Don’t ever get into a place where I don’t have the choice not to,” were the last words she heard before the darkness closed in around her.

*                                  *                                              *                                 


The voice seemed to be coming from miles away.

“You all right?”

That faraway feeling again. Who was it? She just wanted to sleep. To stay in the blackness for a while longer. It was comfortable there. The real world was cold and unfriendly.

“Rose! Wake up! You must!”

The voice brought to her mind a blurred vision of a thin, tall boy with flaxen hair and steel-grey eyes. He was handsome and witty and athletic and intelligent and everything she had ever dreamed about – and he was splashing water in her face. Her eyes sprang to life.

“Malfoy! What in Circe’s name are you doing?”

“I thought you’d been offed!” he said.

“You nitwit! At least stop the water!”

“Oh yes – erm, Finite!” he said, and his wand stopped spouting.

She rose, still spluttering.

“Where do you think you get off, Malfoy, splashing me with water?”

“Rose! You were lying unconscious in the snow in the middle of nowhere. You might have thought to thank me for rescuing you.”

For a moment, she looked at him blankly. Then her thoughts began to congeal together in her head and she remembered the events of the evening.

“My wand!” she exclaimed, staggering to her feet.

Lumos,” said Scorpius, lighting up the surroundings. They scoured the area for a few minutes before Rose found her wand lying some twenty feet away from where she had fallen.

“Shall we go now? It’s almost dinnertime.”

The darkness was evidence enough that he was telling the truth.

“What about James’ cloak?” she asked.

Another search followed, though since Rose remembered where she had dropped it, not much time was wasted. She noticed that Scorpius was still carrying around the old broomstick that she’d given him. Cherry’s broomstick, she thought, and shuddered. The one she said was very valuable. She caught a look at the old, splintered wood and wondered what was special about it.

“NOW can we go home, Weasley?” asked Scorpius wearily.

“Yes, but how? We’d never reach in time if we walked.”

“I don’t suppose you’d care to fly on the broomstick with me? It’s large enough for us, I think since we’re both rather thin. We can fly to the Hogwarts gates in no time – it’s very fast, believe me.”

“And will Hagrid just let us in this late?”

“He will if you let me wear the Invisibility Cloak,” said Malfoy, “If he thinks it’s just you, I don’t think he’ll take it too seriously.”

This was true. Hagrid was notoriously partial towards her and Hugo as well as to the Potter children.

“I’ll get on the broom – but don’t you try to lay a hand on me!”

“My dear Weasley,” he said, with a touch of the Malfoy sarcasm, “I’ll be sitting in front. It’s you touching me that I’ll have to worry about.”

Rose wasn’t much of a flyer, though she didn’t actually fear it like her mother. She could realise that the broom she was on was a speedy one, but didn’t give it much thought beyond thinking that the speed must be what had made it valuable to Cherry’s master. They landed about a hundred feet from the Hogwarts gates, where Scorpius donned the Cloak and Rose took charge of the broomstick and strode up to the gates.

A few minutes wait after banging on the enormous door-knocker yielded the desired result, and Hagrid appeared to open the door.

“’Blimey, Rose! What are you doing here so late?”

“Got myself locked in the little girls’ room back at the Three Broomsticks, Hagrid,” said Rose, with the most innocent expression possible.

“The things you get up to! Ah your father was just the same in his day. Come on in, get running – or you’ll miss dinner.”

Rose didn’t wait to be asked twice, and set off for the castle at a trot. Once they were far enough away, she saw Scorpius next to her and slowed down her pace.

“Here you go,” he said, handing her the Cloak.

“Thanks, Scorpius,” she said, “thanks for everything.”

“It’s all right, really. I was waiting for you at the Weasley shop for a long time and you didn’t turn up so I thought I’d retrace my steps to where I’d left you. Good thing I did. What happened to you back there?”

Rose pondered for a while. It was tempting to say something to him. He wasn’t her friend – though for a while it had seemed as though he might be – but he was a very powerful wizard and Rose knew she’d feel a lot better if she could confide in someone more knowledgeable than herself. She allowed a sigh to escape her. It wasn’t worth thinking about. He was a Malfoy, after all.

“I can’t tell you, Scorpius. I trust all was well with Uncle George?”

“Oh yes, absolutely fine. We had a nice long chat.”

“That’s a relief,” she said. I suppose the Routers contented themselves with finding some way to prevent him from receiving the summons to the meeting and left it at that. Who knows – maybe they had something planned that I prevented by obliviating Cherry, she thought.

“Look, Weasley – Rose…you can trust me, you know. I don’t like how you’ve been telling me to do things and giving no reasons.”

“I’m not proud of it either, Scorpius. Yes, there may be something going on. I had a good reason to think Uncle George may have needed help – and I trusted you to be the one to help him.”

“Why can’t you trust me…always, Rose? We were friends once. We got off to a good start.”

She giggled. “You mean that time that I tripped over Albus’ cat and made James misfire the hex he was shooting at you on the Hogwarts Express just before our first year?”

“Yes, that,” he laughed. “I must say Potter looked rather dashing with green hair the rest of the week.”

“Yes, Uncle Harry still teases him about it whenever he acts a little over-smart.”

“Oh yes, I met your Uncle Harry too. He dropped by to visit Mr. Weasley.”

Rose stopped short in her tracks.


“Just before I came looking for you. Mr. Potter came, we had a drink together and then he left. I waited for a while longer and then came looking for you.”

“Did he say anything…well, did he say anything?”

Scorpius touched his head with a slightly puzzled expression.

“Can’t say I remember anything…particular. I mean, we just talked, you know. About…well I can’t remember that either.”

Rose felt her heart beat faster. It was just possible that Scorpius had been at the receiving end of a Memory charm as well. There was no way to be sure that she knew of.

“You’re absolutely sure Uncle George is well, though?”

“As sure as I am that I lo…” he stopped with a blush.

They were at the castle door now. The light from the lamps hung outside illuminated their young faces with a red glow. For a moment, his grey eyes met her light brown ones. Then she turned away.

“It’s silly, Scorpius. You know it.”

“It need not be, Rose.”

“It is! You know it is. You and your ridiculous gifts.”

“One gift, Rose.”

“One extravagant gift, Scorpius.”

“It was just a few spells, Rose,” said Scorpius eagerly. “You just never gave me a chance to explain. I simply cast a freezing charm on some water from the lake; cast a transfiguration spell to shape it into a rose; a colouring charm for the red and green; a potion for the fragrance and another charm for the music…”

“That’s exactly IT, Scorpius. It was a piece of magic beyond anything anyone of us has ever done. That rose is still there – one year on and it’s still not lost its shape or colour. It’s something that none of us can even think of – it’s…”

“It’s something you thought only your mother could do?”

Rose turned and stormed off towards the door. She had placed a hand on the latch when she turned around and answered him.

“Yes, Scorpius, it is exactly like that. And that’s why I hate it. It reminds me – and Albus and James and Hugo and Martin and Elk and Lily that some of us are so damn blessed with talent that the rest of us will always be mediocre by comparison. It wasn’t a romantic gift, Malfoy. It was a reminder to me how wonderful and clever you were compared to all of us.”

She opened the door and stepped in, her features set in a defiant expression.

The sight of her cousin James, standing inside, his arms folded and lips curled disapprovingly, with his Prefect badge glinting, only served to harden her expression further.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Book Review: In the Light of Darkness, by Radhika Maira Tabrez

Book Review: In the Light of Darkness, by Radhika Maira Tabrez

Publisher: Readomania
Buying Link: Amazon
Pages: 264

The best-seller lists for Indian fiction tend to be dominated by a certain kind of book and a certain kind of author. The commercial market for Indian writing in English was cracked open by Chetan Bhagat, and Amish Tripathi widened that crack before Durjoy Dutta and Ravinder Singh snapped it wide open. Spawning a veritable large-scale industry of imitators, these illustrious names have made ‘writing’ appear, even if deceptively, as a viable career option, and perhaps that is not a bad thing.

Where a disservice has been done has been in suppressing the voices of those who wanted to write something different. The ones who wanted to tell a story they believed in, rather than trying to construct success from a template, without the backing or vintage that has allowed the Lahiris and Ghoshes to make a name for themselves quite independently of their Indian-ness.

Last week, I reviewed Sriram Subramanian’s Rain - a sincere attempt to break this mould, and today I sit with Radhika Tabrez’s In the Light of Darkness on the table before me, having just turned the last page. And I think I am relieved – even quite pleased – that a publisher like Readomania, along with of course the initiative and skill of the author herself, has brought out this book.

In the Light of Darkness tells us the story of Susan Pereira, a widow living in her ancestral bungalow in the island town of Bydore, and the people around her whose life she affects in many profound ways. Primarily these are her estranged son, Matthew, and Meera, a girl she has ‘taken in’ after an accident. Susan and Meera have a support system in the form of Deena, her childhood friend, and Colonel and Mrs Bindra, the retired military couple who live nearby. As the book progresses, Susan’s past and Matthew’s present are revealed to us, and the life stories of the characters begin to converge around Bydore.

As much as the book is about Susan, Matthew and Meera however, it is also about the fictional Bydore, Ms Tabrez’s answer to Narayan’s Malgudi and how the land and the events around it shape the lives of its inhabitants. As the book progresses and we see the characters grow before our eyes, the lasting impression that is left is of the island itself, with its picturesque bungalows by the sea, the Hospital that is involved in several pivotal events and the orphanage on the other side of the island.

Apart from the central characters mentioned above, there is Deena’s daughter Suhana and Matthew’s best friends, Maanav and Vidushi, and Vijay Varghese, who runs the NGO looking after the orphaned children on the island. For the most part, the characters are well portrayed, with strong shades of real life. The transformation of Matthew can appear too good to be true at times, especially compared with the more complex character of Meera. Some readers may find the minor characters are a little one-dimensional, but in my view this is in line with the requirements of the plot, and may not be a worthwhile criticism for a book of this length.

From reading Ms Tabrez’s work in the form of short stories and articles, I was already aware of her skills as a writer. What was interesting to see was how it translated into the novel format. For a debut novel, the plotting and language is quite exemplary.

But knowing what the author is capable of at her best, I’d have to say that over the course of its 264-page length, In the Light of Darkness can be erratic. There are times when the pacing slows, mostly due to a tendency to over-explain events and thoughts. Since the author had already done a good job of bringing out through conversation and events, this felt superfluous. To put it differently, the author is capable of very good ‘show’, but still sometimes indulges in ‘tell’ when it isn’t necessary. Similarly, at places the dialogue flows beautifully while at others it has a stilted feel to it.

These are relatively minor quibbles though, and placed here to give context to the fact that I read the book in virtually a single session, staying up late into the night. Ms Tabrez undoubtedly has skill, and given time and effort, I think we can look forward to even better work from her pen.

It is easy to recommend In the Light of Darkness, and I would, had I not stopped making recommendations. What I will say is that it has an engaging plot, the prose is fluid and while not perfect, there is enough that is good about it to make this a cut above other work in this genre. More importantly, the potential on display means that her future work will be worth looking forward to, and that is not something I normally say.